The ratio of Frankenstein to vampire films is so one-sided. I explain why in this previous article but to recap:

  • The 1931 Karloff portrayal imprints on future generation’s minds what the monster looks like.
  • Universal owns that likeness.
  • The nature of the monster itself cannot be as easily churned like a vampire sub-species can.

Add to this the fact that the first two Frankenstein films directed by James Whale are so iconic and critically acclaimed that those two films suck all the oxygen out of a room full of other competing Frankenstein films. So it is for those reasons that there are limited number of actual Frankenstein films in the horror genre. One benefit to this is how easy it is to quickly narrow down the really good films from the bad. In a nutshell the first two films directed by James Whale are the two greatest Frankenstein films made to date, but Hammer has the overwhelmingly superior Frankenstein film series overall.

Universal Studios Focused Their Frankenstein Films on the Monster

After Whale’s first two films, Universal made four more sub-par Frankenstein films of B-movie status using its rights to the neck-bolt and flat-forehead likeness which would be played by different actors. In one sense, Universal boxed itself in by revolving its film series around the monster, marketing and promoting every film with the famous creature front and center on every promotional film billboard. It is comparable to Jason or Michael Meyers -also played by different actors in each film- whereby the monster looks the same in every movie, must be resurrected in every movie, and the result is a predictable and overall badly made film.

Hammer Studios Focused Their Frankenstein Films on Dr. Frankenstein

Hammer did the opposite. When they rebooted the Frankenstein series in 1957 they did not have license to use Universal’s Frankenstein likeness, which ended up serving the series. The Hammer series was never about the creature, but was always about the Doctor- in fact the creature was a throw away experiment that changed from film to film. Whereas Whale’s first two films closely adapted Shelley’s version of the Doctor who has a come-to-Jesus awakening and disavows his scientific detour and valiantly attempts to undo his damage, Hammer’s Dr. Frankenstein never corrects his path when things go awry in the first film. With each film in the Hammer series he descends further down a path of a criminal scientist intent on furthering his dark scientific obsession. From film to film the Doctor uses whatever human guinea pigs, corpses and body parts he can find and moves from town to town changing his name in each. He finally ends up conducting experiments on patients in an insane asylum in the last film of the series, 1973’s Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell.

Curse of Frankenstein

Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

The Greatest Frankenstein Film Franchise To Date

This Hammer Horror series does not get recognized enough for being one of the greatest monster film series ever.  For example, in the Halloween series only the original 1978 John Carpenter version is worth watching while the rest pale in comparison. In the Friday 13th franchise, only the first two matter and the rest are utter drivel. Yet with the Hammer series, while there are some better than others (particularly 1,2 & 5), all of them in their own right are quality films and push the narrative of the criminally insane Doctor. In today’s Comic-Con culture and the explosion of comic heroes and villains brought to the big screen, Hammer in in effect did the reverse, they shot an incredible, edgy film series that should be made into its own comic book series. At least the films should be collected and kept as one would keep all 7 Harry Potter Films or Lord of the Rings. And there should be a Peter Cushing booth at the next San Diego Comic-Con.

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