The unhuman and undead have been at the center of an undeniable trend. Vampires exploded back onto the scene with their impossible promises of everlasting life and love, and zombies came along later to balance that sap with some good, old-fashioned flesh eating. This writer has been waiting for the trend, circling like a vulture, to land on one of the most influential, society-infecting creatures in literature and film: Frankenstein’s monster. The time has finally come.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (which Shelley wrote at just 18 years of age in an effort to fight boredom) shows up everywhere in society – in every “beware of your ambitions” tale as well as in everyday conversation. (Does “I’ve created a monster” sound familiar?) It has inspired many films and theater works and is so deeply ingrained in our culture that we often don’t recognize it. (Frankenberry cereal anyone?)
Since 1910, there have been at least ten film adaptations of Shelley’s cautionary tale, with the most recognizable being James Whale’s 1931 hit starring Boris Karloff, and the 1994 film starring Robert De Niro and Helena Bonham Carter. It was the 1931 version that created the vision of the monster (not to be confused with his creator, Victor Frankenstein) as the flat-topped, stitched-face creature with bolts holding his head onto his body.
Now Frankenstein’s monster will come to life again. Shawn Levy (“Night at the Museum,” “Date Night”) has officially signed on to direct Fox’s Frankenstein film, possibly giving this film a head start over the half-dozen others in the works including “Wake the Dead,” ” I, Frankenstein,” and “This Dark Endeavor.”
Levy’s take on the classic horror story will focus on “themes of friendship and redemption,” which may leave many rolling their eyes, hungry for a more thrilling, dangerous character. Assuming the director means friendship for the monster, he could be right on track and correct to deviate from the stereotypical beast. Part of Shelley’s staying power is found in the conflict of feelings her work creates between pity for an abandoned, unloved, and misunderstood creature, and the disgust over his appearance and actions. The monster is a serial murderer, but still inspires sympathy as his killing spree is fueled by others’ prejudice and torment toward him. The book itself is quite heartfelt; take, for example, the moment the monster sees his reflection in a pond and realizes for the first time that his appearance is deformed. It is this moment he realizes he will never have the acceptance or companionship he longs for, and true hopeless isolation consumes him.
With Levy veering from all past horror adaptations and focusing on the friendship/redemption angle, he may bring us back to the story’s original core – making this the most compelling adaptation yet.