Ever since Mary Shelley spent the 19th century’s most ghoulish summer with her husband, Percy, and Lord Byron, a lovable scamp comprised of a patchwork of corpse parts has captured the imaginations of readers and movie patrons alike. Baron Victor Von Frankenstein’s monster has inspired countless films, dating all the way back to 1910. To help you decipher what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s ugly in the cinematic world of Frankenstein, I’ve decided to rank several of them, each with their own special grade. The grades are given using a neck bolt-themed rating system. Five bolts is the best attainable score; one is the worst.
House of Frankenstein (1944)
The plot is as hokey as hokey can be, involving a carnival carrying around the corpse of Dracula, and a mad scientist hell-bent on avenging a previous imprisonment. Naturally, to right this perceived wrong, he goes to Frankenstein’s castle to revive the monster. Once there, he finds both the monster and The Wolf Man (Lawrence Talbot) preserved in ice. What the film lacks in a decent screenplay, it makes up for with tremendous star power. Boris Karloff plays the mad scientist; Talbot is played, of course, by Lon Chaney, Jr.; and John Carradine makes a brief appearance as Count Dracula. Nobody would ever confuse this for a classic but if you’re the type of person who thrills at the sight of Frankenberries and Count Chocula or has ever mixed the two, then this is the movie for you.
Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (1966)
This Golden Turkey award winner is purely cheesetastic. It was created with one goal in mind- luring pre-teen kids into theaters. There is a bit of a misleading title, however. It’s Victor Von Frankenstein’s granddaughter, not his daughter, that Jesse James encounters. It’s a bad, bad film but it’s also tremendous fun. Trust me, I own it.
Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)
Any time you have a film presented by Andy Warhol, you know you’re in for a wild ride. Udo Kier plays the role of Baron Von Frankenstein with aplomb. His nefarious plot is to create a master race using the perfect man and perfect woman. He finds the perfect man, who by his estimation is a heterosexual beast. In reality, his “perfect man” has no libido and may or may not be gay. This causes problems. Namely, his perfect man intended to sire a master race won’t have sex with his perfect woman. Along the way, Joe Dallesandro (he of the thick Brooklyn accent) does his thing and Kier takes part in cinema’s first and only scene in which someone has sex with a gall bladder. The memorable quote: “To know death, Otto, you have to fuck life… in the gall bladder!”. No, really. He says that. It has to be seen to be believed.
Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965)
There is a Japanese Frankenstein movie. And in classic Japanese monster movie fashion, he has to fight “Baragon”, a subterranean monster. Frankenstein’s monster only existed in Japan because at the end of World War II, the Germans were trying to hide the monster’s still-beating heart and called on the Japanese to help. Once the heart was fused (accidentally) with radiation, it grew into a small grunting boy who continued to grow to monstrous proportions. For good measure after defeating Baragon, he then fights a gigantic land-based octopus in a fiery forest. I’m no marine biologist but I would think that the octopus, no matter how large, would’ve wilted on land, and especially in the middle of a forest fire. I guess in summation, Frankenstein Conquers the World was unrealistic based on its use of land-based octopi surviving forest fires.
Young Frankenstein (1974)
Perhaps the reason Mel Brooks’ spoofs work so well is that they’re never mean-spirited. They always come from the heart, and he’s always spoofing subject matter that he so obviously loves. That’s certainly the case here. Having a comedic genius like Gene Wilder in the role of Baron Von Frankenstein sure doesn’t hurt. Nor does it hurt having the impossibly attractive Teri Garr play the role of Inga, Marty Feldman as the bug-eyed Igor, Cloris Leachman as Frau Blücher, or Peter Boyle as the iconic monster. Brooks spoofs at least six previous Frankenstein films (per the film’s Wikipedia page). If you don’t laugh at Young Frankenstein, then you probably also hate puppies, rainbows, orgasms and all of the other great things about life.
The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)
Baron Frankenstein returns to his hometown and unearths the frozen corpse of several corpses by way of his monster. However, he can’t get the monster to obey him so he employs a carnival hypnotist to work his magic. The hypnotist has his own agenda and uses the monster to steal from the townspeople and get revenge on people who have wronged him. It’s… not the best film on this list. It’s nothing awful. It’s just very, very mediocre. Sadly, it’s the only Hammer Studios incarnation of Frankenstein that I’ve seen. I’ll try to rectify that in the future. Call it 2.5 bolts.
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
Strangely enough, the role of the monster is played by Bela Lugosi- as in, the guy known for playing Count Dracula. It tends to work better as the sequel to the original Wolf Man. The plot mostly focuses on Lawrence Talbot’s quest to find Castle Frankenstein in the hopes that the genius can find a way to reverse his lycanthropy. Still, seeing these two titans on the screen at the same time is a real treat and it all boils over in an epic battle. I am definitely a fan of this movie regardless of the flaws.
This is the Universal classic that started it all (unless you count the little known 1910 silent film). First and foremost, Boris Karloff was bloody brilliant in a wordless role. Second, this film was integral in transporting the noir elements of 1920’s German cinema into the United States. It’s a classic for a reason.
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Bride of Frankenstein is like the Godfather II of Universal horror sequels. The use of Mary Shelley and Lord Byron at the beginning sets the tone that this won’t be your run of the mill goofy horror sequel (tiny people in a jar notwithstanding). And the last 20 minutes are pure genius, with the use of a rhythmic heart to build tension and wield some incredible pacing. Dare I say it was better than the original? Perhaps it’s blasphemy but I genuinely think that it was at least as good. It was a very, very, very worthy sequel- moreso than other Universal sequels like She-Wolf of London, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, The Mummy’s Hand, or The Creature from the Black Lagoon Meets Don Knotts and the Harlem Globetrotters.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)
I haven’t seen this since it was originally in theaters, so bear with me a bit. It came on the heels of the Dracula re-make from 1992, and I seem to recall that it was a bit more true to the source literature. Deniro does well as the monster, though the film seemed a bit clunky and bloated at times. Again, this is all from memory, dating back 17 years. In other words, I need to give this one a fair chance down the line. Let’s call this one a very hazy three bolts.
Son of Frankenstein (1938)
In the third installment of the Universal Studios series of Frankenstein films, Wolf Von Frankenstein- son of Henry, the mastermind in the original film- returns to Castle Frankenstein amid a sea of anger and concern from the townspeople. It seems that if your father creates one itty bitty tiny little destructive monster, it ruins the family name in that town for a long time. Wolf eventually unearths the monster in the castle and decides that he needs to prove that his father’s experiments weren’t a failure. Somehow, by reviving a destructive gigantic ghoul comprised of corpse parts, he can win the town back. Naturally, it doesn’t work out and the town ultimately gives Wolf the instructions to not let the castle door hit him in the ass on the way out of town. Notable in this film is Bela Lugosi in the role of Igor.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
At this point, the jolly green corpse giant was losing some of his monstrous teeth. So Universal opted to use him for comedy. The monster takes a mostly secondary role, with his monster peers- The Wolf Man and Dracula- gobbling most of the key scenes. However, there is an attempt made to switch the monster’s brain with Lou Costello. It’s good fun, ripe with several laughs.