For many, the word “monster” summons an image of Boris Karloff as the man-made abomination with bolts and stitches and a boxy head. It’s been a while, though, since the beloved, lumbering mash-up of cadaver parts has been on the screen. The just-released “I, Frankenstein” may or may not alter the monster-movie landscape long term. But looking back, here are five of the ersatz beast’s best.
Though not the first (Edison turned out a silent version in 1910), James Whale’s adaptation may be the best. Dwight Frye steals scenes as the malignant hunchback Fritz (word to the wise: Read the labels on brain jars carefully), but the expressionist imagery and Karloff’s performance make this a masterpiece of pathos as well as horror.
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Depicting the worst first date in movie history, Whale’s sequel features an introduction by Mary Shelley herself, played by Elsa Lanchester, who also portrays the kind-of-sexy, lightning coiffed, would-be spouse of the title. This is what happens when you tell a mad scientist, “I want friend like me.”
Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein (1973)
Andy Warhol’s career itself was a kind of Frankenstein’s monster, a pastiche of pop-art parts brought to uncanny life. Here his Factory colleague Paul Morrissey patches together an X-rated farce starring Udo Kier as Baron Frankenstein who, as reader Russell Bastoni explains, “is building the perfect male and female to start a new master race, but encounters a problem.” Let’s just say that Fritz isn’t the only one picking the wrong brain.
The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)
The monster has just a cameo in Victor Erice’s visionary work, seen on screen by a little girl when James Whale’s original film finally reaches her Spanish village in 1940. But the glimpse transforms her life, especially when she transfers her mixed feelings about the creature to a wounded fugitive hiding in a farmhouse.
Young Frankenstein (1974)
Joining “It’s alive!” and the Bride’s scream among the most iconic Frankenstein movie moments, the concluding scene of Mel Brooks’s uproarious parody pairs Gene Wilder as Dr. Frankenstein and Peter Boyle as the Monster in a tap-dancing rendition of “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”
Though they may be in the least anticipated Oscars category, the short films are often better than the nominated features. As several programs of this year’s nominees tour theaters, it’s a good time to consider the best examples of this overlooked genre. And looking ahead to Feb. 2: Not to encourage anyone to make more, but there must be some reason that found-footage films are so popular. Which ones have you found to be to your liking? Cast your votes at www.boston.com/cinemania.