Thursday, October 11, 2012

My Heroes Have Always Been Monsters Part 25

Out of all the monsters-classic or modern- Frankenstein's monster is by far my favorite and the most important to me.

When I was four or five I got the Mego-like Remco Frankenstein monster action figure with only the vaguest idea of who it was. It didn't matter who it was, I had an awesome monster for my Mego Batman to fight. I grew to love that toy almost as much as my Batman and was crushed when it mysteriously disappeared.

Toys just not being there anymore was common for me growing up since we moved every six months and I can only assume things were just trashed.

By the time the monster had vanished I had a favorite character that captured my imagination the way Batman and Star Wars had.
Having no context for the monster allowed my imagination to run wild and when I found out it had multiple movies and a book my interest ignited into a mild obsession.

Cartoons like The Drac Pack and Groovy Ghoulies and the TV show The Munsters gave me a taste of the monster, but I knew these were all played for laughs and the monster was a monster and I needed to see the real movie to find out what the deal was.

But this was pre internet, hell pre VCR and pre cable so it'd be a long wait to enjoy the Universal classic.
With the loss of the toy and no replacement to be found my interests focused on Star Wars and a little later Masters of the Universe (my favorite toy line of the 80's) and GI Joe. I loved action, sci-fi, ninjas, but not horror-not even a shred of interest in it until late in 4th grade. I literally couldn't see a commercial for Friday the 13th without having nightmares for days. I liked monsters though; Godzilla, King Kong, and of course Frankenstein (I gave the novel a try for the first time in 3rd grade, but I didn't fully appreciate it until I was an adult). I saw a distinct difference between monster movies and horror movies.

Monsters tended to be misunderstood and the humans were the real monsters or the concept was so outlandish it couldn't be taken seriously. Horror was about evil, senseless evil and killing and terrifying men in masks who watched you from the bushes before attacking.
I developed a tolerance and then a love of horror thanks in large part to Tales From The Dark Side. By the sixth grade I was becoming a serious fan of the genre. I read Fangoria whenever I could, checked out books about horror films from the library and started working my way through Stephen King's novels. I reread Frankenstein around then as well and that's when the monster took on a whole new meaning for me.

With puberty and middle school came awkwardness and cliques at school. Divisions were clearly defined and being a skinny, short kid from a poor family with no interest in sports I was an easy target for the rednecks and jocks.
I got "Hey, faggot" so much I began to suspect people thought that was my name. Feeling like an outsider in a world I didn't ask to be a part of or even wanted to be a part of deepened my affection for the story. Alice Cooper's "Teenage Frankenstein" from his Constrictor album gave me a theme song.

I finally got to see James Whale's version with Boris Karloff around this time and Robocop shortly after when it came out on VHS. I saw a kinship right away and Empire Strikes Back was no longer my favorite movie.

Sometime around then the awesome Monster Squad came out which featured all the classic monsters, a definite classic of the 80's. There was also an updating of the Bride of Frankenstein called The Bride, more of a gothic romance, but still very good.

The local grocery store had a video rental section and randomly had a copy of Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. I was unaware of Hammer Films at the time, but the meaner, darker Frankenstein was revelatory.

In high school I got to see more of the Universal Frankenstein films when we got AMC and I found more Hammer films on VHS. There were plenty of parodies out there, none of which I recommend (Monster Squad and Frankenhooker are dark comedies that seem to respect their sources not make fun of them).

I'd say all the Universal and Hammer Frank' films are great to watchable and I HIGHLY recommend Andy Warhol's Flesh for Frankenstein, directed by Paul Morrisey and starring Udo Kier and Frank Hennenlotter's Frankenhooker, just for their sheer audacity and fun.

You can't overlook Stuart Gordon's adaptation of HP Lovecraft's take on Frankenstein; Re Animator. Sick, dirty, gory and AWESOME!

And one can't forget Roger Corman's Frankenstein Unbound that puts an interesting time travel spin on the story.

Ken Russell told the tale of the book's origin in the cool Gothic.

I'm forgetting or haven't seen plenty more, but my point is that the story never gets old. Or at least, I never get tired of it.

I hope to some day unleash my own take on the monster and I believe there's plenty of room for more retellings and continuations because it's a story that can be universally understood and never seems to be out dated, especially with the leaps and bounds science makes in genetics, prosthetics, robotics, and cloning. The subtitle of Shelley's Frankenstein was the Modern Prometheus. Prometheus stole fire from the gods and was punished. Man will never stop trying to steal that fire and Frankenstein will always remind us to use caution in our pursuits.

Keep watching the sky, nerds!

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