Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, September 12, 2014

Rebuilding that Frankenstein's monster for the modern age of pop culture

Recently, an interesting collaboration has occurred between a pair of media forces that have fittingly created an engaging monster story.

PBS Digital's partnering with Pemberley Digital(the folks behind several Jane Austen themed webseries such as The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved) has given us Frankenstein MD, which chronicles the experiments of Victoria Frankenstein with some help from lab assistant Iggy(plus pals Eli and Rory).

Victoria's drive and ambition make her charmingly severe but her more vulnerable side was revealed upon the news of the sudden death of camera man Robert. That shocking event is beginning to lead our budding young mad scientist down a very familiar yet interesting new path, particularly with the scientific advancements we have in place right now:

This new series is reviving an interest in Mary Shelley's  Frankenstein, one of the cornerstones of the horror/science fiction genre. Ever since the book was published in 1918, this gripping Gothic novel dealing with the struggle between science and nature has captured our imaginations again and again.

It's hold on pop culture can be traced to the 1931 Hollywood film where Boris Karloff made the monster a household name. Over the years, the not-so-good doctor and his creation have been brought back to the forefront in various guises, depending on the cultural climate at the moment.

A strong number of those revivals have rendered Frankenstein as a figure of fun, ranging from Herman Munster to Frankenberry cereal while some of those parody portrayals keep some of the creature's dark side intact(Rocky Horror Picture Show for one).  A prime example is the Mel Brooks riff on the old school monster films in Young Frankenstein, which was even turned into a Broadway musical in 2007. The loving attention paid to those details from the original 1930s movies really make those punchlines sing out with style:

Frankenstein's monster has for the most part taken over the narrative, with more and more attention given to the reanimated being's plight as he(and sometimes she) tries to find a place in the world.

The horror genre has taken to this tone rather well, with occasionally thoughtful representations of the creature as originally written. As much I love the Karloff films, the book's monster was a more verbally articulate person who was able to express his angst in very poetic terms.

For instance, in the Showtime series Penny Dreadful, Frankenstein is confronted by Caliban, his first attempt at bringing a man to life, upon discovering that the doctor was trying his hand again with a budding new creation. Caliban tore apart his new sibling and demanded that a female be made for him,as his current encounters with an acting company stirred up a few romantic urges. As time went on, however, Caliban started to take a deeper look at himself and mourn his violent inclinations in a way that perhaps brought out not only his humanity but his creator's as well:

More and more often, the Frankenstein legacy has dipped it's borrowed toes into black comedy waters. Supernatural themed shows tend to have at least one Frankenstein story with a touch of humor in them, from Buffy to Charmed, along with plenty of goofy gory flicks such as I Was a Teenage Frankenstein  and Frankenhooker hitting the big screen.

Even other fear franchises have taken a part or two from Frankenstein lore. It's no surprise that Bride of Chucky placed a direct spin on it's beginning to fray plot line with Bride of Frankenstein(the movie even plays on a TV during one crucial scene) and frankly, it was for the better.

 Chucky himself has adopted the well known stitched together monster mug while his twisted bride has reinvented her look,sans the lightning bolt hair streaks. Granted, the initial film framework was still set in the Child's Play killer doll playbook but it can't be denied that this jolt of classic horror certainly breathed new life into this deadly toy story:

That's the thing about classics, they're very much like Frankenstein's monster. While you may think it's been long dead, it is all too easy to bring them back from the beyond and see something both old and new about life and art within them.

Frankenstein MD is the latest in a long line of fresh faces taken from that Mary Shelley mold and doing a great job at that. Hopefully, more marvelous monster tales from the past will find new footing in this format, if not now then perhaps in the not too distant future.

After all, no matter how you tell this tale of terror, Frankenstein still has plenty to say and think about as our science fantasies quickly become science facts.With such a brave new world ahead of us, sometimes it's smart to take a good look back and what better place to do that in than pop culture?:

1 comment:

Thaddeus said...

Great post! I have to say, it's kind of amazing that so many people focus on the monster instead of the doc. But he does die at the end of the book, and the monster became such a mainstay of old Hollywood. And, of course, the problem must've been compounded once zombies took off in film.

To think that such a great work was the result of a Wordsworth-Percy Byshe-Mary Shelley writing contest! Damn now I want to find more of her work...