Monster Within

The most dehumanizing thing about the tortured, Frankenstein creature was that he never had a name and I think he would have felt better if his name was Clark and maybe, just maybe, then he wouldn’t have thrown the little girl, Maria, played by either Carmencita Johnson or Seessel Anne Johnson, into the lake to drown or accidentally burned down the cabin of the lonely, flute-playing blind man, although he did have a bit of a temper so even if he was Clark, he would probably have gotten into a whole passel of trouble, particularly with the village burgermeister. Even with his issues, he didn’t mean to kill Maria and thought she would float like the flowers that she flipped into the lake, much to the monster’s delight.

And who could not choke up and shed a tear or two when Elsa Lancester as the “Bride of Frankenstein” just shattered the poor monster’s makeshift heart when she was shocked into existence and saw him for the first time and screamed bloody murder and get me out of here. I still feel sad.

Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., the trifecta of horror film actors and all three my favorites as a kid, and with Frankenstein at the top of the ranking, I knew a lot about them, by watching their films over and over whenever they were on TV and especially through my subscription to “Famous Monsters of Filmland.” It’s a good thing that neither “Frankenstein,” “Bride of Frankenstein,” “Dracula,” “The Wolfman,” “The Mummy” and “Creature From the Black Lagoon” and to a lesser degree, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” were filmed in black and white because colorizing would just ruin the effects and detract from the fact that the creatures lived in a grey, unwelcoming, forbidden, hard world, covered in spiderwebs, death and populated by cursed souls who ate spiders and such.

Many people think the monster’s name was Frankenstein but that was really the name of the scientist who created the monster out of spare body parts that he picked from the cadavers that he and his rather unhinged associate, the hunchback, Fritz, excavated from newly dug graves. There is no finer moment in any film than when the lightning bolts strike the monster’s bolts on the sides of his head and Dr. Henry Frankenstein, exquisitely portrayed by Colin Clive, proclaims “It’s alive, it’s alive” as the monster moves his fingers ever so slightly. Famous last words for the poor, well-intended doctor. Pure magic. Dr. Frankenstein had ordered Fritz to steal a healthy brain from a nearby laboratory, pronounced “laboooratory” but Fritz screwed it up and brought back the brain of a criminal and how different the story would have been with a healthy brain, and the monster proceeded to earn a medical degree and went on to star in “The Secret of Dr. Kildare,” replacing Lew Ayres, but then there wouldn’t have been so many Frankenstein spinoffs.

Boris Karloff was born to play the monster and he brought a humanity to the tortured soul that would never be replicated in future Frankenstein spinoffs by actors like Glenn Strange in “Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” Lon Chaney, Jr., the quintessential werewolf who was out of his element when he portrayed the monster in “The Ghost of Frankenstein” and even Bela Lugosi, who was so devilishly perfect as Dracula but looked like an aging faux monster in “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.”
I was drawn to the monster’s droopy eyelids and that fantastic smile that he flashed only sparingly but mostly I felt badly for him because everyone picked on him and it wasn’t his fault that he looked like a monster with silver posts on his neck, a long scar on his forehead, those ugly, klunky boots and that totally unattractive wardrobe.

Dracula played by Bela Lugosi, was sexy and it wasn’t his fault that crosses and mirrors drove him batty while he had an insatiable appetite for blood. And the wolfman, expertly portrayed by Lon Chaney Jr., was unassuming and completely blameless when a gypsy turned werewolf bit him and doomed the newly-bitten lycanthrope to a life of agony and torture every time the full moon shined. I loved the transformation as hair slowly grows and the teeth slowly expand as the shy Larry Talbot becomes the devil may care, evil werewolf.

The mummy, Imhotep, with Karloff again as the lead, just wanted to return to his glory days and get back with his squeeze of 3,000 years earlier and you had to love his tortured gait while he dragged behind him the torn and tattered pieces of his shroud, looking for all the world like he had stepped on toilet paper in the bathroom.

If you could get past that bump on his back, the hunchback, played wonderfully by Charles Laughton, was utterly bewitched by and only wanted to be loved by the sexy, gorgeous gypsy, Esmeralda, played by Maureen O’Hara, and who wouldn’t want a relationship with her and how I wanted to reach out and stop the flogging of the tormented bellringer, freak of nature, Quasimodo.

So maybe that’s why I was drawn to those old monster movies, I identified with the creatures who were victimized so unfairly and were the creations of an evil world. And all they really wanted was love and that’s not a bad thing and I’ve always thought that life is pretty much a horror show and that we’re all freaks in one way or another.




Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer

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Phil Garber

Phil Garber

Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer

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