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10 Best Frankenstein Riffs

When you can’t improve perfection, you might as well pervert it.
Frankenstein Riffs
By  · Published on October 5th, 2019

This article is part of our ongoing series, 31 Days of Horror Lists.

“We belong dead,” moans the poor monster during the climax of Bride of Frankenstein. He knows his place, and it’s below the ground. He did not ask to live but was forced into the world by our hubris. Humanity thinks it knows best but is often so damn wrong. Look no further than Kenneth Branagh. The madman. Mary Shelley‘s seminal work of fiction exposes the freuqent sin of placing oneself above the natural order, and artists have been obsessed with this particular faux pas ever since. We’ve seen multiple adaptations of the source material, but few reach the iconic glory of James Whale‘s original spin on the book. The best examples are the films that take a germ of Shelley’s story and twist it into a totally radical new mix. You can’t compete with Boris Karloff, so why bother?

Without further ado, here’s the finest Frankenstein riffs stitched together by Chris Coffel, Valerie Ettenhofer, Kieran Fisher, Rob Hunter, Meg Shields, Anna SwansonJacob Trussell, and yours truly.

Red Dots

10. Gothic (1986)

Frankenstein Gothic

Bonjour 1986-era Ken Russell! What sights do you have in store for us today? Gabriel Byrne as Lord “capital-F Fuckboy” Byron? An energy vampire birthed through a séance? Boobs that are also EYES? Hell yes. Also, behold: We have snuck a vampire film onto this Frankenstein list. Ha! Well, sort of, Gothic re-imagines the infamous night that inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein. Like many a cabin in the woods stories, the film (and the actual historical event) consists of a gaggle of horny poets having their drug-fueled sleepover ruined by bad weather and turning to the titillation of the macabre. Like everything Ken Russell has ever touched, Gothic is bananas and surprisingly more kind to Mary Shelley than most portrayals, giving her grief space and credence… while also being goofy enough to make Percy and Byron KISS. (Meg Shields)

9. Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965)

Frankenstein Conquers The World

Even if you’re not a fan of Toho’s giant creature features, you can’t deny their willingness to experiment with interesting ideas. Frankenstein Conquers the World takes elements from Mary Shelley’s iconic story and repurposes them for a monster smackdown opus. As the story goes: a heart taken from Dr. Frankenstein’s lab and becomes exposed to the radiation of Hiroshima. Over the years, a humanoid monster is spawned, and must do battle with Baragon — a subterranean monster that’s been ravaging the land. Naturally, both monsters eventually come to blows and chaos ensues. It’s one of the crazier concepts for a Toho movie, and one that honors the spirit of Shelley’s story as well as kaiju movies. (Kieran Fisher)

8. Frankenstein’s Army (2013)

Frankenstein's Army

I may be FSR’s resident found footage stan, but that doesn’t mean I think the style is faultless. Case in point: Frankenstein’s Army. Found footage doesn’t belong in WW2. We barely had cameras, let alone ones sturdy enough to make it through a bunker filled with Nazi experiments based on the journals of Victor Frankenstein! And while I don’t believe found footage was the right choice for the narrative, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. The creatures in Frankenstein’s Army could very well have come across as hokey when filmed conventionally. But here, where we get fading, obscured glimpses of these wild monstrosities our imaginations are allowed to fill in the blanks! We get just enough of these franken-soldiers to whet our appetite without letting us see the seams in the rubber suits. Frankenstein’s Army is a far cry from a “faithful adaptation” of Mary Shelley’s classic work, but it may be one of the most creatively inspired. While the titular army will never be as iconic as old bolt neck, they are endlessly more alluring. Pair it with Overlord, and you’ve got the perfect World War horror double feature that shockingly hasn’t been featured on The History Channel. (Jacob Trussell)

7. Frankenstein Unbound (1990)

Frankenstein Unbound

Roger Corman, Raul Julia, John Hurt, Frankenstein’s monster, and a Time Machine…WTF?!?!! Yes to all of that!! This cheapie low-fi sci-fi is more Ed Wood than James Whale or Mary Shelley, and the freak is all the better for it. Hurt plays a mad scientist who accidentally propels himself from the future and into the foyer of the O.G. mad doctor that kickstarted all our sinful invention. The costumes appear stripped from a local theater, and the required future-tech seems to be Home Depot cardboard wrapped in Radio Shack wiring, but there is nothing economical about Hurt and his powerhouse scream-acting. The man knows what kind of film he’s in and he brings his A-Game to the B-Game. Frankenstein Unbound is not Corman’s finest hour, but it may be his finest hour within the 1990s. (Brad Gullickson)

6. Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Edward Scissorhands
Twentieth Century Fox

The best — or to some, most grating — thing about Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands is that it posits a world in which an unseen power’s creation, when left to its own devices, will naturally gravitate toward beauty and goodness. This is an idea the original Frankenstein text touched upon, but that scientist’s monster was soon discouraged from purer pursuits by bad encounters with humans. In this case, Johnny Depp’s Edward is a perpetually gentle soul, an endearing man who’s simply unacclimated to suburbia and trying his best. By film’s end, he’s a fairy tale figure who exists in the public imagination, a story of selflessness and wonder to be shared for generations. When I think of him, I like to remember the particularly emblematic scene during which he, examining his surroundings with the curiosity of a nervous pet, accidentally poked a hole in a waterbed and then quickly tried to cover the squirting geyser with a stuffed animal. (Valerie Ettenhofer)

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)