Frankenstein


House of the Wolf Man
2009
Directed by Eben McGarr
Starring Ron Chaney
Available on DVD
The 31 Days of Halloween wraps up today with not one, not two, but three different reviews. We start with a modern “vintage” film, in the 2009 direct-to-DVD film, House of the Wolf Man. The concept is simple, take the old Universal Studios Monsters, make a new movie with them (or as close as you can legally get without paying for the rights) in classic style of black and white, mix in one Chaney family relative and instant success?


Oh if only that worked out. Normally I try not to do spoilers in reviews, but this movie isn’t good and if you’re interested in seeing it, the review will only help to guide you to the film (and possibly lower your expectations to a realistic level) and if you’re not going to see it, what do you care if I spoil it?


The plot is simple enough and the concept is actually novel, fill in the gap of the “House of” series from Universal. You see, once Universal realized they had a money making franchise on their hands with the monsters, they started putting them together to do battle. First in Wolf Man meets Frankenstein and then a series of films with “House Of” in the title. The Wolf Man never got a House film, until now.


We start out with two kids arriving at a spooky old castle. The kids are Reed and Mary Chapel, brother and sister. Reed is dressed like a 50’s high school football player and could have been an extra on Dobie Gillis. Mary has really weird and unnatural shaped hair. They’ve been summoned to the house because they might be heir to it. Once inside they meet a creepy butler and the owner, mad scientist Bela Reinhardt. We know he’s mad, because he has the outfit. Also his face never changes expression. Then again, maybe that’s just Ron Chaney’s bad acting.
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Sideshow Universal Monsters
Frankenstein
12 Inch Scale
By: Sideshow Toys
$20 (originally) $40-$90 (secondary market)

It’s hard to believe that Universal’s depiction of Frankenstein (or more specifically the monster) was created in 1931 and yet 80 years later, is instantly recognizable to everyone. It’s so recognizable that when you see him you say Frankenstein, even though he’s not actually named that. I have to imagine that it would be interesting to hop into a time machine and see what people thought of as Frankenstein prior to the James Whale feature film. Anyone who draws Frankenstein today either takes inspiration from this character or is instantly compared to it.

Thankfully, it’s a truly unique character creation, with menacing neck bolts, ghastly green skin and of course a flat head. Jack Pierce really hit a homerun with his creature makeup. Originally the design of the monster was said to be much different when the film had a different star and director attached. It’s been recreated time and time again in various forms, but perhaps the best action figures come in the form of Sideshow’s Frankenstein. It was a big hit for Sideshow, who cranked out a version for every major Universal Frankenstein film and actor. This figure was their first Frankenstein and also their first foray into this type of figure.

The most famous actor to portray Frank’s infamous monster and easily his most iconic role, is that of Boris Karloff. Supposedly Bela Lugosi was actually offered the role first, but turned it down because he didn’t feel there was enough depth and romance in the character. Having just re-watched the film Ed Wood this week, I can’t help but wonder how things might have turned out different for everyone had he taken the part. Karloff’s first make-up tests had a much different look for the monster with horn like protrusions on his scalp.


Interestingly, Bela did eventually give in and take the role in the much later Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man film. At first Lon Chaney Jr. was going to do both roles, as the Wolf Man and as Frankenstein, but that proved to be a bad idea considering Chaney would also have to play Larry Talbot. Bela stepped in and it’s actually Lugosi’s performance that is most often what people think of when they think of Frankenstein. Bela’s Frank was blind and due to his thick accent, forced to only grumble. Hence the Frankenstein walk and noises that most associate with the monster.

I could go on for days with the fascinating details of the Universal Monsters, particularly the stars behind the green visage of Frankenstein, but let’s take a look at this 12 inch plastic incarnation instead!
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Mad Monsters
Blue Hair Monster Frankenstein
8 Inch Scale
By: Classic TV Toys
$10.00

Can you believe we’re already on day 7 of the 31 Days of Halloween? I promise it’s only going to get better from here with a ton of classic monster toy reviews coming up over the next three weeks. Today we’re adding a bookend to a review from last year with Classic TV Toys repro Mego style blue haired Frankenstein.

Mego’s Mad Monsters were an unlicensed series of classic monster figures, such as Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy and the Wolfman. At some point, for reasons unknown, Dracula received a makeover with red hair while Frankenstein got himself a coat of blue. Speculation is that Universal accused Mego of replicating their Frankenstein without paying for a license and the blue hair was supposed to differentiate it.

The original blue haired Mego Frankenstein is very rare. When Classic TV Toys started making their Reproduction Mad Monsters, they made a smaller run of Blue Haired Frankensteins to commemorate the infamous Mego incident. These guys are still available on the CTVT website, but are starting to run out. They have been available since 2005, though.
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Flashpoint: Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown #1 (of 3)
DC Comics
Story by Jeff Lemire
Cover by Doug Mahnke
Art by Ibraim Roberson

Frankenstein (or rather, his monster) is such a great literary character and one that can be used in a variety of mediums. It’s no surprise that Frankenstein has been used in comics from both Marvel and DC to varying levels of success. Traditionally DC’s take on the character had been Lucky Taylor, who wasn’t actually Frankenstein, but a guy made to look like Frankenstein in the oddball Sgt. Fury-like comics, “Weird War Tales”. He was part of the Creature Commandos, who much like their namesake are a bunch of monsters.

More recently, Grant Morrison revived Frankenstein’s monster in the DC universe, but this time as the actual creation of Dr. Frankenstein. He became popular enough through the Seven Soldiers saga back in 2005, that he’s getting an update during DC’s Flashpoint saga. It’s a short three issue story that takes place in the Flashpoint storyline universe, but is largely unconnected enough that you don’t have to be following that story to enjoy this one.

That’s a good thing for me, as I haven’t followed DC closely enough for years to make much sense of Flashpoint and with DC planning on scrapping all this continuity in a few months anyway, it’s rather pointless to try and catch up. Jeff Lemire of Sweet Tooth fame is on board as the main man behind Frankenstein and now he’s taken Morrison’s Frankenstein (or Morrison’s take on Shelley’s Frankenstein, as it were) and combined them with a Flashpoint universe version of the Creature Commandos. So how does it all work out in the first of this three part mini-series?

Look at that cover. Man that’s a fantastic cover. It’s a shame that almost nothing inside lives up to that sort of hype. The idea on paper is fantastic. Frankenstein is the perfect sort of character to play with and turn into a Hellboy-like character. It’s probably not an original idea (hell I played plots like this with my Frankenstein toys decades ago) but it’s one that if done right, could be a lot of fun. The results here are in my opinion, a bit mixed.


The premise is very good and the few pages where Frankenstein is fighting in World War II against Nazis, really had me excited. Unfortunately it’s just a few pages and the promise of Frankenstein versus Hitler, is reduced to one or two really lame panels. These are easily the worst comic book incarnations of Nazis ever. The real Nazis were steeped in the occult and pseudo-science, so you’d think that a comic book where Frankenstein battles the Nazis would be lots of fun. Instead it’s total fodder.

I suppose because this is all backstory to the larger Flashpoint story, it’s somewhat excusable. The actual Flashpoint elements are probably the most interesting. Almost interesting enough for me to pick up a few other DC comics and see what the hell is going on… Almost. Unfortunately everything else in this book feels terribly rushed. The new Creature Commandos (now known as the Creatures of the Unknown) have been given a little more character, but there’s not enough dialogue or character development for us to really care. Vincent Velcoro, the vampire bat Dracula character is a dick. We know so, because every other line about him mentions that he’s evil.


Warren Griffith, the Wolf Man, is dumb like a dog. Dr. Myrra Rhodes AKA Medusa, is omitted, replaced by Lemire’s new character, Nina Mazursky, who is a take off the Creature from the Black Lagoon. It’s quaint and all to have such a clear lineup of Universal Monsters as a superhero team, but again it’s so forced that it’s robbed of any fun it might have been. Nina, the Gillwoman is terribly derivative of Abe Sapien, right down to his movie fish bubble helmet.

Perhaps that’s one of the biggest problems with this comic that I had. I couldn’t help but thinking how much better this would be if it’d been in the hands of Mike Mignola, or even someone like Thomas Hall (Robot 13) who would craft some substance and passion behind the style. Lemire made it very clear in interviews that he was writing this book to be right in the same line as Hellboy, so it’s a shame that this first issue feels so devoid of the Mignola charm.


The cover by Doug Mahnke is quite good, but it’s a shame that the interior art by Ibraim Roberson is so dull and bland. Not to sound like a broken record, but the art feels rushed. Certain pages have plenty of details and Roberson has a couple of nice shots of Frankenstein throughout (when he’s not drawing the Hulk with stitches), but many panels feel as though details were simply omitted. Many of the pages look blurred and if this is an intentional style choice, it’s not one I much care for.

Somewhat incredibly, there is a mini-comic for Super 8 attached inside that features vastly superior art by Tommy Lee Edwards. It’s troubling when what amounts to a glorified advertisement is better drawn than the book you paid $2.99 for. Herein lies another problem I have… There are a ton of ads throughout this book. Not the fun kind that might one day be featured on a Classic Comic Ad, but the annoying, cloying kind that clutter up the book and interrupt your reading. There are 18 pages of actual comic included and an astounding 16 pages of advertisements. Most of which, mind you, are shilling Green Lantern crap. As if Green Lantern needed anymore of a push in the pages of DC comics.

All that said, you might think I absolutely hated this comic. That’s not true. The premise is still strong enough that I’m at least marginally intrigued to see where this three issue arc goes. The introduction of Miranda Shrieve (Granddaughter of original Creature Commando leader Matthew Shrieve) as what appears to be a Buffy/Van Helsing rip off, could be fun. Jeff Lemire could be on to something with this group, so long as he doesn’t do things so ham fisted in the future.

Lemire will be writing the upcoming Frankenstein book once DC reboots and thankfully, he’ll have a different artist in tow. With any luck, by that time he’ll have gotten the kinks out of this particular incarnation of the character. Frankenstein is a great character and Lemire seems to have a bit of vision as to where he wants him to go, he just needs to learn how to implement it better. I looked around and many other reviewers had given this book a fair amount of praise, but I’m inclined to just say that this book has lots of promise but fails in execution. Perhaps if issues 2 and 3 are stronger, this will turn out to be a fun little mini series that just had a force fed start because of timing issues.

Our final October monthly poll has wrapped up and Frankenstein has won the crown of most popular Universal Studios Monster. I’m not sure if it was the one-two punch of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein with Karloff at the helm that catapulted ol’ bolt neck to the win, or if it was Glenn Strange’s many turns at bat. Whatever it was that led Frank to the victory, he wins a tough field.


Frankenstein was neck and neck with the Gill-man. The Creature from the Black Lagoon is one of my all time favorites, but he couldn’t best his green skinned friend. Howling up next to them is the Wolfman, with Dracula finishing a weak fourth. The lesser knowns like the Invisible Man, The Phantom of the Opera and the Mummy finish out the competition.


Frankenstein has always been one of the most popular Universal Monsters, and this was our tightest vote yet. Hat’s off to Frankenstein and Universal’s treatment of the monster. Be on the lookout for Frankenstein’s monster this Halloween! Thanks to everyone who voted.