Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Frankenstein

Nonmodern has already argued that horror is among the best genres for both literature and film. It being October, the time has come to really expand on this idea.

Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus is truly a case of the horror genre used as a morality play. The ideas of science and progress are dealt with alongside the questions of ethics and responsibility. When and where does science draw the line? Does progress and knowledge have limits beyond which mankind should not dare to tread?

The film adaptations, especially the Universal Studios series, have shaped the way culture remembers and thinks of this story. Most people have not read the book, and not many more have seen the films, but everyone has a mental image of Karloff’s incarnation of the monster and the themes that the movies address.

There were (ironic) fears when the original 1931 movie was released, that religious groups would protest it because of its theme of “divine presumption.” The sequel, Bride of Frankenstein 1935 increased the religious imagery and darkly humorous elements, but continued the exploration of the main theme: where do ability and permission part ways?

Son of Frankenstein 1939 is maybe the least known of the Universal movies. (It did serve as the main inspiration for Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein.) It is still a good entry in the series, and it more than the other two films focused on a third theme of the Frankenstein myth: the danger of the man of the masses. People in crowds can be very scary indeed. Why is it that a mob is so willing to give up rational thought and commit hasty and violent acts? Considering the current state of international markets and where America is politically, perhaps this is the most enduring legacy of the Frankenstein story. Humanity has a great disposition towards stupidity and evil.

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