The Cultural Implications of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Approximately five years after Frankenstein was published, Mary Shelley went to see the first dramatic production based on her novel. Accounts suggest that she liked the portrayal of the creature from her novel. Since then, there have been hundreds of interpretations of Frankenstein.

In 1931 Boris Karloff, an English actor, starred in one of the most memorable adaptations of Frankenstein. In this version, the monster comes to life on an operating table after being zapped by electricity. Karloff had a huge, squared head with pale corpse-like skin and portrayed the monster as gentle and childlike. Movie goers loved his interpretation, and he received lots of fan mail.

Here is a clip from this 1931 version:

Another famous version, among the many, is the 1995 film titled Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Robert De Niro was cast as the creature. The director, Kenneth Branagh commented, "I wanted a wise and intelligent and multifaceted Creature who could be angry and even funny at times, and who would have a sense of humor, however darkly ironic." A lot of work went into developing the physical appearance of the creature for the 1995 version. Make-up artists did research in books from the early 1800's on surgery, skin disorders, and embalming. They wanted to know what Frankenstein would have been able to accomplish using the knowledge and techniques available at the time. The result was a very frightening Robert De Niro with a gray scarred completion and hulking frame.

Here is a clip from Kenneth Branagh's 1995 version:

These are just two of the hundreds of versions and variations of Mary Shelley's story. The cultural influence of Frankenstein is obvious every Halloween as children who know nothing of Mary Shelley's story dress up as the creature and erroneously call themselves Frankenstein. What is it about Shelley's story that is so fascinating? Why does this story keep getting retold?

Last modified: Thursday, 29 November 2012, 12:47 PM