The full title of Mary Shelley's iconic novel is Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. These six movies take the Modern Prometheus and get a little post-modern on it, reimagining Shelley's vision through modern -- and often profoundly weird -- lenses. From Hammer to hookers, these are some of the greatest offbeat iterations of Frankenstein.
THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970)
Hammer’s portrayal of Victor Frankenstein always leaned toward the “smug jerk-off” variety, but they really doubled down on that interpretation with The Horror of Frankenstein. Taking over for Peter Cushing, Ralph Bates gets to play the most dastardly, devious, dickish version of the doctor yet seen on film. In between tampering in God’s domain, this Victor Frankenstein orchestrates the death of his own father via sabotaged shotgun, knocks up the daughter of the medical school’s dean (and offers to terminate the pregnancy for them), and generally plows knob-first through the world. Bates’ smug, bratty horndog portrayal helps map Mary Shelley’s creation allegory onto a theme of entitled, irresponsible fatherhood, with Victor’s unwanted casualties being aborted in a backroom vat of acid. Fittingly, the Monster (played by Darth Vader himself, David Prowse) has been visually reinvented here as something akin to a seven-foot newborn baby, all bald head and white swaddling; Victor’s selfish, thoughtless actions made flesh.
Prowse would appear as the monster once more -- the only Hammer actor to do so -- in 1974’s Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. That film saw the return of Cushing, making Bates’ version of Victor Frankenstein a distinctive one-and-done. (Phil Nobile, Jr.)
FRANKENSTEIN’S BLOODY TERROR (1971)
Producer Sam Sherman needed a Frankenstein movie. Having pre-booked his partner Al Adamson’s then-unfinished Dracula vs Frankenstein into 400 theaters, Sherman found himself scrambling as the release date approached. (Apocryphal stories exist in which the film lab held the Dracula vs Frankenstein print hostage, waiting for outstanding payment.) In a stroke of genius/panic/insanity, Sherman snapped up the US rights to a Spanish horror film called La Marca Del Hombre Lobo, which featured both a werewolf and a vampire, but neither a Frankenstein nor his Monster. No problem: Sherman added a dubbed prologue explaining that, for their sins, the Frankenstein family were cursed with lycanthropy (and renamed “Wolfstein” to boot), and slapped a new title -- Frankenstein's Bloody Terror -- onto the thing. Before exhibitors could say “who?” or “what?” or “no, really, what?”, Sherman had made good on his promise to deliver a Frankenstein (titled) movie to theaters. Never let reality get in the way of a business deal. (Phil Nobile, Jr.)
THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN (1972)
Jess Franco’s 1972 hallucination mashes up Mary Shelley, occult sorcery and sexual sadomasochism in equal measure, serving up familiar exploitation ingredients in a recipe that ends up feeling completely unique. Plot takes a distant backseat to sensory assault, as Dr. Frankenstein’s daughter Vera (Beatriz Savón) tries to wrest control of her father’s monster (Fernando Bilbao) from a sinister maniac named Cagliostro (Howard Vernon), who plans to make the monster mate with a local hottie. None of it makes much sense -- the monster’s skin is a shiny metallic silver, and one of Cagliostro’s minions is a feather-covered bird woman named Melissa -- but with its lush and Gothic European scenery, fish-eye lens cinematography and near-constant stream of naked women, this patchwork mosaic is a memorable, overwhelming trip through the mind of its disreputable director. (Phil Nobile, Jr.)
FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN (1973)
Also known as Andy Warhol's Frankenstein, Flesh for Frankenstein is one of the most extremely gory Frankenstein movies ever made, and includes graphic disembowelments (in 3D!) and Baron Frankenstein getting it on with surgical wounds in cadavers, Cronenberg’s Crash-style. Udo Kier stars as the maniacal Baron who is trying to create a Serbian master race; the first iteration of his monster isn’t horny enough, so he kills the local stableboy (Joe Dallesandro, gay and underground film superstar) and puts his head on the monster’s body. But, in a twist on the usual Frankenstein story, the stableboy’s family and friends recognize the head and things go downhill from there, with more disemboweling along the way. Warhol Factory filmmaker Paul Morrissey brings a high camp energy to the film.
The film went under schedule and under budget, so the crew hung around and made ANOTHER horror movie right afterwards, Blood for Dracula, with Udo Kier this time playing the Count instead of the Baron. Also released as Andy Warhol's Dracula, this twofer means that there is kind of an Andy Warhol’s Monsterverse in existence (even though Warhol had nothing to do with the movies and his name was slapped on them for marketing). (Devin Faraci)
YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974)
Possibly Mel Brooks’ greatest film (let’s fight about it), 1974’s Young Frankenstein is maybe the strangest spoof movie of all time. A riff on the classic Universal Frankenstein films, especially Bride of Frankenstein, Young Frankenstein is so close to the source material to, at times, be indistinguishable. Watch the old blind man scene from Bride of Frankenstein after watching Gene Hackman rib it in Young Frankenstein and your head will spin -- Brooks takes the scene almost verbatim and just puts the emphasis in different places to make it raucously funny. Of course it helps that Bride of Frankenstein deserves a spot on any ‘Weirdest Frankensteins’ list on its own. (Devin Faraci)
Frank Henenlotter’s brain-damaged 1990 dark comedy mixes the Frankenstein story with Times Square hookers, crack cocaine and Penthouse Pet Patty Mullen, and the result is a delirious movie that has a charmingly juvenile sense of humor and a delightfully heavy hand on the trigger to set off explosions. When Jeffrey Franken’s fiancée is killed in a freak remote control lawnmower accident, the mad scientist from New Jersey saves her head and sets out to get prostitute parts to build her a new body. But he can’t kill anybody, so he whips up a batch of crack that causes the ladies of the night to explode on smoking. When he sews the creature together he finds, not his beloved steering the ship, but a strange new creature who only wants to turn tricks… and who causes her johns to explode when they get it on.
Starring James Lorinz, whom ‘80s exploitation fans love from Street Trash, Frankenhooker is a ridiculous film that, legend has it, received an S rating from the MPAA -- for Shit. But you should listen to Bill Murray, who is blurbed on the Blu-ray cover saying “If you see one movie this year, it should be Frankenhooker.” (Devin Faraci)