Mary Shelley wrote what many consider to be the first science fiction novel with Frankenstein. A doctor, equal parts genius and mad man, plays God by reanimating the dead through science and pays for his hubris. The story has been retold in many ways through the years and today I’ll be looking at two modern takes: Frankenweenie and Frankenhooker. One is a sweet story about regaining a lost loved one, another is a horrific tale about irresponsibility and its dire consequences.
In Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie a young boy’s dog is sadly run over. Using his science know how, some stitches, and 1.21 gigawatts of power he manages to bring his beloved dog back to life. But the method to his madness is made known to others and unpredictable results wreak havoc in his little town. Frankenweenie drips with Burton’s style and is brought to life with wonderful stop motion animation. Despite a few fun nods to classic figures from horror movie history the plain story will only hold the attention of children. And maybe only children who are just slightly odd.
But I’d caution you against allowing your child to see this film. It is borderline offensive how irresponsible the “hero” is with his accomplishment. He is the direct cause of mayhem and destruction all throughout his unaware and innocent town. Never is he held accountable for what he’s done. At its heart this is a dark tale about ego left unchecked.
On the other hand we have Frankenhooker. While it may start with a similar theme of loss it goes to very different places. His fiancée decapitated, a scientist vows to build her a new body and resurrect her so their love may continue to blossom. Of course, to build her a perfect body he must harvest pieces from several prostitutes he hires for the night. As you do. Hijinks ensue. In the vein of exploitation films, this entire movie is darkly comedic from beginning to end. The special effects are only slightly better than the overacting but it all lends itself to a cartoonish slapstick charm. Think midnight B movie, and you’ve got the idea. Insanity from beginning to end.
But that tone belies the true value of this film. Yes, lives are lost. But they are mostly the lives lost souls who tragically succumb to their drug addictions or lowlife predators whom the world is better off without. And still our protagonist expresses anxiety and remorse at this collateral damage, far more so than Burton’s boy did. Frankenweenie rewards a sociopath for his recklessness. Frankenhooker gives us a conflicted, tragic hero and is ultimately about the endurance of love and the lengths to which you’d go for your soulmate. Beautiful.
So when looking through horror movies don’t be fooled into thinking one Frankenstein is as good as another. Even when they come from the same source material each version adds it’s own unique stamp. That’s how we end up with a perverse and caustic movie like Frankenweenie and a tale of love and loss like Frankenhooker. It just goes to show you that every movie is…more than the sum of its parts.
Other movies I watched this week (potential minor spoilers):
Frankenstein (1931) – The original! It’s hard for me to really engage with films from this era. They’re simply of a different style and pace. That said Colin Clive portrays Dr. Frankenstein well as being one step away from madness. The sets of the castle are effective and always create a dramatic frame for the scene. If it were 20 minutes shorter I’d say it were a strong bit of cinema history.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) – Featuring a less sympathetic monster and some Brady Bunch style incest, this rendition suffers from a similar drag when the monster and the doctor are apart as the original. That said Branagh puts in a good performance as a man who lets his ambition and good intentions lead him astray into an exciting final confrontation.
I, Frankenstein – No, you’re not. A painfully generic CGI filled action fest, the fact that the hero is Frankenstein’s monster in modern day means almost nothing to the boring plot. Telling of a war between two supernatural factions hidden from humans this entire thing is pale imitation of the Underworld movies, and there only one or two good ones of those. They even share many of the same writers, producers, and a few actors. They ripped THEMSELVES off! This shameless retread is capable of nothing but dumb shows and noise.
Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein – …and Dracula and the Wolfman. This classic comedy duo is near and dear to my heart. Masters of comedic timing and always playing with language, these two never fail to make me laugh.
The Loved Ones – I ran out of Frankenstein movies, so sue me. This Aussie horror flick falls squarely in the torture porn genre as a young woman and her father who is a LITTLE too into her try to find her the perfect prom date by kidnapping and torturing dudes. This little family is delightfully demented as they use household items like kitchen knives, forks, and drills to coat the room in blood. This movie involves a use for boiling water that even I thought was clever, unique, and absolutely crazy and cringe inducing. Fun to watch!