Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Jr.: These are the actors who best conveyed Frankenstein’s monster in classic cinema; the iconography they created is still a staple of popular culture, common in scenes of Halloween, emblazoned on t-shirts, and painfully etched into skin as countless tattoos.
While variations of this iconic creature are plentiful, from Christopher Lee in Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein to Sparky the Dog in Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, they’re nonetheless the same character, true to a set of expectations, tied to a specific canon. For the purposes of this list, I’m not including creative takes or modernizations of Mary Shelley’s classic creature, rather total reimagings that are clearly connected to the archetype, yet completely unique. So, I’m sorry, but don’t expect to see Peter Boyle in a top-hat here; no “Putting on the Ritz” on this one.
Some of the 10 characters below might surprise you, but I think you’ll agree that they all share prominent characteristics with Dr. Frankenstein’s creation; physically, thematically, and sometimes both. Enjoy!
Shelley Godfrey from Hemlock Groove
While this one is hardly a stretch, Shelley Godfrey from Hemlock Groove is a direct yet unique reimagining of Frankenstein’s monster. Reanimated after death (and worse for wear) her stature and muteness combine to create a very undeviating connection; in a series populated by archetypal Vampires and Werewolves, a model Frankenstein is almost expected. But, as her name implies, she’s so much more than a female carbon copy or modernized take on the classic: Her internal eloquence and intellect prove she’s a hybrid of the beast and its true creator: Mary Shelley. This theory is bolstered by the fact that she’s always writing in her diary or in letters. While she’s a breath of fresh air in dead and dusty lungs, Shelley’s story is just as tragic as the novel.
Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th Part VI
While his imposing build and lumbering gait are reminiscent of the archetype, Jason Voorhees is most closely tied to Frankenstein in Friday the 13th Part VI. When Tommy Jarvis digs up Jason’s decaying corpse with the intent of destroying it, he inadvertently reanimates his nemesis. When a bolt of lightning strikes the metal rod in his chest, Jason comes to life in a manner very similar to classic representations of the creature’s “birth”. This chapter in the Friday franchise is unique for having a tagline in the title: Jason Lives. Two words somehow harken the Doctor’s triumphant and maniacal cackle: “He’s alive! He’s alive!” There’s an emotional similarity between Jason and Mary Shelley’s creature as well: Both are mental children trapped in massive bodies, lacking impulse control, yet ultimately driven by an overwhelming desire for parental acceptance.
Darth Vader from the Star Wars Franchise
While the Victor Frankenstein fashioned his super-human out of actual body parts back in the Eighteenth Century, futuristic reimaginings of the iconic hulk often mesh organic tissue with cold technology. And who’s the most imposing villain who meets these criteria, “more machine than man”? None other than the dark lord of the Empire, Darth Vader. In this metaphor, the Emperor is Victor: The creator; after pulling Anakin’s tattered frame from the volcano he aims to rebuild him, creating something more powerful than any mere mortal. There’s an emotional connection here as well: Both Vader and the creature are driven by an intense rage that ultimately robs them of any remaining humanity, making them vulnerable to their basest instincts; both were emotionally mutilated by the loss of love; both seek revenge—and both meet with a tragic demise.
Bishop from Aliens and Alien 3
Don’t call him a robot; while he may not be forged from human tissue, Bishop is nonetheless nano-organic, an organization of complex systems that sustain his very existence. In his own words: “I prefer the term ‘artificial person’ myself.” Whereas Ashe in Alien was an imposter human, Bishop’s synthetic origins are known; this means he’s constantly regarded with suspicion, as something “other” than human—especially by Ripley. There’s something… not quite right about him, something that stokes our fears of technology (another direct thematic correlation to Shelley’s novel). Even the audience isn’t sure they can trust him until his penultimate acts of heroics at the end of Aliens. Bishop, like Frankenstein, is the result of man’s attempts to usurp the powers of God and Nature—thereby becoming godlike.
Chucky from the Child’s Play Franchise
The connection here is mostly (although not entirely) aesthetic; Chucky, especially in the sequels, is a reimagining of Frankenstein’s monster in miniature, complete with stitched-up face and mutilated body parts. But there are additional similarities: Both represent man’s desire to cheat death, thereby achieving immortality; both Chucky and the creature are nearly impossible to kill, and both manage to come back from the icy grips of nonexistence, essentially unraveling the mortal coil. And, of course, there’s the lightning on the night Chucky is “born”, a direct connection to the Frankenstein mythos.
Fido the Zombie from Fido
I don’t think anyone would argue that there are inherent (if tenuous) parallels between Zombie mythology and Frankenstein’s monster; they all defy mortality by dwelling in a horrifying state of semi-existence, composed of decaying flesh yet somehow immune to death itself. But what really makes Fido a reimagining of Frankenstein’s monster is Billy Connolly outstanding portrayal of the titular zombie. The actor seems to have deftly incorporated many of the nuances that made classic Frankenstein so compelling: The low sustained grunting, the eyes that ache to communicate, and the consistent sense of menace that lurks unnervingly close to the surface. Another similarity pulls from a rather uncomfortable subtext in Mary Shelley’s novel: The commoditization of human life base on a societal hierarchy which, basically, amounts to slavery.
Alex J. Murphy/RoboCop from Robocop
RoboCop meets all the important criteria for a reincarnation of Frankenstein’s monster: He was reanimated after death, constructed to be superior to humans, and symbolizes societal fears surrounding technology and artificial intelligence. The biggest difference, however, is that RoboCop is accepted as a hero and a scientific achievement, whereas the creature was only regarded as an abomination and a slight against God. Still, both characters are known for their stature, their strength, and destructive capabilities. Both characters are also muddled emotionally: RoboCop is haunted by his past life as Alex J. Murphy, longing for the love of his family, while Frankenstein’s monster longs for familial ties he never experienced. Like Fido, RoboCop also touches on deeper subtexts of Shelley’s work, particularly in regards to the commoditization of human life and the implications of slavery.
Edward Scissorhands from Edward Scissorhands
Edward Scissorhands is an artificial lifeform created by an elusive scientist in a creepy castle atop a hill; clearly, his origin story is an allusion to classic cinematic portrayals of the “birth” of Frankenstein’s monster. Other parallels between the two outcasts are numerous. Both, for example, are more dangerous than they realize; both cause pain and physical damage inadvertently, which is the primary reason they’re regarded with disdain. Both are scarred and tattered, making them somewhat frightening to behold. Both are basically children trapped in adult bodies, and both are driven by a desire to be loved. Ultimately, both lash out when they are pushed past their breaking points. The penultimate scene in the movie which sees Edward being chased by an angry mob is another direct pull from the most recognizable of Frankenstein imagery.
May’s “Perfect Friend” from May
For oddball May Canady (played by Angela Bettis) love and friendship have always been elusive; her only true friend growing up was her dolly: Suzie. As a young adult, she’s ill equipped to navigate the emotional perils of sex and dating. When devastating disappointments compound, something inside May’s mind runs off the rails; she decides to create her own “real” friend and lover. To this end, May pulls the best features from those who have hurt her (this one’s arms, that one’s ear—she even uses the fur from her dead cat as hair) creating something altogether unique (and hideous): “Amy”, a friend and confidant, custom-made to her exacting specifications. It doesn’t matter to May that her creation is never literally reanimated into life; in fact, its lack of personal desires is an attribute. Her creation will never hurt her, disappoint her—or leave her lonely. In May’s eyes, her friend is perfect.
Wallace Bryton/”Mr. Tusk” from Tusk
The annoying mustache Justin Long wears while playing podcaster Wallace Bryton is actually a tongue-in-cheek hint at the transformation that awaits him in Kevin’s Smith’s bizarre horror movie: Tusk. Of all the films represented here, this one exemplifies the sheer grotesquery of Frankenstein mythos like no other. The mad scientist in this allusion is Howard Howe (played by Michael Parks) a mentally unstable Canadian and former seaman. After regaling Bryton with tales of adventure on the high seas (including being rescued from the icy brine by a walrus) Howe drugs the pseudo-journalist in order to enact a twisted fantasy. While Long’s character is never resurrected from the dead, he is transformed into something much less human: Hideous to behold yet donned with animalistic power.
What are your favorite reincarnations of Frankenstein’s monster? Sound off in the Comments section!
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Edward Scissorhands is a great example of a Frankenstein like creature. Loved this article!
Outstanding piece! Very cool!
May ranks very highly among my favorite horror movies of recent years. Great character, great cast.
I was hoping you’d dig it, Evan.
Oh, thought of a couple of good ones that didn’t make your list: Bride of Re-Animator (perhaps too on-the-nose?), which unlike the original has a creature made out of different bodies and lamenting its own existence; and “Splice.”
Bride-of-Reanimator is a great one. Splice almost made the list; it was between Dren and Bishop.