Frankenstein's Monstrous Legacy

Like the monster Mary Shelley created, the influence of the book Frankenstein on the public imagination is freakishly strong.

IMDb (Internet Movie Database) has a list of 177 films and television shows that feature Frankenstein as a character. If you add to that list all the video games, comic books, novels, radio programs, and other forms of media that focus on this Regency-era monster, you begin to get an idea of the impact this creepy literary creation has had and continues to have on popular culture.

Frankenstein’s movie career started with a 16-minute film made in 1910 by Edison Studios. But perhaps the most enduring portrayal of the monster was in the 1931 movie Frankenstein starring Boris Karloff, who reprised his role two more times in Son of Frankenstein (1939) and even more notably in Bride of Frankenstein (1935) with Elsa Lanchester in the title role. 

Unlike her spouse, Frankenstein's bride, a one-of-a-kind model made especially for him, doesn’t look too scary. She’s actually rather pretty in her flowing white gown, and her iconic hair-style has been widely copied. I wonder if the film-makers of the mid-thirties guessed that their bride would set a fashion.

Marge Simpson's hairdresser must have been
inspired by Frankenstein's bride

Interestingly, the intro of the movie pays homage to the story’s creator with a scene showing Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and the future Mrs. Shelley (also played by Elsa Lanchester in a dual role) discussing Mary’s horror story. It’s a nice shout-out to history before the sequel veers off into new territory unimagined by the author.

And if you want more proof that the Frankenstein legend lives on, there's a remake of Bride of Frankenstein starring Javier Bardem currently in production, set for a 2019 release.

Funny Frankenstein movies include 1948’s black-and-white Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (a favorite of mine when I was a kid) and the spoof Young Frankenstein (1974), starring Gene Wilder as the doctor. The cast of that contemporary classic is stellar, but for me, Peter Boyle as the monster tap-dancing to “Puttin’ on the Ritz” in a top hat and tails, stole the show.  

Another Frankenstein-inspired film favorite of mine is Frankenweenie, a 1984 short that its creator, Tim Burton, turned into a stop-motion animated full-length feature film in 2012. I showed the short film to my boys when they were growing up, and, like me, they loved the little monster doggie. It must be genetic.

In addition to all the media, Frankenstein’s name has even been given to a relatively new phobia. In his science fiction novels, Isaac Asimov coined the term “Frankenstein complex” to describe people’s fear of robots. (It’s discussed in this paper by Lee McCauley for The Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.)  A variant of this fear, that robotic machines performing medical procedures will replace human doctors, is defined in the Free Medical Dictionary. 

I think that variant is an understandable fear even if it’s irrational given the precision and accuracy of today’s medical machinery. But no one who has to go under the knife wants to picture that knife being wielded by Frankenstein’s monster, in any form.

While Frankenstein isn’t explicitly mentioned in the following song, the description of a monster rising from its slab getting a “jolt from my electrodes” makes it clear who the narrator is talking about. 

In this clip from an October 1964 episode of American Bandstand, you can see Bobby "Boris" Pickett use his incredibly elastic facial expressions to transform himself from a mild-mannered singer into Dr. Frankenstein. I’m pretty sure his back-up band, the Crypt-Keepers, are playing somewhere in the background. I hope you enjoy it!

Images from Wikimedia Commons


  1. Maureen,
    I too love Frankenstein, the book and the old movies. I always think of Boris Karloff's monster as the only real Frankenstein. Peter Boyle was great though, as the dancing, singing monster, in Young Frankenstein.

    I recently took cuttings from three different houseplants and put them together in one pot to form my own "Frankenstein Plant". Believe it or not, it's very healthy, and attractive. My son's girlfriend likes it so much, I'm starting another plant for her!!!

  2. I love the idea of a Frankenstein Plant. I'd like to see that!


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