Frankenstein’s monster isn’t who you think he is
Anchor Staff Writer
200 years ago, Frankenstein’s monster jolted to life; creating one of the most iconic characters in horror-culture to date. The bright green, larger-than-life creature has since become an idol, appearing routinely every Halloween alongside Dracula, the werewolf and other beastly characters that we have grown to love. However, Frankenstein’s monster wasn’t always so recognizable, and has changed drastically since 1818, when Mary Shelley brought him to life.
The beast was created in Geneva, Switzerland, when 20-year-old Shelley wrote the gothic novel, “Frankenstein” as part of a competition with her colleagues. Shelley and her competitors reached into the darkest corners of their minds and wrote a collection of frightening short stories, the inspiration for “Frankenstein” among them. Little did Shelley know, her monstrous creation would become one of the most studied pieces of literature today, cementing herself a permanent place amongst a vast community of incredible authors and story-tellers. Two centuries later, Shelley’s sci-fi tale has inspired a plethora of other beloved works with their own interpretations of Frankenstein and his beast.
It’s a common misconception that Frankenstein was the name of the gruesome creation in Shelley’s novel, when it is his creator, Victor Frankenstein, that many are often referring to. But what you might not know is that the great green beast was not what Shelley originally imagined. She depicted something far more horrifying with sickly, yellowing skin, draped tightly over his body to reveal the muscle and arteries beneath. His hair was long, and as black as his lips, of which he pulled back to reveal unsettlingly white teeth. The monster’s eyes often glowed, set upon a terrifyingly humanoid face that would frighten anyone, especially when standing at a colossal eight feet tall. Devoid of the infamous bolts, green skin and rectangular body, Frankenstein’s monster began as a truly nightmarish creature.
The 1931 release of the film adaptation, “Frankenstein,” inspired the modern embodiment of Frankenstein’s monster. Strangely enough, the beast’s green skin was not a design choice, as the film was shot in black and white, but a tactic used to give actor Boris Karloff ghostly skin. “Frankenstein” was shot using orthochromatic film, a type of film made with silver halide crystals that are naturally sensitive to blue-green light. Covering Karloff with green-toned makeup made him look paler on screen, creating the recently resurrected appearance the producers desired. It was Karloff who shaped the beast’s modern appearance as advertisements for the film were drawn based on his painted skin and rather square features, forming the very iconic monster horror-fans know today.
Karloff’s portrayal of Shelley’s creation not only included a drastic change in appearance, but personality too. In the film, the beast is born innocent. He is only mistaken for a malicious creature when he acts out of fear, and is eventually realized to be quite docile. Shelley however crafted a much more malicious character. The beast that starred in the original novel was intelligent and used those close to his creator to manipulate him. Shelley’s depiction of Frankenstein’s monster was willing to learn and adapt, making him all the more terrifying.
Moving away from the once terrifying creature that Shelley created has opened the doors for the variety of media in which Frankenstein’s monster can be used. The 2012 release, “Hotel Transylvania” proved to be popular with a much younger audience as it utilized the less foul appearance and innocence of Karloff’s monster to create a silly, cartoon persona that a much wider audience would enjoy. It is this depiction of the beast that is the most prominent in pop-culture, transfiguring the once spine-chilling monster into an endearing Halloween icon.