Total Recall

Best Frankenstein Movies

With I, Frankenstein hitting theaters this week, we take a closer look at the various cinematic incarnations of Mary Shelly's monstrous creation.

by | January 23, 2014 | Comments

Frankenstein

This weekend’s I, Frankenstein finds Aaron Eckhart portraying the occasionally neck-bolted wonder as a martial arts warrior embroiled in a demon-gargoyle war — but before you scoff out of hand, we feel the need to point out that ol’ Frank has found himself in a variety of seemingly strange cinematic situations, from arranged marriage to consorting with Abbott and Costello, and not all of them turned out as badly as they probably should have. In that spirit, we’ve decided to devote this week’s list to a decidedly non-comprehensive overview of some of the best Frankenstein movies ever made. A tall order? Certainly. But with the Tomatometer as our guide, we think we’ve turned up a dozen Frankenstein flicks that lumber with the best. Get Igor, ’cause it’s time for Total Recall!

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

89%

How you feel about Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein may depend on how you feel about Frankenstein — because while it’s one of Abbott and Costello’s funnier pictures, it’s fairly abysmal as a horror film, given the light treatment it affords the monster (not to mention Dracula, played by Bela Lugosi; the Wolfman, played by Lon Chaney, Jr.; and the Invisible Man, “played” by Vincent Price). Basically an excuse for the star duo to run around a creepy castle taking pratfalls while trying to avoid Dracula’s plans to put Costello’s brain in the monster’s body, it’s a far cry from the straight horror of the franchise’s proud early installments. On its own merits, however, it earned applause from critics like David Conner of the Apollo Guide, who wrote, “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein shows off both the comedy team and the monsters at their best, ranking in my book with Ghostbusters as one of the best horror-comedies ever.”

Bride of Frankenstein

98%

Bride of Frankenstein‘s poster screamed “The monster demands a mate!,” but it could just as easily have read “The studio demands a sequel!” Fortunately, returning director James Whale wasn’t in a rush to churn out any old follow-up; in fact, he initially turned down the gig, feeling like he’d “squeezed the idea dry” the first time around. Finally, after years of rejected screenplay drafts, Whale and Universal had something they could agree on: Bride of Frankenstein. The rare horror sequel that matches or exceeds its predecessor, it follows the adventures of the monster (again played by Boris Karloff) after he narrowly escapes death in the mill fire at the end of the first film — as does his creator (Colin Clive), only to be shanghaied by his mentor (Ernest Thesiger) into building the monster a bride (memorably played by Elsa Lanchester). “Whale’s erudite genius brings it all together,” applauded Empire Magazine’s Simon Braund. “He sculpts every nuance of self-parody, social satire, horror, humor, wit and whimsy into a dazzling whole, keeping every one of his fantastical plates spinning until the tragic, inevitable finale.”

The Curse of Frankenstein

80%

Long after Universal turned Frankenstein into comedy fodder, Hammer Studios used the tale as grist for its cinematic breakthrough: 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein, starring Peter Cushing as an altogether more malevolent Dr. F and Christopher Lee as a thoroughly memorable version of his monster. The end result proved tremendously influential for British horror cinema, and spawned a series of Cushing-led sequels in the bargain; as Kim Newman later observed for Empire, “In its best scenes, it adds dynamism and British grit to a genre that had previously tried to get by on atmospherics and mood alone. It manages to be shocking without being especially frightening, and its virtues of performance and style remain striking.”

Flesh for Frankenstein

86%

Featuring Andy Warhol in the producer’s chair and Udo Kier as an altogether different kind of mad doctor, 1973’s Flesh for Frankenstein used Mary Shelley’s classic as the springboard for a 3D schlockfest wherein instead of creating one lumbering monster, Frankenstein builds himself a pair of sex-crazed breeders who set about birthing him his very own race. Add in heaping helpings of incest, necrophilia, and a subplot involving a stable boy (the suitably lusty Joe Dallesandro) tasked with satisfying Frankenstein’s wife (Monique van Vooren), and you’re left with a movie so wildly over the top that most critics had no choice but to give in; it is, as James Kendrick wrote for the Q Network Film Desk, “pure camp taken to the highest extremes with a careful and purposeful hand.”

Frankenhooker

57%

“Wanna date?” Anyone who set foot in a well-stocked video store during the early 1990s had to have run across a “talking box” copy of Frankenhooker, Basket Case director Frank Henenlotter’s enthusiastically weird horror/comedy about an amateur scientist (James Lorinz) who accidentally murders his girlfriend (Patty Mullen) and then sets about rebuilding her with parts collected from the corpses of crack-addicted local hookers he’s blown up with a uniquely lethal home-brewed strain of the drug. Unfortunately for our “hero,” his undead sweetheart wakes up with a predilection for streetwalking, and before you know it, there’s a ticked-off pimp in the lab. “It thinks it’s funnier than it is,” cautioned Ken Hanke of the Asheville Mountain Xpress, “but it’s still pretty funny.”

Frankenstein

100%

It wasn’t the first Frankenstein film — that honor goes to J. Searle Dawley’s 1910 short — but it’s unquestionably the definitive one, featuring a number of additions that have since come to be part of the monster’s legend (including makeup artist Jack Pearce’s distinctive flat-headed design). Led by Boris Karloff’s star making performance, the James Whale Frankenstein terrified audiences to the tune of $12 million at the box office, giving Universal a healthy one-two monster punch with Dracula in 1931 and spinning off a lengthy series of sequels, reboots, and remakes that continues today. Writing after its debut, Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times called it “A stirring grand-guignol type of picture,” recalling that it “aroused so much excitement at the Mayfair yesterday that many in the audience laughed to cover their true feelings.”

Frankenweenie

87%

Nearly 30 years after a young Tim Burton was fired by Disney for daring to create a freaky live-action short about a young boy who reanimates his dead dog, the studio reached back out to Burton for a stop-motion 3D horror/comedy that took the original, buffed it out to feature length, and turned it into an unlikely critical winner that also managed to put up $67 million at the box office despite falling into the “too young for adults, too scary for kids” trap that studios have been steadily edging away from since the original Gremlins. And even though it represented the umpteenth reworking of the Frankenstein story, most critics were too charmed to care; as Connie Ogle argued for the Miami Herald, “The best thing about an animated monster movie with this much heart is: It’s alive. In the best possible way.”

Ghost of Frankenstein

75%

Lon Chaney, Jr. took over the role of the monster for 1942’s Ghost of Frankenstein, a sort of road trip buddy picture that sent him on the run with the demented crook-necked Igor (again played by Bela Lugosi, who had somewhat ironically turned down the opportunity to play the monster in the 1931 film) to once again wheedle the reluctant son of Frankenstein (Cedric Hardwycke) into performing an experiment against his better judgment. This time around, Igor wants the monster to receive a fresh brain — Igor’s — and although he initially has other ideas, the doctor eventually gives in, with predictably disastrous results. “It gets the job done with admirable efficiency, no excess of imagination, and all in a compact 67-minute frame, and you really wouldn’t want it to be any longer than that,” wrote a mildly enthusiastic Tim Brayton for Antagony & Ecstasy.

The Revenge of Frankenstein

87%

Hammer Studios’ second Frankenstein film again featured the icily cool Peter Cushing as the troubled doctor, who opens the film hiding in a small town where he hopes to finally be free to conduct his experiments — only to be discovered by a rival doctor, who instead ends up collaborating with Frankenstein on a new monster. Do things go horribly wrong? Of course they do, but Revenge of Frankenstein‘s predictable denouement didn’t deter praise from critics like Time Out’s David Parkinson, who called it one of Cushing’s best performances and wrote, “the Baron becomes a kind of Wildean martyr, alternating between noble defiance and detached cruelty.”

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

79%

The cult movie to end all cult movies, 1975’s Rocky Horror Picture Show reimagines Frankenstein as a bawdy, omnisexual musical about a pair of young lovers (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon) who wind up the unwitting houseguests of the lingerie-sporting transvestite Doctor Frank N. Furter, who unveils his dim-witted (albeit hunky) creation before murdering Meat Loaf. Never destined for box office greatness — yet still probably playing the midnight show at your local oddball-friendly theater — Rocky Horror Picture Show has earned the love of legions of shouting, prop-throwing fans over the years, as well as critical approval from scribes like Time Out’s Trevor Johnston, who bemusedly observed, “A string of hummable songs gives it momentum, [the] admirably straight-faced narrator holds it together, and a run on black lingerie takes care of almost everything else.”

Son of Frankenstein

95%

Boris Karloff booked his final appearance as the monster in 1939’s Son of Frankenstein, which was more or less rushed to theaters after the original re-captivated audiences as a reissued double feature with Dracula in 1938. The movie’s rather crass origins peek through in the plot, which strains the limits of credulity even for the third installment in a monster movie trilogy (Frankenstein’s son inherits his estate and is persuaded to reanimate the monster by a vengeful townie, played by Bela Lugosi), not to mention a deliriously hammy performance by Basil Rathbone in the title role; like the monster itself, it’s the kind of thing that really shouldn’t have been brought to life, but it ended up becoming much more than the sum of its motley parts. “Predictably, with four of the horror genre’s most sinister presences in the cast, this is highly entertaining,” wrote Time Out’s Geoff Andrew, “but Rowland Lee (who made the wonderful Zoo in Budapest) creates a sumptuous, atmospheric tale worthy of following Whale’s originals.”

Young Frankenstein

94%

Plenty of Frankenstein movies have wandered into camp, but none have been as purposely laugh-out-loud funny as Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. Starring Gene Wilder as the doctor’s grandson, Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced “Fronkensteen,” thank you very much), Cloris Leachman as the duplicitous Frau Blucher, Marty Feldman as cinema’s most perfectly bug-eyed Igor, and Peter Boyle as the soft-shoeing monster with sweet mystery, it sends up the classic tale’s mythology with deep affection and sweet, irresistibly silly aplomb, rendering all further Frankenstein spoofs instantly irrelevant. “Some of the gags don’t work, but fewer than in any previous Brooks film that I’ve seen, and when the jokes are meant to be bad, they are riotously poor,” chuckled Vincent Canby for the New York Times. “What more can one ask of Mel Brooks?”

Take a look through the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out I, Frankenstein.

Finally, here’s the 1910 Edison Production of Frankenstein — the first adaptation of the story for the screen:

Tag Cloud

Freeform revenge obituary award winner disaster rom-coms TV One comiccon zombies Women's History Month theme song reboot Biopics news Paramount Legendary indie unscripted TLC binge anthology Alien 71st Emmy Awards blockbuster Set visit Family Turner Classic Movies Western halloween Premiere Dates Crackle Superheroe Binge Guide Dark Horse Comics stop motion christmas movies Sony Pictures sequel a nightmare on elm street 2020 Image Comics BET Awards discovery Pop Comedy Central golden globes Starz GIFs Sundance Sci-Fi Rocky Pixar Cartoon Network Endgame period drama Masterpiece Mystery President mutant telelvision italian A24 fresh venice doctor who comedies football Music IFC Films children's TV Elton John psycho Amazon Prime Video Paramount Plus crossover political drama zero dark thirty indiana jones Winter TV police drama NBC based on movie Kids & Family Animation Ellie Kemper Amazon TBS Tumblr IFC Mary Tyler Moore cults Tomatazos blaxploitation space ABC Spectrum Originals El Rey Calendar razzies Extras true crime 45 halloween tv Hallmark Christmas movies A&E TCA Winter 2020 Baby Yoda HBO Go FX on Hulu See It Skip It Disney streaming service saw renewed TV shows Pride Month dc First Reviews Star Wars hispanic DC streaming service The Walt Disney Company game of thrones target Writers Guild of America concert kong Emmys pirates of the caribbean tv talk cooking classics TCM Vudu dogs Film cancelled television Emmy Nominations DC Universe Best and Worst cancelled TV series new zealand Film Festival Sneak Peek Horror cops fast and furious ABC Signature canceled TV shows New York Comic Con 2019 video Universal quibi Rom-Com Creative Arts Emmys medical drama 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards 24 frames Showtime nature Paramount Network stand-up comedy MSNBC Mary Poppins Returns Interview TIFF documentaries witnail WarnerMedia Logo festivals Mudbound godzilla Disney+ Disney Plus travel FOX serial killer women sitcom Apple TV Plus mockumentary WGN slashers dramedy Walt Disney Pictures Podcast Britbox Video Games television miniseries hollywood FXX Disney Channel RT21 Ovation superman DirecTV GoT war Star Trek superhero Apple TV+ jamie lee curtis robots batman Chernobyl Action franchise YouTube Premium 2016 GLAAD streaming movies USA Lifetime Christmas movies video on demand high school BBC One reviews universal monsters docuseries Food Network spanish language Country TV Awards Tour canceled toy story Quiz CW Seed CBS All Access Marvel Television OneApp Countdown archives 20th Century Fox rotten movies we love golden globe awards Rock documentary DGA Rocketman romance CMT YouTube prank stoner Polls and Games Toys Drama black The Witch USA Network crime thriller Avengers Academy Awards 99% Black Mirror Reality OWN psychological thriller Nickelodeon name the review Photos Apple Shudder Esquire aapi Marvel Studios Sundance TV TV renewals 2018 vampires ratings Trophy Talk adaptation Travel Channel asian-american Arrowverse YouTube Red Stephen King directors 21st Century Fox Trailer satire PlayStation Sundance Now independent sag awards nfl nbcuniversal Brie Larson Hear Us Out Shondaland Super Bowl cancelled what to watch movies Fox News Spike HBO Max PBS scene in color PaleyFest sequels docudrama spanish transformers adventure CBS ABC Family 2021 HBO series Holidays Amazon Prime Pirates Comedy Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 72 Emmy Awards Disney Plus Heroines cars blockbusters heist movie VOD animated DC Comics international Pet Sematary toronto romantic comedy Television Academy Year in Review marvel cinematic universe 2015 deadpool APB ESPN Acorn TV The CW Peacock movie talk show south america Watching Series Tubi SXSW Election Funimation emmy awards Musical Discovery Channel BBC America hist spain french festival Musicals Ghostbusters book Spring TV Grammys Lifetime laika monster movies technology child's play Mindy Kaling critics kaiju TCA Martial Arts rotten justice league streaming Thanksgiving dceu MTV diversity Lionsgate kids ghosts Hallmark Box Office The Academy composers die hard mission: impossible Infographic VICE Pop TV breaking bad Red Carpet SDCC First Look Lucasfilm MCU crime drama Holiday thriller twilight aliens comics American Society of Cinematographers TNT green book ID Bravo Crunchyroll game show japanese Marathons Adult Swim Winners elevated horror TruTV hidden camera Oscars BET Columbia Pictures harry potter parents LGBTQ National Geographic boxing Anna Paquin TCA Awards Television Critics Association Reality Competition Superheroes BAFTA Schedule latino joker Mary poppins Black History Month free movies worst movies CNN versus anime trailers Disney TV Land casting historical drama FX ITV Turner australia spinoff new york Cannes Fox Searchlight best crime science fiction Song of Ice and Fire Comics on TV Syfy Amazon Studios YA SundanceTV Comic Book Pacific Islander teaser remakes richard e. Grant foreign werewolf Warner Bros. finale biography Trivia jurassic park Cosplay 4/20 Opinion zombie boxoffice strong female leads screen actors guild Netflix Christmas movies cinemax new star wars movies rt archives Valentine's Day facebook worst dragons E3 BBC singing competition spider-man Nominations Epix king kong E! X-Men scary movies History TCA 2017 LGBT films Fantasy comic Teen Fall TV criterion politics Hulu book adaptation The Purge live action cats dark Netflix sports Summer 007 93rd Oscars Nat Geo comic books supernatural ViacomCBS Captain marvel screenings chucky 2017 know your critic Christmas Marvel cartoon VH1 Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt social media Broadway Exclusive Video AMC lord of the rings NYCC Certified Fresh popular Tarantino Awards The Walking Dead cancelled TV shows james bond scorecard all-time natural history Classic Film RT History Character Guide San Diego Comic-Con TV movies The Arrangement spy thriller