Responses to and Adaptations of Frankenstein in Film and Elsewhere
A Selective Chronological Bibliography
taken from the NASSR-L discussion list, September 1999
Compiled by Melissa J. Sites
for Romantic Circles Scholarly Resources
Latest Updates: December 1999
This bibliography lists responses to and adaptations of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, including movie versions, stage plays, and books. The entries were generated by the NASSR-L Discussion List during September 1999. This bibliography is is part of an array of related bibliographies including "Fictional Representations of Romantics and Romanticism" and "Pop Culture Interpretations of Romantic Literature ".
Whale's 1931 Frankenstein is not an adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel, according to its credits; it's adapted from a play, and the play and film clearly derive their major departures from Shelley from the earliest dramatic adaptations, R. B. Peake's Presumption (1823) and H. M. Milner's The Man and the Monster. The play cited in the credits is by Peggy Webling; the adaptation is by John Balderston. Steven Forry's Hideous Progenies reprints both the 1820s texts and a 1930 stage version of Frankenstein by Balderston. For more information on the making of the film and adaptation of the script from Webling's play see Forry (U Pennsylvania Press, 1990) and Donald F. Glut, The Frankenstein Legend (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1973).--John Rieder
James Whale's 1931 Frankenstein in some way started it all, especially because of the creation scene, the lightning bolt, and the cry "It's alive! Alive!" See Michael Grant, "James Whale's Frankenstein: The Horror Film and the Symbolic Biology of the Cinematic Monster," in Frankenstein: Creation and Monstrosity, ed. Stephen Bann (1994) 113-35.--Michael Eberle-Sinatra
One of the more interesting "uses," not adaptations of, Frankenstein can be found in the opening of Tod Browning's 1932 Freaks, wherein the opening credits begin with the line: "HISTORY, RELIGION, FOLKLORE and LITERATURE abound in tales of misshapen misfits who have altered the world's course. GOLIATH, CALABAN, FRANKENSTEIN, GLOUCESTER, TOM THUMB and KAISER WILHELM are just a few, whose fame is world wide." I'm particularly amused/intrigued by the alignment of Frankenstein and Kaiser Wilhelm.--Frankie Allmon
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
James Whale takes the issues of creating a companion to the Creature one step further; provides an interesting "introduction" with Mary Shelley and her circle appearing at the beginning of the film; see Alberto Manguel's Bride of Frankenstein - A BFI Film Classic (1997).--Michael Eberle-Sinatra
Sirius: A Fantasy of Love and Discord. Novel by Olaf Stapledon (1944)
Bakis's Lives of the Monster Dogs reminds me of another novel with a Frankenstein-like theme worked out in a similar way, Olaf Stapledon's Sirius. I doubt students would find this novel immature or garish. It's about a dog (Sirius) who is experimentally altered: increased brain size, vocal cords -- and mostly turns on the horrible suffering he goes through trying to come to terms with his dual dog-human nature.--John Rieder
The Revenge of Frankenstein (1957)
The Colossus of New York (1958)
Jessie James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1966)
Frankenstein: The True Story (1972 TV miniseries)
A quick check of the Internet Movie Database (us.imdb.com.) (a useful but dangerously addictive resource) offers 66 titles under Frankenstein, plus assorted TV adaptations, one of which is worthy of note: I haven't seen it in many years, but I remember the 1972 TV miniseries Frankenstein: The True Story as being exceptional. Christopher Isherwood has a writing credit, which is enough by itself to make it worth a look. Of course the script takes liberties, particularly a subplot with Dr. Polidori (James Mason) creating the female monster "Prima" (Jane Seymour). Michael Sarrazin is a particularly erudite golem, whose physical appearance is initially perfectly human (as I remember he begins to decompose over time). The cast is great, with David McCallum, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, and Agnes Moorehead in addition to Mason. Dr. Who fans will recognize Tom Baker (pre-TARDIS) as the sea captain. Sorry, but I don't know about availability on tape. I believe it was originally shown over two nights, so I assume the running time is close to three hours (without commercials).--Richard A. Nanian
-- a "blackxploitation" film featuring a creature made out of various dead pimps and "hos" --Frankie Allmon.
Young Frankenstein (1974)
Mel Brooks emphasises the humourous aspects of the novel; offers a reading of the novel where the Victor character stands by his Creature; discusses overtly the sexual potency of the Creature.--Michael Eberle-Sinatra
I still think Young Frankenstein is the best of the Frankenstein films I've seen.--Atara Stein
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Richard O'Brien's daring adaptation of the novel's themes of creation and homosexuality in which the Creature's (bi)sexuality is fully shown, as is his creator's. See John Kilgore, "Sexuality and Identity in The Rocky Horror Picture Show," in Eros in the Mind's Eye: Sexuality and the Fantastic in Art and Film, ed. Donal Palumbo (1986).--Michael Eberle-Sinatra
Blade Runner (1982)
"Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, a techno-thriller set in the permanent twilight of Los Angeles in 2019 ... brings Mary Shelley's story of the creation of an artificial human into the era of genetic engineering and new reproductive technologies. ... This updated story is a better replication of the original than any of the adaptations that gesture toward the period of the novel."--Jay Clayton. Link offsite to an excerpt from Clayton's article, "Concealed Circuits: Frankestein's Monster, the Medusa, and the Cyborg," Raritan 15 (1996): 53-69.
Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (maybe my favorite movie of all time), in which Rutger Hauer, as the leader of four rebel cyborgs ("skin jobs"), sets out to "meet his maker" (his words) and then quotes Blake at him (might be "America," but I can't remember clearly enough).--Meg Russett.
I think it's something like "Fiery the angels fell, deep thunder [did something], burning with the fires of Orc," that Roy (the Rutger Hauer replicant) quotes in Bladerunner. The quotation is from America, I believe Plate 20 (at least somewhere in the twenties). Better than Kahn (Ricardo Montalban) quoting Moby Dick in The Wrath of Kahn.--William Flesch.
Here is the Blake quote, as found in Erdman: "Fiery the Angels rose, & as they rose deep thunder roll'd / Around their shores: indignant burning with the fires of Orc." (plate 11, lines 1-2).--Melissa Sites
Tim Burton's contribution to the genre.--Frankie Allmon
The Bride (1985)
Directed by Franc Roddam and written by Lloyd Fonvielle. Starring Sting as Charles Frankenstein, Jennifer Beals as Eva (the Bride), Anthony Higgins as Clerval, Clancy Brown as Viktor (the Creature), and David Rappaport as Rinaldo. The film is sympathetic toward Viktor, who is given the name by a dwarf who befriends him. The movie makes an excellent contrast to the book in several respects. First, Charles claims that he will educate Eva to be his equal in good Wollstonecraft fashion, but then he can't stand it when she has her own will and her own opinions. It provides good contrast with the women in the novel and exemplifies Wollstonecraft's critique of Rousseau. There is a great moment when Charles refers to Keats's Prometheus Unbound, and Eva corrects him, "Shelley's." And he throws the book in the fire and says "Whose Prometheus is it now!" Very illustrative of canonical Victor's willingness to destroy both his male and female Prometheii. Second, the education of Viktor (the creature) and Eva, their understanding of themselves as artificial beings, their recognition of the validity of their own souls, and their willingness to challenge Charles's dominion over them, all seem to fulfill something the novel was too tragic to contemplate--the idea that the limitations of the creator could ever be transcended. The ultimate moral of the movie is that Friendship conquers all.--Melissa Sites
Day of the Dead (1985)
In the realm of perverse, lurid, indirect, recent Frankensteins, check out George Romero's Day of the Dead (third of the trilogy beginning with Night of the Living Dead. I found it interesting the way the family politics of Shelley's novel get integrated into Romero's apocalyptic version of the living dead.--John Rieder
With regards to Romero and the Living Dead trilogy, a good book to look at is The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh: The Films of George Romero. Romero talks about his own works (including Pet Sematary, a collaboration with Stephen King -- this book predates his second collaboration with King, The Dark Half). The author of Zombies also discusses the difficulties which Romero had with some of the creative crew of the original Night of the Living Dead film; these difficulties led, ultimately, to the filming of Return of the Living Dead (parts 1, 2, and 3), which purport to be the "real" story of Night of the Living Dead, but which really have nothing to do with those films.--Sonja H. Streuber
Frankenstein Punk (1986)
Rowing with the Wind [Remando al viento] (1986)
The Creature is a character in this film, but it focuses more on Byron and the Shelleys. More on our main page
"....Russell managed to get so many small details right. These include Percy's phobias about being buried alive and Mary's nearly obsessive fears about the death of her infant William. Her account of having dreamed that her dead daughter Clara was not dead but cold, and needed only to be rubbed by the fire to make her live, is straight out of Mary's journals. ..."--Rick Albright. More from Albright on our main page
Frankenstein Unbound (1990)
Roger Corman's adaptation of Brian Aldiss's novel of the same name; a scientist travels back in time and meets with Mary Shelley and her circle, as well as the "real" Victor Frankenstein and his Creature, on which Shelley bases her novel; obviously not as good as the novel, but still provides an alternative take on the whole summer of 1816 episode.--Michael Eberle-Sinatra
"Ship in a Bottle," Star Trek: The Next Generation, ep. 138
The myth has also been explored in several episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, especially in ep. 138 ("Ship in a Bottle") where the holographic creature asks for a mate, is denied his request by Picard, and challenges him to explain why he thinks he can make such a decision.--Michael Eberle-Sinatra
Forests of the Night. Novel by S. Andrew Swann (Steven Swiniarski) (1993).
Like Stapledon's Sirius and Bakis's Lives of the Monster Dogs, this book explores the Frankenstein idea of artificially created beings by focusing on genetically manipulated animals. In this case, the genetically engineered animals are called "moreaus" because of H. G. Wells's The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), in which animals were given intelligence by a man they worshipped as a god. The hero, private investigator Nohar Rajasthan, is a moreau (a tiger, which is why the Blake poem provides the title) who is investigating a case involving "franks"--genetically engineered humans. Set in the 21st century after the moreau rebellion (Nohar's parents were warriors who were killed in the rebellion), the novel is a cyberpunkish hard-boiled detective story and uses the tense relations between humans, moreaus and franks (who are considered even more unsavory than the moreaus) to create its noir background.--Melissa Sites
Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein' (1994)
Kenneth Branagh's "modern" take on the novel, with a stronger Elizabeth; good rendition of the Creature by de Niro, including a proper conversation on the sea of ice, and the presence of Walton; see my article "Science, Gender and Otherness in Shelley's Frankenstein and Kenneth Branagh's Film Adaptation," European Romantic Review 9.2 (1998) 253-70.--Michael Eberle-Sinatra
Paul O'Flinn may have put it best when he wrote, "There is no such thing as Frankenstein, there are only Frankensteins, as the text is carelessly rewritten, reproduced, refilmed, and redesigned" ("Production and Reproduction: the Case of Frankenstein" 197). While Branagh's film attempts to capture the "real" Mary Shelley text, I wonder how the homoerotic birth/ wrestling scene between Branagh (Victor) and DeNiro (The Creature) figures into MS's text. In my humble opinion, there is no "good" (overall) filmic adaptation of the novel; there are, rather, interesting moments, uses and purposes in adapting the novel.--Frankie Allmon
Ah, [the homoerotic birth/ wrestling scene] was the only scene I liked. I thought that the scene played up the narcissistic/homoerotic desire of Victor Frankenstein. He is creating a glorified, inflated (8 ft tall!) mirror of himself, one who seems to inspire his "ardent" obsessiveness much more than Elizabeth does. I thought that scene was an interesting interpretation of the text. What truly offended me about Branagh's movie was the resurrection of Elizabeth as the female creature. That struck me as a major major misreading of the novel. IMHO, I agree totally [that there is no "good" (overall) filmic adaptation].--Atara Stein
I agree on both points. The birth sequence was a lot more provocative than the traditional Hollywood "dry" version, but Elizabeth's resurrection totally destroys all the interesting interpretations about fear of female independence and reproduction.--Rick Albright
Branagh may have been inspired by Aldiss's novel Frankenstein Unbound (and the Corman film version), which has Victor doing exactly the same thing. In an interesting twist, Aldiss has the Female creature accept her mate and reject Victor (contrary to Whale's 1935 film and Branagh's). I do think that Branagh's ending makes indirectly a good point about Victor's failure at controlling Elizabeth, even after her death: she is still an independent, strong woman who chooses to commit suicide, and thus holds her destiny in her own hands.--Michael Eberle-Sinatra
There follows an extended thread focusing primarily on issues from the novel, with contributions from Kim Wheatley, Jennifer Michael, Jeff Ritchie, Atara Stein, Darby Lewes, Michael Eberle-Sinatra, Richard A. Nanian, Avery Gaskins, and Rob Anderson.
Frankenstein and Me (1996)
Robert Tinnell's fan film that re-interprets not only Shelley's novel and its film adaptations, but also other 'horror' classics such as The Wolf Man and Night of the Living Dead).--Michael Eberle-Sinatra
Patchwork Girl. Hypertext by Shelley Jackson (Eastgate Systems)
Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl takes as its premise that Mary Shelley's second monster, the female companion that Victor Frankenstein began creating but then destroyed, was secretly finished by Mary Shelley herself. The monster becomes MS's lover, then travels to America, where it goes through interesting adventures until its final dispersal into its component parts in the early 1990s.--Jay Clayton (see additional comments)
Frankenstein (first performed at the Questors Theatre, Ealing, London, 15 February 1997)
I saw an adaptation of Frankenstein in Spring of 1997 in London that was verbally faithful to Mary Shelley's novel to the extent that I only caught one line that was not a direct quotation. It was basically a staged reading of the novel where body gestures, costumes, sets, etc., became the interpretive commentary on the selections the actors were reading. According to the playbill, this version of Frankenstein was adapted from Mary Shelley's novel by Julia Bardsley; directed and designed by Tanya Leigh. It starred Kate Davie as Mary Shelley and David Palmer, Andy McCall and David Hovater as "Mary's Creatures."--John Rieder
Lives of the Monster Dogs. Novel by Kirsten Bakis (1997)
I am teaching a course that was inspired by the thread of a few years ago on 20th c representations of romantic texts/figures (which has been archived on Romantic Circles). We just had our first full discussion of one of the twoFrankenstein novels, Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis (a mad German scientist wishes to create a race of military slave dogs by fitting them with prosthetic hands and voice boxes. When the dogs figure this out, they rise up and kill their masters and flee to New York, where they become celebrities. One of the high points in the novel is the Opera one of the dogs wrote about the revolution). The novel is quite interesting but not entirely successful. When I asked the students for their responses to the novel, many of them found it juvenile and unsophisticated. When I got over my embarassment at having underestimated their tastes, we talked about why they were disappointed. It eventually emerged that many of them thought they would have liked it better had they not just read Frankenstein. Shelley's novel had opened their eyes to the kinds of things fiction can do, and they were disappointed when a novel didn't live up to that standard. After I explained that it hasn't been that long since Frankenstein was seen as juvenile and unsophisticated, I was gratified to see that the novel had had such an effect on them. Especially given our recent discussion about the place of Frankenstein in the canon, and its relative merit as literature, I thought this was a strong note in its favor.--Rob Anderson
Gods and Monsters (1998)
If we can interpret "adaptation, interpretation, or response" very broadly, then I would recommend Gods and Monsters, the recent very powerful film directed by Bill Condon with Ian McKellan portraying the last days of James Whale, director of the Karloff Frankenstein. (This beautiful movie is an interesting example of a mediocre novel blossoming into something much finer.) It seems to me, however, a mistake to dismiss the Karloff film unless fidelity to the plot line of the novel is a prerequisite to "worth looking at"--it is an odd fact that even the adaptations that claim such fidelity seem always to do so with their fingers crossed. Branagh's sticks to the story to a point, then succumbs to the lure of special effects and other tempting variances. There was one version with Aidan Quinn that had substantial segments of faithful reproduction, then went off track. It seems to me that deviations from the novel are not, however, inherently wrong so long as they area consistent with the aesthetic goals of the film version--it is the deviations that feel tacked on for no good reason that ruin the effects of many adaptations.--Tom Dillingham
I think the recent movie Gods and Monsters is a quite interesting reading of the novel and of earlier movie versions as well.--Jill Heydt-Stevenson
I second or third the vote on Gods and Monsters--I thought it was brilliant and thought the lyrical ending would have warmed Mary Shelley's heart.--David Rollison
Another instance of the Frankenstein myth permeating our culture, although this time with the usual, negative connotation: the villain of the recently released film Mystery Men is called Casanova Frankenstein.--Michael Eberle-Sinatra
Dixon, Wheeler Winston. "The Films of Frankenstein" in in Approaches to Teaching Shelley's Frankenstein, ed. Stephen C. Behrendt.
Heffernan, James A. W. "Looking at the Monster: Frankenstein and Film." Critical Inquiry 24.1 (1997) 133-58.
Jones, Stephen. The Frankenstein Scrapbook. "an entertaining catalog of Frankenstein films and related films. I pass it around to my students when I teach the novel, and they get a chance to see the huge variety of Frankenstein adaptations."--Atara Stein
Margolis, Harriet E. "Lost Baggage: Or, the Hollywood Sidetrack" in Approaches to Teaching Shelley's Frankenstein, ed. Stephen C. Behrendt.
Tropp, Martin. Mary Shelley's Monster: The Story of Frankenstein (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976). "a great book about the development of Frankenstein in film through the 70's."--Sonja H. Streuber.
Syllabus Centering around Frankenstein
I use Frankenstein as the basis for my Science Fiction course. The syllabus is at http://hss.fullerton.edu/english/astein/373syll.htm.--Atara Stein.