MARY SHELLEY’S ‘FRANKENSTEIN’- THE BOOK. (1816) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

mary shelley frankie

MARY SHELLEY’S ‘FRANKENSTEIN.’ (1816) BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

2018, a full two centuries after Mary Shelley wrote her first and most celebrated novel, was what I now refer to as my Frankenstein year. In April, I got to see James Whale’s fabulous horror movie FRANKENSTEIN (1931) and its sequel, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), on the big screen as part of a one-day James Whale festival, which was fantastic as I’d loved those two films for such a long time.

Then, in October, as part of the Irish Film Institute’s annual Halloween Horrorthon, I saw Hammer Horror’s FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1974) on the big screen also. This was preceded by a brilliant ninety-minute lecture on FRANKENSTEIN, THE FIRST 200 YEARS by film historian and well-known FRANKENSTEIN expert Sir Christopher Frayling, whose book of the same name I purchased on the break and got him to sign for me.

He wrote the words ‘It’s alive…!’ under his signature! I felt so special. I later found out that he’d signed everyone’s books with the same phrase but whatever, it was all good, lol. I read the book and enjoyed every page, then I went and found the 1910 Thomas Edison film version of FRANKENSTEIN on Youtube and watched this too. It’s less than a quarter of an hour long but it’s freakishly memorable, with a pretty terrifying-looking Monster.

Anyway, after this wonderful experience I had no choice but to read the book behind all the films for the first time ever. I started reading it on November the nineteenth and I finished it on December the first.

I’d been told that it was difficult to read and even boring at times, but I didn’t find it so, except when the Creature went on for nearly fifty pages about how marvellous and saintly and sweet his precious cottagers were. Personally, I could take ’em or leave ’em, these irritating paragons of woodland virtue and candidates for the bloody sainthood…!

I shall attempt now to synopsise the plot for y’all in as simple and easy-to-remember a fashion as possible, as much for my own benefit as for anyone else’s. Having gone to the trouble finally of reading the book, I don’t want to ever forget it. It’s literally too good to be forgotten. This is to be my written record of this most exceptional year and this most exceptional Gothic novel.

The framing story involves an Englishman called Robert Walton writing to his married sister back in England of his expeditions to the polar ice-caps of the world. Whilst up there in the cold and snow, he and his crew rescue an exhausted solitary male who’s about to expire out on the ice.

The traumatised and lonely poor man is one Victor Frankenstein from Geneva in Switzerland, who is pursuing to the ends of the Earth a Creature of whom Robert Walton and his crew realise that they may already have caught a glimpse, out on the ice all alone just like his pursuer, Victor Frankenstein. This is Victor Frankenstein’s story.

After a positively charmed and privileged early life (‘No human being could have passed a happier childhood than myself.’), Victor goes off to college after the death of his beloved Mother and resolves to make the best of these important years. He’s a whizz at Science and Chemistry and whatnot and very quickly impresses his tutors with his hard work and willingness to apply himself. He quickly works out where his real interests lie.

‘It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things, or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or, in its highest sense, the physical secrets of the world.’

Long story short, he discovers that he has a burning urge to create life himself from the no-longer-living bits and pieces of cadavers. He gets the idea from all the ‘natural philiosophers’ he’s been reading up on and now sees as his idols.

For two whole years he works day and night on his personal project (‘I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter.’), pretty much to the exclusion of all else. Finally, he is successful. ‘On a dreary night of November… I saw the dull yellow eye of the Creature open.’

The awful thing about all this exhaustive labour is that, when Victor beholds the hideousness of the thing he has created, he’s so horrified that he runs away in terror and leaves the poor just-birthed Creature to fend for itself in the wilds for several long months. In this respect, Victor, I feel, has only got himself to blame for the nightmare which ensues.

Victor eventually travels home to Geneva, where he learns that his younger brother William has been brutally murdered by a stranger. A servant and friend of the house, a sweet and kind-hearted young lady called Justine, is to be executed for his murder.

Victor’s widowed father and Victor’s Cousin Elizabeth, in reality an adopted daughter of the family and Victor’s betrothed and, indeed, beloved, are utterly distraught. Justine could not be capable of such a monstrous, cold-blooded act of hatred and disdain, they feel sure of this.

Victor learns the truth of the matter from his recently-turned-up-again Creature but, alas, it’s too late to save Justine from the gallows. From this point on, if he didn’t already feel this way, Victor is living in a nightmare from which he can’t wake up. There is no waking up. He feels like he murdered William and Justine, ‘the first hapless victims to my unhallowed arts,’ with his own hands.

The Creature tells Victor what he’s been up to this past couple of years, but it’s not an amiable catch-up between friends in a Starbucks over a skinny latte and a poppyseed muffin. The Creature Victor deliberately imbued with life has lived a miserable existence thus far. He’s been hiding out, lonely, cold, hungry and isolated from everything that is good in life.

After telling Victor how he was forcibly rejected by the sickly-sweet-and-saccharine cottagers to whose life he’s been an outside observer for some time, he informs his maker in no uncertain terms (and he’s right!) that it’s his, Victor’s, fault that he’s so wretched, alone and miserable.

‘Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.’ The poor wee Creature!

I don’t know about you guys, but I blame Victor entirely for the miserable life in which the Creature finds himself trapped. How dare Victor give him life and then abandon him to a horrible fate just because he’s ugly?

Surely it’s Victor’s responsibility to put things right? That’s certainly what the Creature thinks, anyway. Finally Victor comes round to this way of thinking. ‘For the first time, also, I felt what the duties of a creator towards his creature were, and that I ought to render him happy before I complained of his wickedness.’ Darn tootin.’ Quite honestly, it’s about bloody time he honoured his responsibilities to the Creature he himself created.

So what is it exactly that the Creature wants? Well, he jolly well wants a girlfriend, a girlfriend like himself, made in the same mould as himself. ‘I am alone, and miserable; man will not associate with me; but one as deformed and horrible as myself would not deny herself to me. My companion must be of the same species, and have the same defects. This being you must create.’ Sounds perfectly fair to me.

Victor reluctantly agrees to make the Creature a hot girlfriend, lol. The Creature warns him that he’ll be keeping an eye on the proceedings from a discreet distance so Victor isn’t even to dream of welching on the deal. ‘I shall be with you on your wedding night,’ he famously- and ominously- threatens his maker.

So off Victor goes to an isolated spot in England to start work on a lady friend for his Monster. ‘To England, therefore, I was bound, and it was understood that my union with Elizabeth should take place immediately on my return.’ Then:

‘I now also began to collect the materials necessary for my new creation, and this was to me like the torture of single drops of water continually falling on the head.’

Halfway through the sickening, grisly operation, however, he decides he can’t possibly risk bringing another dangerous, malevolent and mankind-hating Creature into the world (‘To create another like the fiend I had first made would be an act of the basest and most atrocious selfishness.’) and he downs tools, in plain sight of the Monster whose murderous rage will now know no bounds.

The horror just keeps on being ratcheted up. The murders of Victor’s best mate Henry Clerval and of the beautiful bride Elizabeth Lavenza on her wedding night to Victor, just like the Creature foretold, and then the death of Victor’s father, probably from stress and worry, now take place. (‘He could not live under the horrors that were accumulated around him: the springs of existence suddenly gave way.’) These dreadful killings extinguish for all time the last rays of light and goodness and happiness from Victor’s life.

‘The cup of life was poisoned forever; and although the sun shone upon me as upon the happy and gay of heart, I saw around me nothing but a dense and frightful darkness, penetrated by no light but the glimmer of two eyes that glared upon me.’

He resolves now to chase his foul Creature to the ends of the Earth, if needs be, and there kill him and avenge his beloved dead. Only then can Victor, exhausted and heartbroken, find peace in death himself.

After a long and arduous chase, fraught with terrible perils that leave Victor clinging onto life by only the most tenuous of threads, he meets Robert Walton’s ship in the very midst of the polar ice-caps.

There he tells the spellbound sea-captain the story of his life, his life’s work and his life’s miseries before he expires, his revenge mission unsatisfied. So much for: ‘But revenge kept me alive; I dared not die and leave my adversary in being.’

A conversation between Robert Walton and the Creature over Victor’s death-bed (‘Never did I behold a vision so horrible as his face, of such loathsome and appalling hideousness.’) apprises us of the Monster’s lonely and heart-rending final intentions.

He regrets what he has done to Victor (‘But now crime has degraded me beneath the merest animal.’) and now he’s going off alone to die in the ice-caps. ‘I shall ascend my funeral pile triumphantly, and exult in the agony of the torturing flames.’ Then finally: ‘He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.’ It’s a truly heart-breaking ending.

I’m thrilled that I’ve finally read the horror story written by Mary Shelley (Godwin as was) during that fateful wet summer of 1816, when she stayed in the Villa Diodati with her husband-to-be Percy Shelley, their friend Lord Byron and Mary’s half-sister Jane ‘Claire’ Clairmont, one of Byron’s groupies who was already pregnant with his child when she arrived at the Villa. Byron’s personal physician, Dr. John Polidori, whose story ‘THE VAMPYRE’ can still be read today, was also present at the Villa Diodati.

What a summer. What a back-story. What a personal triumph for the eighteen-year-old Mary, to write something so powerful that had such amazing longevity! I really hope that, wherever she is today, she knows how successful and popular her little horror novel turned out to be. It probably wouldn’t make up for all the personal tragedies she suffered in her short enough lifetime, but it might help to ease the pain a little.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

HAMMER’S FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1974) AND MEETING CHRISTOPHER FRAYLING AT THE HORRORTHON: BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

frankie monster from hell couple

FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL. (1974) BASED ON CHARACTERS CREATED BY MARY SHELLEY. WRITTEN BY JOHN ELDER. MUSIC BY JAMES BERNARD. DIRECTED BY TERENCE FISHER. PRODUCED BY ROY SKEGGS.

STARRING PETER CUSHING, SHANE BRIANT, MADELINE SMITH, DAVID PROWSE, JOHN STRATTON AND PATRICK TROUGHTON.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘His brain came from a genius. His body came from a killer. His soul came from Hell…!’

Yesterday was my favourite day of the year so far. I turned my back for one day only on my hermit-like writerly existence and mosied on down to the Irish Film Institute on Eustace Street, which was holding its annual Horrorthon, or five days of non-stop horror movies.

Esteemed film historian Sir Christopher Frayling gave a superb ninety-minute talk on FRANKENSTEIN: THE FIRST 200 YEARS, all the material for which can be found in his latest book, a gorgeous and sumptuous hardback of the same name. He signed my copy for me after the talk, and guess what he wrote in it under his signature? He wrote… ‘IT’S ALIVE…!’ Methinks it wasn’t his first book-signing, lol.

Anyway, he talked to us about the life of Mary Shelley, concentrating on that fateful summer in the Villa Diodati in which her famous gothic horror novel was written. He talked about how it wasn’t an overnight success but rather, a slow burner that only went viral, so to speak, when plays of it began to be produced a few years later. He had the most stunning-looking slides prepared for us as well, all of which can be found in his book.

He went on to talk about all the film versions of FRANKENSTEIN that have appeared over the years, and he confided in us that THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN is his personal favourite of all the Frankie films. Snap! My favourite movie scene of all time is when the deliciously evil Dr. Pretorius is dining off a tomb in the crypt. Frankie’s Monster comes up behind him and he literally doesn’t turn a hair. ‘Oh…!’ he smirks in his cut-glass English. ‘I thought I was quite alone…!’

A screening of Hammer’s FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL followed Sir Chris’s talk. This is a really dark addition to Hammer’s FRANKENSTEIN canon, the sort of film where you’re constantly asking yourself how the hell did they manage to slip this or that past the ever-vigilant censors, who were always on poor Hammer’s case, lol. That nightdress better not be see-through or you’ll never eat lunch in this town again type of thing.

Shane Briant (Hammer’s FEAR IN THE NIGHT, DEMONS OF THE MIND) is a blonde Adonis who surely was born to wear a frilly white shirt and black frock-coat. He plays Simon Helder, a posh, sardonic, arrogant, privileged young doctor with the deeply inbred sense of entitlement that can surely only come from being an upper-class twat with an Oxbridge education, lol.

He’s arrested for ‘sorcery,’ as in he’s been avidly studying the life’s work of one Baron Frankenstein and trying to create life out of the body parts of cadavers. ‘You’re gonna get caught one day!’ Patrick Troughton’s grave-digger-upper ominously warns him. And he does. Get caught, I mean.

The judge is not at all impressed with Helder’s uppity demeanour. He sentences him to a good long stint in the local insane asylum for his trouble, a fate which even the constable who delivers Helder to the loony bin pities him for. ‘Rather you than me, son,’ he says, and ‘Good luck, son…!’ Cor blimey. If even the delivering copper is pitying you, you know you’re in for a bumpy ride…

And he most assuredly would be in for a rough ride (if the ‘bath’ with which he’s initiated into the horrors of the Asylum is anything to go by) if it were not for one salient fact. Peter Cushing’s fellow Asylum inmate Baron Frankenstein is the real power behind the nasty, blustering Asylum Director…

Calling himself merely Dr. Carl Victor now and firmly maintaining that Baron Frankenstein is dead and buried in the Asylum graveyard, he’s overseeing the care of all the Asylum patients while keeping a few ‘special’ patients back for himself only. And, of course, he’s been continuing on the sly with his experiments to create new life out of old, stitched-together body parts…

Simon Helder is thrilled skinny to meet the Baron, his idol, and be given the job of his assistant. Dr. Victor, as he’s now known, is delighted to have for his helper such a qualified and knowledgeable groupie, a doctor in his own right.

Helder feels like he’s been given the keys to the kingdom when he’s even introduced to Dr. Victor’s ‘special’ patients. What must he feel like, then, when one night he accidentally stumbles upon the good Doctor’s real secret, the truly monstrous-looking ‘creation’ he’s cobbled together from the parts of cadavers from the Asylum’s various tombs…? He’s both thrilled and, I think, appalled…

Still, he quickly offers to help the Baron to continue with his researches and the eternal search to give the Monster real, thinking life. The Monster is a true abomination, unlike, say, Boris Karloff’s Creature which we still recognise clearly as a man.

This Monster is not a man, or even remotely human-looking. It’s hairy, lumbering and utterly hideous. It’s the saddest, most pathetic thing you could possibly imagine. The kindest thing you could do for it would be to put it out of its misery. Put an end to its terrible suffering.

And yet Peter Cushing’s Baron is as proud of it as any parent on School Prize-giving Night. Can any good really come from the two doctors continuing to try to improve on this dreadful ‘thing’ by adding sundry bits and pieces from yet more cadavers to its monstrous frame? The bit where they’re opening up a corpse’s skull and taking out a brain to transplant into the Monster’s head is one of those bits I’m shocked got past the censors.

Madeline Smith (THE VAMPIRE LOVERS with Ingrid Pitt) is a true thing of beauty here as Sarah, the deaf-mute Asylum inmate who, until the arrival of Goldilocks Helder, has been performing the Baron’s secret surgeries for him because the Baron’s hands are all burned and useless now. This bit’s a bit far-fetched but whatever. The Asylum inmates call Sarah ‘the Angel’ and certainly she’s visually an improvement on the hideous Monster, lol.

This was legendary horror director Terence Fisher’s last film and the last outing, I believe, for Peter Cushing as Baron Frankenstein. He’s looking tired here, a far cry from the fresh-faced young fella who first played the immaculately-turned-out Baron for Hammer in 1957 with his role in the iconic THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. He’s still magnificent here though, and he still gives it his absolute all.

Apparently, he didn’t much care for the somewhat curly-wurly wig he was made to sport in FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL. Hee-hee-hee. I think it looks nice on him. And he goes out on a nice little question mark too, as in, is the Baron actually planning to put himself and his minions through all this horror again…? Well, you know the Baron’s motto, guys. If at first you don’t succeed…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor