The Spool / Movies
It’s Alive! 6 unique takes on Frankenstein
After catching Lisa Frankenstein this weekend, check out some of these weird & wild spins on the legendary tale.
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After catching Lisa Frankenstein this weekend, check out some of these weird & wild spins on the legendary tale.

Now that we’ve all established that Frankenstein (or Fronkensteen, whichever you prefer) is in fact the name of the doctor, and his creation is just “the Creature,” we can sit back and enjoy a revival in appreciation for Mary Shelley’s landmark story that skillfully wove together body horror, science, and existentialism. Following the critically acclaimed Poor Things is Zelda Williams’ 80s-set comedy Lisa Frankenstein, opening in theaters tomorrow, which acts as a nice appetizer before Guillermo del Toro’s long-awaited adaptation on the story and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s version of Bride of Frankenstein, both set for release next year.

While often overlooked in favor of the cooler, sexier Dracula, there’s plenty of media dedicated to Dr. Frankenstein and his creation, starting with James Whale’s unimpeachable 1931 adaptation and its even better sequel, 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein. It’s been lovingly parodied (Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein), given a family-friendly treatment (Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie), turned into a musical (The Rocky Horror Picture Show), and even made into porn (more movies than you can possibly imagine). Here now are a list of some of the more notably unusual (and non-pornographic) takes on the story, offering gore, laughs, romance, or just general weirdness.

Poor Things (2023, dir. Yorgos Lanthimos): One of the most critically acclaimed films of last year, while not a direct adaptation of Frankenstein, the bones of it serve as the base for a unique, memorable and mature story. A fearless Emma Stone plays Bella Baxter, brought back to life by a mad scientist and initially with the mind of a child, but with a thirst for knowledge and life that thrills, intimidates, and repels everyone around her. Even after learning how to be a civilized member of society despite her horrifying origins, Bella rejects a conventional life. Tony McNamara’s script acknowledges that Frankenstein’s creature is not a monster so much as a misunderstood miracle, brought into a world that simply wasn’t ready for it. (Currently in theaters)

Poor Things
Poor Things (TSG Entertainment)

Frankenhooker (1990, dir. Frank Henenlotter): Hi, wanna date? That phrase will be burned into your brain after you watch Frank Henenlotter’s likably trashy Frankenhooker. After his fiancee is killed in a gruesome lawn mower accident, grief-stricken Jeffrey Franken (James Lorinz) tries to bring her back to life, starting with parts of various sex workers who die after smoking an explosive strain of crack. The movie itself is, to put it politely, a product of its time, but what makes it worth watching is Patty Mullen as the titular Frankenhooker, who gives a no-holds-barred performance, mugging, stomping around, and adding some slapstick charm to the whole thing. (Streaming on the Criterion Channel and Peacock)

Bride of Re-animator (1990, dir. Brian Yuzna): Released the same year, Bride of Re-Animator would make a perfect (if not very gooey) double feature with Frankenhooker. Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) is back and more arrogant than ever before, not having learned a thing about tampering in God’s domain after Re-animator. Despite his last experiment resulting in a series of horrific deaths (and one gruesomely memorable act of oral sex), now West is determined to build an entirely new person out of spare parts. Though the majority of Bride of Re-Animator continues the same over the top, body parts everywhere vibe of the original, his creation (played by soap opera actress Kathleen Kinmont) proves to be an unexpectedly tragic figure, who literally didn’t ask to be born. (Streaming on Tubi)

Flesh for Frankenstein (1973, dir. Paul Morrissey): Originally released under the title Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein (until someone realized that Andy Warhol had absolutely nothing to do with it), Flesh for Frankenstein isn’t for the faint of heart. Adding incest, eugenics, and the interplanetary stylings of one Udo Kier to the proceedings, plus gratuitous sex scenes and a laughably excessive amount of gore, pushes an incompetent script (in which one character says “To know death, Otto, you must fuck life in the gallbladder!”) into something unforgettable. It’s not good, but it’s unforgettable. (Streaming on the Criterion Channel)

Flesh for Frankenstein
Flesh for Frankenstein (Bryanston Distributing Company)

I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957, dir. Herbert L. Strock): After the success of I Was a Teenage Werewolf, starring Pa Ingalls himself Michael Landon, Hollywood demanded “give us more of that,” and Herbert L. Strock answered the call with I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, released barely five months later. Though it’s a fairly straightforward adaptation with a modern (well, 1957) angle, it’s worth watching for the surprisingly gruesome makeup on star Gary Conway, the teenage Frankenstein (‘s Creature) in question. This Dr. Frankenstein (Whit Bissell) may be a mad genius, but he’s a sloppy worker, leaving his experiment’s face looking like a burnt pizza with one single, staring eye. So his design needs a little work, do you get everything right on the first try?? (Streaming on Plex)

The Bride (1985, dir. Franc Roddam): Well, they can’t all be winners. They can occasionally be entertaining failures, as is the case with 1985’s The Bride. What it lacks in excitement, horror, existential angst, tragedy, and everything else that makes Frankenstein such a remarkable story, it makes up for in camp melodrama, as Sting plays a version of Dr. Frankenstein whose God complex is turned up to 11 on the dial, as is Sting’s acting. In contrast, Jennifer Beals, as his rebellious creation Eva, is dialed back to a lite FM 3. Take a drink every time Sting furrows his eyebrows in anger (though you may end up on the floor), and enjoy an unrecognizable Clancy Brown as Dr. Frankenstein’s original creation, saving the day and on his way to better things. (For rent on Amazon Prime).

HONORABLE MENTION

Gothic (1986, dir. Ken Russell): Not a Frankenstein adaptation so much as a story about the creation of Frankenstein as a story, if you want weird, baby, you’ll get it right here. Ken “Subtlety? Never Heard of It” Russell directs a sweaty, creepy, insane tale about Mary Shelley (Natasha Richardson, R.I.P.) and her husband Percy Shelley’s (Julian Sands, also R.I.P.) fateful weekend trip to the palatial estate of one Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne), their close friend/shared lover/who knows what the hell else. Along with fellow writer John Polidori (Timothy Spall, eating the scenery with his bare hands), and Byron’s lover/Mary’s stepsister (Miriam Cyr), the group engages in a Dionysian affair of drugs, weird sex, and storytelling, before they spiral into nightmarish hallucinations. Supposedly these events inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein, which suggests there might be better living through chemistry after all. (Streaming on the Criterion Channel & Tubi)