Frankenstein's Monster - often called "The Monster", "The Creation" or incorrectly called just "Frankenstein" - is the legendary creature created by Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelley's classic horror tale. In the decades since Shelley's original novel, the monster has gone down in history as one of the most iconic horror fiction characters of all time, appearing in numerous media formats.
Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus
Victor Frankenstein builds the creature in his laboratory through an ambiguously described scientific method consisting of chemistry (from his time as a student at University of Ingolstadt) and alchemy (largely based on the writings of Paracelsus, Albertus Magnus, and Cornelius Agrippa). The creature horrifies Frankenstein, and the scientist immediately disavows the experiment. Abandoned, frightened, and completely unaware of his own identity, the monster wanders through the wilderness searching for kindness and acceptance.
He finds brief solace in a woodshed beside a remote cottage inhabited by a family of peasants, the DeLaceys. Eavesdropping on the family's conversation, the creature familiarizes himself with their lives and comes to regard them as his own family, referring to them as his 'protectors'. He learns to speak by listening to the family teach French, their native language, to an Arabian daughter-in-law, and the creature becomes eloquent, educated, and well-mannered in a short time.
After much deliberation about revealing himself to the family, the creature introduces himself to the patriarch, the blind father, and who accepts him into his home and treats him with kindess. The blind man cannot see the creature's "accursed ugliness" and considers him a friend. When the rest of the family returns, they are terrified of the creature and drive him away. Still hopeful but bewildered, the creature rescues a peasant girl from a river, but is shot in the shoulder by a man who claims her. Heartbroken and enraged, the creature renounces all humankind, swearing revenge on his creator for abandoning his grotesque creation to a cruel and intolerant world.
Meanwhile, Frankenstein exiled himself to the mountains to reconcile his grief and despair. The monster approaches him at the summit and insists Frankenstein hear his plight. The creature tells Frankenstein his story, while also pleading with his creator to manufacture a female equivalent to mitigate the loneliness of his existence. Frankenstein agrees, but, aghast at the possibility of creating a race of monsters, abandons the agreement preceding the female creature's completion and enraging the monster. Before fleeing into the night, the creature threatens Frankenstein saying, "I will be with you on your wedding night!"
Later, the creature kills Frankenstein's best friend, Henry Clerval, and Victor's bride (and cousin/adopted-sister), Elizabeth Lavenza. Due to the incident, Frankenstein's father dies of grief. Frankenstein then dedicates his life to hunting and destroying the product of his experiments. Searching for the creature in the Arctic Circle, the scientist loses control of his dogsled and falls into the freezing water, contracting severe pneumonia. A ship exploring the region rescues Victor. Before succumbing to his illness and dying, he relates his entire story about the creature and his experiment to the captain, Robert Walton. Later, the creature boards the ship, intent on taking his final revenge, but, upon finding his creator dead, is overcome with grief. The monster pledges to travel to "the Northernmost extremity of the globe"; he leaps from the boat and disappears.
Universal Film Series
James Wales Films
In Frankenstein (1931) the monster is portrayed by Boris Karloff and is created by the obsessed eccentric Dr. Heinrich "Henry" Frankenstein through the power of electricity harnessed from lightning-bolts. Dr. Frankenstein wishes for the monster to have a great mind so he has his hunchbacked assistant Fritz break into the University and steal the brain of a scientist who donated his remains to science. Fritz accidentally drops the brain however and ruins it then steals the abnormal brain of a murderer instead. When the monster is finally brought to life it is violent and aggressive and does not understand the world leading Frankenstein to have it imprisoned in one of his lab's cells before leaving to attend wedding preparations with his bride Elizabeth.
After Fritz torments the monster with a torch due to learning it has a fear of fire, the monster breaks free of its chains and kills the hunchback before escaping to the nearby village. In the village the monster finds a young girl happily tossing flowers in a lake to watch them float and the monster, believing her dress will float too, throws her into the water and accidentally drowns her. Confused and alone, the monster finds its way to Castle Frankenstein where he horrifies Frankenstein's fiancée Elizabeth. The monster flees and Frankenstein joins the villagers who formed an angry mob out of outrage for the death of the young girl.
Frankenstein comes to be captured by the monster however and taken to an abandoned windmill where the monster has taken refuge. Frankenstein escapes and the villagers find him, setting the windmill on fire with their torches to kill the monster.
In the Bride of Frankenstein (1935) it's revealed that the monster survived the fire due to divine intervention on the behalf of Mary Shelley. The monster goes into the woods and comes across a lonely blind hermit who he befriends and who takes him in. The hermit teaches the monster about the world, like what friends are, social conventions and he even helps the monster get over his fear of fire. Villagers find the monster however and try to kill it, setting the cabin on fire and taking away the monster, leaving it all alone in the world.
Going to a cemetery to be amongst the dead he was built from, the monster witnesses Frankenstein's old university colleague Dr. Septimius Praetorius and his henchmen grave-robbing. The Monster confronts Praetorius when he is alone and the two come to an understanding as Praetorius is a scientist with a twisted mind who has been creating his own life in the form of homunculi but wishes to create a life-sized creation with Dr. Frankenstein. The monster and Praetorius confront Dr. Frankenstein who has only recently recovered from his wounds from the first film and Praetorius persuades the doctor into rekindling his passion for creating life from death to give the monster "a friend".
Together, Praetorius and Frankenstein create a creature from corpse made to resemble a young maiden which Praetorius declares to be "The Bride of Frankenstein". The Bride is horrified and unnatural in her first moments of existence and after the monster attempts to reach out to her to befriend her, she jerks away and screams in horror at its appearance. The monster then comes to the realization that creatures like himself and the monster were never meant to exist in the world and that they will only be treated with terror and persecution so he tells Frankenstein and Elizabeth to leave the lab. The monster proceeds to pull a lever which destroys the laboratory, sending it crashing down on himself, the bride and Praetorius with the words, "We belong dead".
Sequels and Crossovers
Following the Bride of Frankenstein, the Frankenstein film series took much more of a turn towards pulp in-part due to the original director James Wales leaving the series. The monster is given much less empathy and sympathy and portrayed more as a mindless brute of pure destruction.
In the Son of Frankenstein (1939) it's revealed that Castle Frankenstein has been abandoned for decades and deemed haunted by the locals who hate Clan Frankenstein for having created the monster. The monsters' remains had been preserved in the Frankenstein Family Crypt alongside his creator and is found by Frankenstein's now adult son Baron Wolf Von Frankenstein who took his wife Elsa and young son Peter to live in the family estate.
Wolf comes across Ygor, a demented blacksmith who assisted Dr. Frankenstein in his grave-robbing years earlier. For his crimes, Ygor was ordered to be hanged by the noose but he miraculously survived albeit with a twisted neck. Ygor persuades Wolf into resurrecting the monster in order to prove that Dr. Frankenstein did not create an evil being and in-order to restore the family name while in reality Ygor has his own agenda. After the monster is resurrected, Ygor manipulates the creature into murdering every member of the jury which deemed Ygor guilty. When Wolf discovers this he shoots Ygor and the monster kidnaps Peter Frankenstein in revenge, only to find he can't bring himself to hurt a child.
Wolf teams up with Police Inspector Krogh, a police officer who apparently had his arm torn out by the monster when he was a child. They chase the monster to the ruins of Frankenstein's Laboratory which revealed to possess a large pit of molten sulphur underneath it. A fight ensues as Baron Frankenstein pushes the monster into the pit.
In the Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), the monster is no-longer portrayed by Boris Karloff but rather by Lon Chaney jr., most famous for his portrayal of Larry Talbot in the Wolf-Man. It is revealed that Ygor survived getting shot and after recovering went to the laboratory ruins after the fight where he found the monster preserved in the sulphur like a mummy. The monster is weakened however and due to this Ygor decided to take the monster to Dr. Frankenstein's second son Ludwig to heal the creature.
Dr. Ludwig von Frankenstein is a celebrated surgeon and neuroscientist in Visaria who inherited many of his father's notes. Ludwig is blackmailed by Ygor into healing the monster due to the people of Visaria not knowing the Frankenstein Family's bloody history and how it can destroy the lives of not only Ludwig, but that of his young daughter Baroness Elsa von Frankenstein. Ludwig is visited by the ghost of his late-father who explains to him that the monster is weak due to his abnormal brain and that it needs a better brain to survive.
Ludwig intends on giving the monster the brain of a late-scientist named Dr. Kettering but Ygor conspires with Ludwig's rival for his own brain to be transplanted instead. As it turns out, Ygor hates his crippled body and wishes to acquire the strength of the monster. Ygor's brain is successfully transplanted and the new monster attempts to go on a killing spree only to be blinded due to Ygor and the monster having non-compatible blood-types. The Ygor-Monster accidentally activates an electrical device which causes the chateau they are in to burn down, supposedly killing him.
In Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) the Monster is now played by Bela Lugosi (who had formerly played Ygor) while Lon Chaney jr. plays his classic role of the Wolf Man. It is revealed that the monster fell through the floor of the burning chateau and into a frozen cellar where he was preserved in ice. Decades after the previous film, the monster is found by the Wolf-Man Larry Talbot who came in search of Ludwig Frankenstein who he believed could cure him. Larry accidentally murdered a young woman while in werewolf form and caused the formation of an angry mob hunting the werewolf who they do not know to be Talbot. Larry awakens the monster in hopes that it can lead him to the notes of Dr. Frankenstein which Ludwig inherited from his father.
The monster having Ygor's brain is never acknowledged in the film and the continuity of the monster's being is never made clear in the film or the films proceeding it. Larry seeks out the now adult Baroness Elsa von Frankenstein in hopes of obtaining the original Dr. Frankenstein's notes and subsequently gets invited to attend a village festival with her. At the festival, the monster goes on a rampage only to be apprehended, resulting in Baroness Frankenstein agreeing to team up with Talbot and his doctor Dr. Mannering to purge all supernatural instances from the village with her grandfather's notes. Mannering uses the notes to discover a way to drain all life from Frankenstein's monster and the Wolf-Man but Dr. Mannering decides to revives the monster out of scientific curiosity to observe it's power, much to the horror of Elsa. The Monster attempts to kidnap Elsa for unknown reasons but Larry transforms into the Wolf-Man and fights the monster. The two are swept away however when a villager decides to use dynamite to destroy the dam overlooking the castle and both monsters are swept away in the water's currents, presumably killing them.
In House of Frankenstein (1944) the monster is recast with actor Glenn Strange and remains with that actor until the end of the continuity. In this film, the monster has been yet again frozen and preserved in the ice underneath of the castle where it was thought to have died, this time along with Larry Talbot. The two are revived by mad scientist Dr. Gustav Niemann (played by Frankenstein's monster's original actor, Boris Karloff) and his hunchbacked assistant Daniel. Niemann has recently escaped from prison and briefly resurrected Count Dracula to murder the burgermeister who was responsible for his incarceration. Niemann promises to develop a cure for Talbot's lycanthropy if he acts as a henchman to him and assists in the resurrection of Frankenstein's monster for it to act as Niemann's slave.
Dr. Niemann's hunchbacked henchman Daniel (who he promised a new body) falls in love with a Romani woman named Ilonka who is likewise in-love with Larry Talbot despite his werewolf curse. However when Larry turns into the Wolf-Man he murders Ilonka but not before she murders him with a silver bullet. The death of Ilonka prompts Daniel to blame Dr. Niemann and turn on him, attacking him until he's barely conscious. The monster intervenes and throws Daniel out of a window before carrying the half-conscious doctor outside where they fall into a quicksand pit.
In House of Dracula (1945), the monster appears in the climax of the film. In-between House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula however, several unknown events occur which result in the resurrection of Larry Talbot and Count Dracula, both of whom had died in the former film. Frankenstein's monster's body is found by Dr. Franz Edelmann, a gifted scientist who attempted to cure the vampirism of Count Dracula and the lycanthropy of Larry Talbot. Eddelman finds the monster's corpse in thee caves under the castle from the last movie where it's body is still holding that of Dr. Niemann. Edelmann takes the monster's body back to his lab in hopes of reviving it. Edelmann however becomes infected with Dracula's blood which he was experimented on but rather than transforming into a vampire, he simply turns evil and tries to use the monster for evil purposes. Edelman is killed however by a police inspector named Holtz and the monster engages in another fight with Talbot's wolf-self, this time getting trapped in a burning castle which collapses on him.
The Universal monster's final appearance comes in the form of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) and the film is often considered swan-song for not only Frankenstein's monster, but for the Wolf-Man and Count Dracula as-well. In this film, the corpses of Frankenstein's Monster and Count Dracula are preserved and sold to a Florida wax museum known as "McDougal's House Of Horrors". The two corpses are sent to Florida in crates which get opened up by baggage clerks Chick Young and Wilbur Grey (Abbot and Costello). The two leave the crates open which somehow leads to Frankenstein's monster and Dracula being resurrected and the baggage clerks getting arrested for theft when McDougal finds the crates empty. The two monsters are invited to live with a mad-scientist name Dr. Sandra Mornay who has studied the notes of Dr. Frankenstein and become a follower of Dracula. Sandra has also seduced Wilbur as part of Dracula's plan to replace the Monster's brain with that of Wilbur's.
After Wilbur and Chick are let out on bail they attend a party at Dr. Mornay's castle which she uses to kidnap Wilbur and strap him down in her lab for the brain transplant. The monster breaks free from it's chains however and throws Sandra out a window to her death, it then proceeds to chase Chick and Wilbur through the castle. The monster is killed once and for all when the two escape from the island in a boat and set the pier on fire with the monster on it.
The exact appearance of the monster has differed between numerous mediums. The most common representation of the monster is a tall, muscular figure with a somewhat flat-looking head, green skin, sunken eyes and bolts sticking out of its head or neck. It also wears ragged clothes and has surgical scars all over its body. The flat head was designed to reflect that Dr. Frankenstein might have to open up the monster's skull to work on its brain.
In the book the monster has semi translucent yellow skin that barely hid his muscles and tendons. It had long black hair and watery pale eyes with irises almost as white as the rest of the eyeball. It's complexion is hideous and shrivelled despite Victor having apparently designed it to be beautiful and his lips are black and thin, twisted around large white teeth.
Frankenstein's monster is by no means an evil being, as is often misconceived. He is a timid, emotional creature who is only driven to commit acts of violence out of despair and anger. All he wanted in life was to share his existence with another like himself, to find a sense of belonging in a world filled with people that feared and hated him for being different from them.
Though many adaptations depict him to be an unintelligent brute, the monster is actually quite eloquent and articulate in the original Frankenstein book. He learns how to dress himself not long after his creation and learns to speak the French and German languages fluently by the time he is eleven months old. He is surprisingly spiritual and it was implied in the book that he was a vegetarian, preferring things like berries and nuts to meat.
- Frankenstein's monster is often classified as "undead", but this is not entirely accurate. While he is made from pieces of human cadavers, his constructed nature implies that he is actually a golem, albeit one made of flesh.
- Being created through a form of alchemy, Frankenstein's monster also qualifies as being a homunculus.