03/09/01
Frankenstein's Birthday
    by Kevin Shortsleeve

It was March 11, 1818 that Mary Shelley's macabre masterpiece first rose from the slab. One hundred and eighty-two years later, Frankenstein, or a Modern Prometheus is still very much alive.

As a child, my friends and I considered Frankenstein the King of Monsters - he was - in our eyes, the leader amid a reigning foursome of ghouls that included - in descending order of importance, Dracula, The Wolfman and the Mummy. I remember there was a bit of a question about the Mummy. He seemed to be a bit of a hanger-on. But there was no question about Frankenstein. He ruled.

In the later part of the 20th century there were many comedic and even friendly portrayals of the Frankenstein monster. There was Mel Brooks tap dancing Young Frankenstein and from the Bobby Picket's hit song, The Monster Mash, we met the swinging rock and roll Frankenstein. The Monster was even depicted on kids cereal boxes as the cartoony Frankenberry. And, of course, there was Herman Munster - all smiles and timidity. Perhaps it was these user-friendly Frankenstein creations that brought the monster to children - and made his character one of the most popular Halloween costumes.

But there is something very scary about Frankenstein too. And it could be that the appeal for children works on a more subversive level as well. The scene in the film where the monster befriends the little girl, then kills her by mistake, is among the most chilling in movie history. A Spanish film from 1973, Spirit of the Bee-Hive, elaborates on this point and illustrates the haunting effect Frankenstein's monster can have on small children. Some have pointed out that, in the 1931 film, Frankenstein is very like a child. He can not speak. He does not understand the world around him. For the child then, the horror in Frankenstein may not be in how he looks or that he is a product of a corruption of science, rather, the child, relating to the monster, may fear how the creature is rejected by his surrogate father and how cruelly society condemns him.

Reincarnations of the monster keep popping up. The Bionic Man, the film Weird Science, an episode of the X-files and interactive multi media games keep the monster eternally rising from the slab. And today, with the human genetic code so recently mapped - with implants, grafts, and transplants so common - and with Dolly the sheep on our minds - it is unlikely that Shelley's Promethean fiend will leave us any time soon. As a society then, we may long into the future hear the voice calling, "It's alive, its alive" the haunting echo of Dr. Frankenstein - or as Gene Wilder said in Young FrankensteinŠ"It's Frawnkensteen".

Copyright © 2001 by Kevin Shortsleeve

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Wednesday, 04-Sep-2002 22:23:47 EDT


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