How does Universal Studios's Frankenstein deviate from standard conventions of the Gothic horror genre on display in their other 1931 horror classic, Dracula?
One of the most iconic foundations of Gothic horror is the presence of the supernatural. Unexplained phenomena of every stripe can be found within the Gothic tradition from ghosts to vampires to zombies. The closest that Frankenstein gets to the supernatural is through its loose association with the latter. The Creature is indeed risen from the dead like latter-day, non-Haitian zombies, but it is important to note that not only is there no supernatural explanation for the reanimated corpse, there is actually a scientific explanation. The two classic horror films produced by Universal Studios in 1931 both feature Gothic fiction’s interest in the mysteries of the world that bring send a man to his downfall for violating certain domains best left to God, but whereas Dracula’s rise from the dead can only be explained by the supernatural, Frankenstein offers a story where rational scientific thought can explain away any lingering mysteries.
Provide one example of modern technological advancement and innovation that could make the fictional themes of Frankenstein relevant to the real world of the 21st century.
Dr. Waldman expresses concern that his former student Henry Frankenstein is crossing over the line separating science and religion with his experiments in reanimating dead life. The issue at stake is initially a moral one to Waldman and provide the framework for hundreds of movies to follow: the inevitable doom of those who trespass in God’s domain. To many living nearly a century later, genetic engineering has become the moral equivalent of Frankenstein’s ghastly experiments. The implications of engineering genes and human DNA carry a potential not at all far removed thematically from Frankenstein’s stitching together a brand new life. Genetic engineering is, essentially, the process of attempting to stitch together perfection from that which must implicitly at least be considered the imperfect work of God.
In 1989 Pakistan Prime Minister warned U.S. President George H.W. Bush “you are creating a veritable Frankenstein” in reference to America’s policy of supporting Islamic radicals in their war against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. What might she have meant with that analogy?
“Creating a Frankenstein” (or “creating a Frankenstein’s monster”) has since the release of Frankenstein in 1931 become a metaphor for any entity constructed with the best of intentions that ultimately winds up turning on its creator with unforeseen disastrous results. This metaphor became itself a kind of Frankenstein’s monster as the concept became permanently settled in the consciousness with the release of each successive sequel and remake in which the Creature came back to bite its Frankenstein in his rear end. Bhutto’s prediction that American foreign policy was creating a Frankenstein was her way of suggesting that once there was no longer the shared interest of removing Soviet influence in Afghanistan between America and Islamic radicals, the good intentions that united the them together for a common goal might ultimately prove disastrous as they turned their wrath upon those who helped to create their power. Unfortunately, this was one case where the metaphor of creating a Frankenstein (or a Frankenstein’s monster) proved to be tragically non-metaphorical.
Critic Robin Wood suggests that movie monsters are the Other: manifestations of repressed desires rising to the surface to threaten normality. How does the Creature in Frankenstein fulfill Wood’s theory?
The Other in psychological terminology represents something that departs from normality and by virtue of that abnormality poses a threat to the social order. In the case of the Creature, he represents a double threat to the society because not only is the Creature clearly a departure from normality, but he was created by man. The fact that Dr. Frankenstein created the Monster makes him essentially the personification of repressed desires rising to the surface: the desire to become equal with God. The Creature thus becomes not just the Other, but the realization of the desire that humanity has been taught by religion to repress more than any other. The revelation that Frankenstein has stepped over the boundary separating man and God by actually creating life, the Creature becomes firmly established as a threat to the very foundation of normality. And, thus, must be hunted down and destroyed so that the desire to become equal with God can once again be successfully repressed.
The 1931 version Frankenstein contributed a number of tropes to the conventions of the horror movie. While the film may not have been the origin of these horror movie tropes, it was undeniably instrumental in elevating them to the level of genre convention. How many of these tropes can you identify?
One of the most iconic horror movie sequences is that of villagers chasing the monster with pitchforks and torches. So iconic is this image that it has evolved to the point of parody. Interestingly, while the villagers do chase after the Creature, not only are none of them actually carrying a pitchfork, but one of the villagers is actually Dr. Frankenstein himself! On the subject of Dr. Frankenstein, not only is he the personification of the trope of the mad scientist featured in an infinite number of movies, his every name has actually become synonymous with scientists bent on crazed experimentation. Notably, however, the only scene in which Henry Frankenstein exhibits behavior that might universally be describe as “mad” is the creation scene when he maniacally delivers his famous “it’s alive…alive” quote. After the introductory speech by the actor warning audiences about how scary the movie is, the very first scene of the actual narrative shows Frankenstein and his hunchbacked assistant engaging in the criminal art of graverobbing. Frankenstein may not have been the first movie to feature such a scene, but it became the definitive example of this trope mostly by virtue of the graves being robbed being set in one of the most memorably Expressionist cemeteries in Hollywood history.
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