Contents Index

Frankenstein and Sons

James Twitchell

From Dreadful Pleasures: An Antomy of Modern Horror (New York and London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1985)

"Your father was Frankenstein but your mother was the light-e-ning."

Ygor in The Ghost of Frankenstein and Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman

{160} If the horror of Dracula lies in inappropriate seduction, then the horror of Frankenstein lies in unnatural creation. In fact, in contemporary folklore the Frankenstein story focuses on the generative scene in which a slightly deranged, white-frocked doctor animates a humanoid and then shrieks, "It's alive, oh, my God, it's alive, it's really alive!" We see from the hulk's eyelid flutter and finger twitch that the medico is right: it is alive. From about the age of four we know exactly what the "thing" looks like. The story, from here on really anticlimactic, explains how this creature grows up monstrous, how it turns on its creator, how it often molests his girlfriend, and how it is finally destroyed in such a way as to make a sequel impossibly possible.

Now why should this story, along with that of the vampire, be one of the great horror sagas of our time? And why should these two monsters have been for the last century and a half almost mythic bedfellows? I say "almost" because the vampire story explains whom not to get into bed with, while the man-created-monster fable details what results when, instead of a wrong partner, there is none. Together the stories form a diptych of the everlasting sexual concerns of youth and are often even linked together as parts of the same twin bill. Since that infamous night at the Villa Diodati, these two monsters {161} have shuffled through the nights and across the stages of Western man, profoundly influencing not just popular culture but the arts as well. Here, for instance, is the 1826 account of what the peripatetic Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau found playing at London's Lyceum Theatre (the Lyceum was also known as the "English Opera House" and it was doubtless this misnomer that enticed the continental dilettante through its ornate portals):

There was no opera, however; instead, we had terrible melodramas. First Frankenstein, where a where a human being is made by magic, without female help -- a manufacture that answers very ill; and then the Vampire, after the well-known tale falsely attributed to Lord Byron. The principle part in both was acted by Mr. Cooke, who is distinguished for a very handsome person, skillful acting, and a remarkably dignified, noble deportment. The acting was, indeed, admirable throughout, but the pieces so stupid and monstrous that it was impossible to sit out the performance (Tour in England pp. 26-27)
The Frankenstein that the Prince refers to is one of the many early adaptations of Mary Shelley's novel (there were at least nine done in her lifetime) entitled Presumption, or the Fate of Frankenstein and was heartily approved by the author herself, although clearly not by the Prince. We know the myth today not by this transformation, but by others re-formed almost a century later by Peggy Webling, then by Robert Florey, and, recently, by Jimmy Sangster. For a number of years Peggy Webling's Frankenstein was, with Hamilton Deane's Dracula a sure-fire evening of horror, and they are still parts of a double bill at the summer drive-in. Not only did Dracula and Frankenstein travel together in dramatic form, but just as Pückler-Muskau reports that Mr. Cooke played the vampire and the monster, so too did Hamilton Deane play Van Helsing and the monster, and so too today it is not uncommon for actors to play in both sagas. (Incidentally, Cooke was known in the playbill as "_____!" while Karloff was announced as "?" in the credits of the first Frankenstein at Universal.) This crossover of actors is one of the most illuminating aspects of these myths because it shows that the audience is not disturbed when the fictive characters, as well as the players, intermingle. Since the texts interpenetrate, why shouldn't they exchange players? This is the reason why Lugosi can play Dracula in one film, the Frankenstein monster a few years later, and then play Ygor, the mad doctor's assistant, elsewhere. Likewise, Christopher Lee is the first Hammer Frankenstein monster as well as its premier Dracula. And so today on television James Mason is the Nosferatu's mentor in Salem's Lot and mad Dr. Polidori in Frankenstein: The True Story. This reciprocation even extends to the mirror roles: Dwight Frye was Fritz in Whale's Frankenstein then Karl in The Bride of Frankenstein and Renfield in Browning's Dracula. But for that matter, what {163} about Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing in the early Dracula and then as Dr. Waldman in Frankenstein; or John Carradine as Count Dracula in House of Frankenstein but as the monster hunter in The Bride of Frankenstein; or Karloff as the most important early Frankenstein monster, then turning up as the mad doctor himself in House of Frankenstein; or Lon Chaney, Jr., as the monster in Ghost of Frankenstein, Dracula in Son of Dracula, as well as being the Wolfman everywhere else?

Horror actors can migrate between similar parts and the audience is not distracted, because they know the parts are interchangeable anyway. Even more curious is the fact that adolescents really don't seem to care if the myth is blatantly confused with reality; hence a 1949 Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer Boris Karloff was followed by Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in which Karloff was first a bogeyman, then both Jekyll and Hyde, while the audience knew full well that he was really the Frankenstein monster. Critics in the 1940s often complained about Universal's "monster mash" movies like House of Frankenstein or House of Dracula saying that the monsters should he kept apart, but this only shows a misplaced concept of {164} horror categories -- a concept that respects genres, not image clusters and sequences. The inappropriateness of Billy the Kid vs. Dracula or Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter never bothered their audiences' sensibilities; it more probably simply bored them; and so too no one was upset that a cowboy actor, Glen Strange, became the Frankenstein monster for a while in the late forties. The only way such seemingly inappropriate interweaving can occur is if there is only one story being told. It is always the same family romance, all that changes is where to start and who is going to play which part.1

Another way to understand the interconnections between these monsters is to realize that however different they may seem, they all share the same victim. In horror stories that have currency, not just during one generation, but between generations, the victims are invariably the same -- young and innocent and curious. Most often in horror myths a monster interrupts the courtship of a boy and a girl; the girl is attacked and the boy must avenge. Assuredly, matters often become more complex, but to understand what is going on we need to forget the victim's plight for a moment and just watch the monster. For what we will find is that while humans make mistakes, monsters never do. The vampire is never confused about whom to seduce; the Wolfman never gets lost; Mr. Hyde never clubs bystanders. Even though their actions may appear random, monsters are never capricious. So too the Frankenstein monster, stupid as he may seem, is always smart enough to hurt only those who "deserve" it -- at least from the point of view of his creator, the monster-maker. Only transitory mutants, stalk-and-slashers, zombies, aliens from outer space, or creatures from the deep are indiscriminate. Every creature from the mythic black lagoon who wants to survive in retellings keeps his eye on only a few victims, a well-chosen few, a few chosen by the martyr who is supposed to suffer most.

With this in mind, we turn to the infancy of the most important "incredible hulk" in our folklore -- the Frankenstein monster. First, he has not always been so inarticulate as he now appears; in fact, before Hollywood lobotomized him, he was far and away the most erudite monster in all Christendom. He was a precocious monster from the hand of a precocious novelist. But what makes him even more extraordinary is that he was birthed not from an earlier myth, such as the Jewish legend of the Golem, but in a specific work, a gothic novel.

The Frankenstein myth is unique in that we actually have a generating "text" (Mary Shelley's 1818 novel; revised in 1831), but as with the other modern horror stories, most of what we know about the story comes from non-print media. The novel itself tells a confusing tale of a young man who creates a larger-than-life humanoid that then destroys much of the creator's {165} family before presumably destroying himself. What distinguishes this myth through its many renditions is an overwhelming amount of confusion. For instance, who is Frankenstein? If you ask your local preteenager he will tell you it is the monster. It is not, of course; it is the protagonist. Although this confusion was already in place by the turn of the century, it was compounded by the Universal series. Universal added to the confusion by having the son called Wolf Frankenstein in Son of Frankenstein (the third Universal retelling) complain that even he can't keep all the names straight. En route to Village Frankenstein from America, Wolf complains to his bride: "Why, nine out of ten people call that misshapen creature of my father's experiments ----." At that moment the conductor interrupts with "Frankenstein," announcing that the train has arrived at its destination. The father, the son, the monster, and the town are all deliberately confused. If you ask a youngster about this Wolf (or Victor or Henry) Frankenstein, you will probably be told he is an older man, a doctor, a mad scientist. He is not: in the novel and in most early films he is a callow youth. If you then ask how the audience feels about the "monster," you will probably learn a very important fact. You will learn that this creature, far more than the other horror monster, Dracula, is really sympathetic. While it would seem logical to return to the text to resolve these ambiguities, the reverse will happen. What we will see, however, is where the "horror" comes from, how it got embedded into the text, and how it continues to excite regardless of the medium of transmission.

Frankenstein is, as George Levine has written in a recent collection of criticism appropriately entitled The Endurance of Frankenstein (1979), "one of the great freaks of English literature." Outside the text is the fascinating question of authorial gender, which has recently been raised by feminist critics who see the novel as a "woman's book." Those who assert the impersonality of texts have countered that Frankenstein was published anonymously and that reviewers like Walter Scott in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine and John Wilson Croker in the Quarterly Review were convinced it was not only written by a man, but that the man was Percy Bysshe Shelley. Inside the text we find an awkwardly written, inconsistently plotted narrative, peopled with a host of seemingly superfluous cipher-characters, and full of the kind of inappropriate longueurs that characterize artistic insecurity. A young man, Robert Walton, writes to his sister a verbatim account of what a young scientist, Victor Frankenstein, has accomplished in creating a "monster" who, in turn, has given young Frankenstein a verbatim account of what has happened to him during four years of the eighteenth century in Europe. This narrative china-box is a characteristic device of the early novel, especially the gothic, as it safely cocoons "meaning" inside a double layer of stories.

{166} Yet, in spite of all the obscuring effects of these buried narratives and the ironic juxtapositions of narrators, there is not enough authorial control to save the tales from some incredible silliness. Students of absurdities have a field day wondering how Victor could create a being eight feet tall from the body parts of ordinary men (to say nothing of the fact that Victor might well have started creating life first on a less sophisticated level); how this creature could become fluent in English and French in less than a year (we are told he just happens to find the books -- Milton, Plutarch, Goethe); why Victor did not create a female partner without reproductive apparatus to quiet the monster; exactly how the monster finds Victor's journal or a regular-sized cloak that just happens to fit someone of his prodigious size; and this is to completely overlook the implausibilities (nay, impossibilities) of some of the time sequences and the wild coincidences of serendipitous meetings.

In this story coincidence, so much a staple of the gothic anyway, is extended, I think deliberately, beyond the limits of credulity. In fact, it is taken into the levels of dream life where, after all, Mary Shelley says the story was first enacted. However, hidden under the ludicrous coincidences is a subtext of compelling interest that has nothing coincidental about it at all; in fact, it is ruthlessly predetermined. A young man creates a being larger than life, then spurns this creation, making it monstrous, and "it" turns on him and his family. In the text, much is made of the fact that this love deprivation has transformed prelapsarian Adam into Satan. "Remember that I am thy creature," says the monster. "I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed" (p. 95).2 In his role as satanic scourge the monster (1) removes Clerval, Victor's only male friend and adviser, (2) throttles Victor's brother William and frames Justine, a family friend, (3) harasses Victor for more than a year, (4) strangles Elizabeth, Victor's new bride, on their wedding night, and (5) leads Victor off on a continental chase finally ending up on the arctic wastes where Victor expires and the monster finally (supposedly) immolates himself.

The novel is about the birthing of a creature who enacts a systematic ravaging of the Frankenstein family by the calculated destruction of particular people. But what is so interesting about that or, more particularly, why should the story have held our impassioned interest for so many generations? As I mentioned in an earlier chapter, for a horror story to endure, it must not only be adaptable into different media, it must also be appealing to either sex, especially during adolescence. Masculine horror (say, Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer) will be as soon neglected in popular culture as feminine horror (for instance, Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho) if only because the young audience, the primary audience of horror art from the eighteenth century onward, is uninterested in specific sexual roles. College {167} professors, who read these gothic novels for reasons best known only to themselves, are the only contemporary audience for these old Schauerromans. I will try to demonstrate how the implied androgyny of Frankenstein keeps the myth alive; and let me proceed by first interpreting the saga from first the male and then the female point of view. For I intend to show that the sublimated sexual aspects of the novel are the key to its potency even though the novel seems -- like Dracula and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde -- to be singularly devoid of any tabooed sexual, let alone specifically incestuous, references.

The male part of the myth is clearly embedded in the second half of Shelley's novel; what the monster does, rather than how he was created. In fact, the whole creation scene is condensed into a few sentences at the beginning of chapter five:

I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream had vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room. . . . (p. 56)
Victor abandons his creation ostensibly because it is unaesthetic, because it has "watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, [a] shrivelled complexion and straight black lips" (p. 56). Very rarely does Victor think what he has done is presumptuous or Faustian or sacrilegious. It is more usually the adaptors and critics who feel that way. In fact, Victor really doesn't know why he made this creature in the first place, other than it was the result of "my obsession." Initially, he doesn't even think the creature monstrous and so repeatedly calls him a "daemon," a word which originally meant a neutral spirit before being appropriated by the Christian fathers to mean evil spirit, as in "demon."3

Once "born," however, the creature must be "educated," and his schooling occurs in the awkward episodes in which the eight-foot daemon is literally hidden behind the De Lacey household where he passively participates in a surrogate family. This is more than a convenient narrative device to resolve such problems as language and socialization; this is a way to mature him to Victor's level so that by the time he leaves, or rather is ejected from, the bosom of the family, he is Victor's coeval, perhaps ready to fulfill Victor's secret wishes. The metamorphosis from noble savage to adolescent (almost separated from the family) takes only a few months in his sped-up life, but he is now fully ready to do what every teenager wants to do -- he can at last "get even" with those who have suppressed him.

{168} But who is "getting even" with whom? Is it the daemon with Victor or Victor (via the creature) with his family? What the monster does is in no way capricious; from Victor's point of view, it is clearly the fulfillment of desire. The monster's first victim is Victor's baby brother William. Admittedly, the monster is in a bad mood (he has been abandoned by his creator and recently wounded while helping a little girl) when he happens on young William. William certainly does not make him feel any better by telling the creature to leave him alone; in fact, William even tells him that his father is Monsieur Frankenstein, municipal magistrate. That is enough for the monster; it is all over for William and he is strangled. Any brother of Victor's is no friend of Victor's son (i.e., creation); there is nothing avuncular here. In the monster's words: "I grasped his [William's] throat to silence him, and in a moment he lay dead at my feet. I gazed on my victim and my heart swelled with exultation and hellish triumph. . ." (p. 136). By wild happenstance, around the child's neck is a locket with a picture of Mrs. Frankenstein (Victor and William's mother), and the monster grasps it and gazes in rapt attention:

I took it; it was a portrait of a most lovely woman. In spite of my malignity, it softened and attracted me. For a few moments I gazed with delight on her dark eyes, fringed by deep lashes, and her lovely lips; but presently my rage returned; I remembered that I was forever deprived of the delights that such beautiful creatures could bestow and that she whose resemblance I contemplated would, in regarding me, have changed that air of divine benignity to one expressive of disgust and affright. (p. 136)
Just the sight of Victor's mother is sufficient to melt the monster's rage. Justine then happens to pass by; she is Victor's surrogate sister who has been cared for by the Frankenstein family. She stops for a short early morning nap (it takes all of a minute) in a nearby shed, and the daemon "places the portrait securely in one of the folds of her dress" (p. 137). It is a propitious act, for Justine, as we are to learn, will be tried and convicted of William's murder. Much later, Victor finally admits responsibility; sick with a fever (repressed guilt?), Victor learns that in his ravings he has "called myself the murderer of William, of Justine. . ." (p. 169). Precisely what he means we still don't know, but we already have a hint that the monster is fulfilling the desires of his creator.

We are now given a short reprieve during which Victor receives a most peculiar letter from home. His father writes:

I confess, my son, that I have always looked forward to your marriage with ["your cousin" in the 1818 text] our dear Elizabeth as the tie of our domestic comfort and the stay of my declining years. You were attached to each {169} other from your earliest infancy; you studied together, and appeared, in dispositions and tastes, entirely suited to one another. But so blind is the experience of man that what I conceived to be the best assistants to my plan may have entirely destroyed it. You, perhaps, regard her as your sister, without any wish that she might become your wife. Nay, you may have met with another whom you may love; and considering yourself as bound in honour to Elizabeth, this struggle may occasion that poignant misery which you appear to feel. (p. 144)
Admittedly in the 1831 edition Mary Shelley has struck the word "cousin," but the damage, so to speak, has been done: a glimmer of truth has shown through. Elizabeth is somehow a member of the family, but what member? Young Frankenstein's father implies sisterhood, but to substantiate this we need to know about Victor's previous relations with Elizabeth. Here, for instance, is her induction into the "family circle":
On the evening previous to her being brought to my home, my mother had said playfully, "I have a pretty present for my Victor -- tomorrow he shall have it." And when, on the morrow, she presented Elizabeth to me as her promised gift, I, with childish seriousness, interpreted her words literally and looked upon Elizabeth as mine -- mine to protect, love, and cherish. All praises bestowed on her I received as made to a possession of my own. we called each other familiarly by the name of cousin. No word, no expression could body forth the kind of relation in which she stood to me -- my more than sister, since till death she was to be mine only. (p. 35)
So it is with good reason that Victor responds to his father's suggestion of marriage "with horror and dismay" (p. 145), for Elizabeth seems more than a cousin, rather like a sister.

Victor has more pressing problems before he can consider a wife -- the daemon has first demanded a mate of his own. Consistent with his problem-solving behavior, Victor first swoons at the news and then embarks on a leisurely trip that for some unexplained reason (probably Percy Shelley's suggestion) takes him across the continent to England and then up to the Orkney Islands. Here in splendid isolation he again engages in the "filthy process of creation" (p. 156), this time to make the companion for the monster, the female who will become in a much later cinematic operation (thanks to popular confusion of the proper name) the eponymic "Bride of Frankenstein."

Victor typically has second thoughts and recants his promise. His lovesick daemon is distraught and first implores, then threatens, but to no avail; Victor will not be swayed. Victor will not allow his creation, his double, to mate. Finally, as the creature turns on his heel to go, he makes one last promise to his creator: "I will go; but remember, I shall be with you on your wedding night" (p. 161). This is a powerfully ambiguous threat; surely, the monster {170} is promising vengeance, but on whom -- Victor or Victor's bride? Since Victor has doomed his progeny to sexual frustration, is the creature promising to repay in kind? Or will the monster return to destroy, not Victor's wife, but Victor himself? As we soon see, Victor, ever the egotist, pretends the intended victim will be himself, but he acts as if it were to be his wife. We should know better: if the monster wanted to destroy Victor he could dispatch him at any time. Instead, the monster wants the bride and Victor subconsciously knows it, maybe even wants it.

After this threat Victor falls into the requisite "deep sleep" and the plot is driven through some conventional gothic territory rather the way the Polar Spirit moves the ancient mariner into place for his next confrontation. The monster kills Victor's best friend, Henry Clerval, and frames Victor, who is freed thanks to the good offices of his father, and Victor makes the usual half-hearted attempts at suicide. Victor is at last prepared for his most important scene. Elizabeth writes to him to think again about the unthinkable:

You well know, Victor, that our union had been the favourite plan of your parents ever since our infancy. We were told this when young, and taught to look forward to it as an event that would certainly take place. We were affectionate playfellows during childhood, and, I believe, dear and valued friends to one another as we grew older. But as brother and sister often entertain a lively affection towards each other without desiring a more intimate union, may not such also be our case? Tell me, dearest victor. Answer me, I conjure you, by our mutual happiness, with simple truth -- Do you not love another? (p. 178)
Although Victor knows that the monster has always been true to his Delphic threats, he writes back to Elizabeth of his willingness, but warns her:
I have one secret, Elizabeth, a dreadful one; when revealed to you, it will chill your frame with horror, and then, far from being surprised at my misery, you will only wonder that I survive what I have endured. I will confide this tale of misery and terror to you the day after our marriage shall take place, for, my sweet cousin, there must he perfect confidence between us. (p. 180)
Just whom is he trying to protect -- himself or her?

The wedding day arrives and with it, of course, Victor's anhedonic dread. Surely, such dread is occasioned by incest--the references to brother/sister, Victor/Elizabeth have been an unmistakable motif even though we have often had to look beneath the pentimento of the 1831 revisions. Simply put, the monster has cleared a way for Victor to anticipate a level of sexuality that has been tabooed, while at the same time promising to appear on the nuptial night to make sure the literal marriage is not consummated. We are getting our fillip of horror not only from sibling incest, but also from hints {171} of an Oedipal relationship as well. We know this cannot be, for we have been assured that Victor's real mother has died from a disease carried into the family by Elizabeth, her "present" for her son, and that her dying wish was that her son marry this very girl. A mother would never allow anything horrible to happen; even Christabel's mother was there to protect her from Geraldine.4

To find out how Victor really perceives Elizabeth, rather than how his mother wants him to, we need to recall the dream he had during his postmonster creation swoon. Here is the dream, complete with the daemon's cameo appearance:

I was disturbed by the wildest dreams. I thought I saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt. Delighted and surprised, I embraced her, but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the grave-worms crawling in the folds of her flannel. I started from my sleep with horror; a cold dew covered my forehead, my teeth chattered, and every limb became convulsed; when, by the dim and yellow light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window shutters, I beheld the wretch -- the miserable monster whom I had created. He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped and rushed downstairs. (p. 57)
Events may at last fall into place, for if Elizabeth is the displaced mother, then Victor will not be able to consummate the "marriage" without utter psychological disintegration. Recall the comment made by Henry Clerval after young William's death because it is not just consoling but prescriptive: "Dear lovely child, he now sleeps with his angel mother" (p. 71; emphasis added). But Victor is still curious and he wants, as does the dreamer, to get as close as possible to the forbidden event in this world. Ironically, the monster will protect Victor just as he had earlier befriended him in Victor's Elizabeth/dead mother dream: "I beheld the wretch . . . he held up the curtain of the bed . . . he might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me. . ." (p. 57). All along the daemon has acted out Victor's wishes: he has systematically destroyed family and friends, clearing the way for this central encounter of Victor's fantasy. Now here on his wedding night Victor is so close to the sexually forbidden that he is understandably hebephrenic. Elizabeth inquires, "What is it that agitates you, my dear Victor?" Her husband can only reply, "this night is dreadful, very dreadful" (p. 185). He now leaves her, ostensibly to look for the monster; the {172} monster conveniently takes his cue and throttles Elizabeth; Victor returns, swoons at the sight of his dearly departed, then covers her face with a handkerchief, and for the first time in their relationship embraces her "with ardour" (p. 186). Unlike brother William, who had to die to lie with his mother, Victor is still alive, so, of course, it must be the sister/mother figure who must go. However, there is guilt as well as horror to deal with.

The scene trembles with, as Coleridge said of his own incest dreams, "desire with loathing strangely mix'd." Victor knew what the monster had promised, yet went ahead with the marriage. Victor knew the monster would be there on his wedding night, yet Victor did not stay in the room to protect his bride. Like the little boy who has been told not to stand too close to the fire, Victor's first response was to inch closer. No wonder he was burned. He has had more sexual excitement than he can withstand and so once again he dissembles.

If we had any doubts about the doppelgänger relationship between Victor and the monster, the last quarter of the book resolves them.5 For from now on Victor pursues the monster to set things right, just as earlier the monster had dogged Victor for what he felt was just. First the shadow chases the man, then the man chases the shadow. Victor's repressed desires have broken the surface and he must now struggle to bury them again. It is almost as if Victor's ego, having liberated his monstrous but still protective id, now feels compelled to return to some psychological stasis, even if it means insanity. But his superego will have none of it now and so unity, even lunacy, is denied. Victor monomaniacally pursues his "devil" (p. 149; the "daemon" has now become "demon") to the ends of the civilized world, "more as a task enjoined by heaven," he explains, "as a mechanical impulse of some power of which I was unconscious, than as the ardent desire of my soul" (p. 195). He knows what he is doing but he can't stop.

Here appropriately Victor's narrative ends and we are returned to Robert Walton's epistolary frame. Victor is rescued from the icy wasteland of insanity just long enough to warn Walton, another curious seeker after forbidden knowledge, to turn back.6 Victor expires, but the monster lingers on to let us know that even now he is not satisfied. He tells the ephebic Walton:

You, who call Frankenstein your friend, seem to have a knowledge of my crimes and his misfortunes. But in the detail which he gave you of them he could not sum up the hours and months of misery which I endured wasting in impotent passions. For while I destroyed his hopes, I did not satisfy my own desires. They were forever ardent and craving; still I desired love and fellowship, and I was still spurned. Was there no injustice in this? Am I to be thought only criminal, when all humankind has sinned against me? (p. 210)
{173} But now separated from his other half, his substance, the shadow wanders off, presumably to immolate himself.

When the pieces are put together we may see a buried design in the novel that explains such peculiarities as why the monster reacts to the locket-picture of Frankenstein's mother, why Elizabeth is displaced from "mother" to "sister" to "cousin" to "foundling," why the monster reappears on the wedding night, and why the final symbiosis of monster and man is so fantastic, even dreamlike. It also explains why the story should appeal to the young male, for it is clear that this audience too is concerned about the choice of following curiosity without caution. Do we follow the path which will lead to knowledge and horror (Victor), or should we be restrained and careful, which will turn us away from the hyperborean Eden (forbidden sexual knowledge), but promise safety (Robert Walton). Once Victor's fictive journey is over, once his rite of initiation is finished, it should be clear to us from the text which path we ought to follow (Walton's), and equally clear to us which path we are still tempted to pursue (Frankenstein's). We are finally left lingering between the two in the limbo of adolescence. If we are going to be "mature," however, we are going to have to learn from Victor Frankenstein to follow Robert Walton.

The story is equally exciting and sexually implosive from the female point of view. Although it might be presumptuous to present a "feminine" reading of the novel, let me condense a few points that have become almost données in recent Shelley criticism.7 First, although one risks committing biographical and intentional fallacies, it is tempting to extrapolate from child-bearing events in Mary Shelley's life to the daemon-bearing events of Victor's. And, second, this single event, parturition, and all that entails, seems to be a condensed analogue to what happens both in and around the text. Here is a novel given birth by an artist almost morbidly obsessed by the psychological pains and complexities of labor and delivery. In a sense, Frankenstein is Mary Shelley's primal scream -- bibliogenesis.

And well it should be, for her life at the time of composition centered around the paradox of birth. Her own initiation into this world was powerfully ambiguous: she was born five months after her illustrious parents, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, were married. Clearly, although they married for her, her birth divorced them forever. After a particularly difficult labor, Mary Wollstonecraft had difficulty expelling the placenta, infection set in, and, eleven days after her daughter's birth, she died. If there is one thing the "posthumous child" soon learned, it was that coming into being is intertwined with departure. It was not a lesson later lost; in fact, Mary Godwin (soon to be Mary Shelley) relearned it again and again. She herself had just become pregnant in July 1814, when she ran off to the continent {174} with Percy Bysshe Shelley, and she would continue to be pregnant off and on for the next five years. Also pregnant at this time was Shelley's wife, Harriet, who was to give healthy birth in November. Mary was not so fortunate: in February 1815 she gave birth, or rather in a macabre sense gave death, to a sickly and illegitimate daughter. She notes in her Journal only: "Find my baby dead, a miserable day" and a few weeks later (March 19, 1815) continues, "Dream that my little baby came to life again; that it had only been cold, and that we rubbed it before the fire, and it lived. Awake and find no baby. I think about the little thing all day. Not in good spirits." She was pregnant again in April. As she carried this child, she was doubtless full of dread and guilt, but this time pregnancy was a success. In January 1816 a son, William, was born.8

When the famous pact was made in June 1816 at the Villa Diodati -- a pact as important to the creation of modern horror as the decision by Wordsworth and Coleridge to collaborate on the Lyrical Ballads has been to modern poetry -- one might have guessed what Mary would have chosen to write about. One does not have to delve very far below the surface to see that even in her 1831 "Introduction to the Third Edition" she is still working out her own mothering anxieties: "I shall . . . give a general answer to the question so very frequently asked of me -- how I, then a young girl, came to think of and to dilate upon so very hideous an idea [as the creation of a monster]" (p. vii). What she did not realize, at least not consciously, was that her procreative act, what she had to dilate, efface, and present, was the opus of art, Frankenstein. The idea may have come to her in a "dream":

My imagination, unhidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw -- with shut eyes, but acute mental vision -- I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion . . . . His success would terrify the artist; he would rush away from his odious handiwork, horror-stricken. He would hope that, left to itself, the slight spark of life which he had communicated would fade, that this thing which had received such imperfect animation would subside into dead matter, and he might sleep in the belief that the silence of the grave would quench forever the transient existence of the hideous corpse which he had looked upon as the cradle of life (pp. x-xi)
However, the actuality -- the text -- is the compulsive abreaction of anxiety. Little wonder that Mary, now thirty-two, concluded the introduction to her work at seventeen by bidding "my hideous progeny to go forth and prosper. I have an affection for it, for it was the offspring of happier days. . ." (p. xii).

{175} Ellen Moers, the first critic to interpret Frankenstein as a study of female anxieties, has called the work "a horror story of teenage motherhood," but it would also be correct to say that Frankenstein is a study in sexual ontology, for it details how life is conceived and brought forth. This subject causes anxiety in the adolescent female just as incest seems to excite shivers in the young man. In other words, Mary Shelley did not write a gothic story in which we have, say, a young heroine pursued by an evil, glowering man à la Mrs. Radcliffe; she was not interested in terror. She knew horror was something else, and she knew firsthand what that was; it was somehow connected with what she experienced sexually as a woman -- all the dread, fear, guilt, depression, and excitement of birthing. The marvel of her story is not that she successfully articulated her feelings, but that she captured the shared anxieties of her sex without even mentioning copulation, let alone reproduction.

Psychiatrist Marc Rubenstein has asserted in "'My Accursed Origin': The Search for the Mother in Frankenstein" that, for all "its exclusion of women, Frankenstein is really about motherhood" (p. 165), and I think he, too, is correct, especially with respect to the female audience. Young Frankenstein's progeny becomes a monster not because he violates the demands of death like the vampire, but rather because he has not been "mothered" properly. What makes him monstrous to the female audience is not his lust for revenge or his appetite for violence, which seem to play out the male romance, but instead that he has been made hideous by his creator's unwillingness to nurture. Again and again we are told in the text, especially by the monster, that if someone would just take a little time to attend to his needs, everything would be just fine. Thus the pubescent female can witness this tale of initiation into the anxieties of motherhood with as rapt an attention as her male counterpart, for she wonders if she will be willing to attend to her own biological production. Much of this mothering content has been excised in the movie versions, but to substantiate it let us again return to the text.

Recall that after his own mother has died, Victor left home to pursue his arcane studies at the University of Ingolstadt. There, although "in my education my father had taken the greatest precautions that my mind should be impressed with no supernatural horrors" (p. 50), Victor starts to tinker with the processes of creating life. "In a solitary chamber, or rather a cell, at the top of the house, and separated from all the other apartments by a gallery and staircase, I kept my workshop of filthy creations. . ." (p. 53). Here we are told he spends his days and nights at work -- "winter, spring and summer passed away during my labours" (p. 54) -- until finally in November new life issues forth.

The manufacture of a baby is precisely what is occurring in that womblike room at the top of the stairs. The "labour in that filthy workshop of creation" {176} is the unconscious gestation of new life, and so we should not be surprised when Victor's creation bears an uncanny resemblance to a human child:

His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath . . . but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips. (p. 56)
Of course this cannot be, not because it is sacrilegious or immoral, but because it is so sexually implosive. Life is being made without a partner, without copulation, without sex.9 It is certainly easier to give birth this way, but it is not right, just as it is not right for Victor to act on the feelings he has for Elizabeth. And lest we forget that this child-making is not being done properly, we are respectfully told the child is wildly inappropriate: this baby is eight feet tall! Little wonder that Victor's response to his newborn should be to fall into a deep postpartum sleep.

Outside of the text, Mary Shelley recalls the phantasmagoric image of the creature who came to her in a dream and, indeed, it still has almost the ooze of dream-life about it. As is typical in dreams, the one thing this creature cannot be is the one thing it is: Victor's child. In horror tales, as in dreams, it is common enough to have a central figure perform actions that mock all common sense, almost as if the reasoning powers of the superego must be short-circuited before the id is allowed out. How could Victor create a being eight feet tall from normal human parts found in nearby charnel houses and boneyards? Well, what is King Kong doing fondling the hand-sized Fay Wray -- this can't be sexual, not because he is an ape, but because he is so big. Or why hasn't the vampire overpopulated himself into starvation, since his species grows in geometric progression? Why does the Wolfman first take off his clothes before transforming, yet then appear in shirt and pants? Why does Mr. Hyde never touch Dr. Jekyll's fiancée, yet invariably brutalize her father? The list of such contradictions is as long as the number of horror myths. In horror stories as in dreams, we try to pass by these rational objections because, if we can get past them, we can find what we really want -- namely, a forbidden text of sexuality. If we ever stop to think about it, Van Helsing's "King Laugh" will soon take over. So in each enduring monster story there is some obstreperous contradiction of reality that must be circumvented, and the Frankenstein story is no exception.

The creation scene ends on a simply ludicrous note with Victor waking to see his progeny peering at him from "behind the curtain of the bed" (p. 57). He exclaims: "Oh! No mortal could support the terror of that countenance. {177} A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch" (p. 57). It is tempting to suppose that we are getting a continuation of the rebus-like dream puns with the word-image "mummy," as we earlier had with "conception," "incredible labour," "dilate," "workshop of filthy creation," ' instruments of life," and "effacement." I suspect so, if only because the train of associations, initially so helter-skelter, really does lead directly here to the central actor of creation: mother . . . "mummy."

When the two "selves" of this extraordinary protagonist, Victor Frankenstein, are disassembled, we get an almost clinical description of the anxieties of latency, for he/she deals with the great biological and psychological dilemma of adolescence: sexuality and its consequences. How do we procreate, {178} how is "it" done, with whom, when, what happens next, and what are we going to do about what we produce? I don't think Mary Shelley at eighteen, or at thirty, quite understood the sexual dynamics of her protagonist, but perhaps intuitively she did, for she entitled her novel Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus. In the summer of 1816, Mary Shelley certainly was exposed to the myth, for she was not only reading Ovid's treatment of Prometheus in Book I of the Metamorphosis but also doubtless listening to Byron and Percy Shelley discuss their own renditions ("Prometheus" and Prometheus Unbound). In classical myth Prometheus was both creator of man, the Prometheus plasticator, and the giver of fire, the Prometheus pyphoros. These functions, of course, have sexual correlations: the female is the molder of life; the male is the heroic rebel. Her Frankenstein articulates through its buried and unconscious allegory both the male impulses and anxieties about incest as well as the female impulses and anxieties about parturition. It is a horror novel not because there is a huge, violent, mindless, destructive monster lumbering about the countryside, but because human desire, our desire, has made this protoplasm and is strangely motivating it to play out roles in the family romance.

I hope that this sense of embedded androgyny in some way explains why such a clumsy novel by such a "green" artist could have achieved such a compelling influence on the popular imagination. In the retelling of the tale most of the superfluities of the printed text (tedious travelogues, digressions on contemporary science, descriptions of Alpine sublimities, extraneous characters) have been sloughed off in favor of the central acts of creation and sexual quest. If one doubts that Frankenstein is a central saga of initiation into adulthood, one need only drop in at the local cinema showcase and "see it with your own eyes." The movie is the ideal form of this saga's transmission, for it much more nearly approximates the dream context: we sit quietly in the dark, giving ourselves up to a fantasy supposedly beyond our control. The tensions and fears of our conscious mind are muted; superego censors are stilled because it is, after all, "only a movie" ("only a dream").

Victor and his monster had considerable success on the nineteenth-century stage, often as a double bill with a vampire play adapted from Polidori's novella. However, it is on celluloid that they have really prospered.10 Not only was this one of the first stories filmed (in 1910 Thomas A. Edison made a "liberal adaptation of Mrs. Shelley's famous story," starring the frantic Charles Ogle, who looks as if he has electrified Brillo for hair), it has also been one of the most enduring. In general, one need say little more about the filmic adventures of Frankenstein other than that they have been ridiculous, sublime, silly, profound, ludicrous, and unusually profitable; in fact, they have pretty much paralleled the fortunes of Count Dracula.

What I should like to concentrate on are not just the various renditions of the story line, but the mutations of the character of Frankenstein. For he had been cast -- I suspect quite unconsciously, until recently, at least -- as bisexual. I hope to show that, when we look at what has happened to the myth as it has evolved on film, what we see is that the buried sexual content is being progressively made manifest. So it should come as no surprise that in the most successful remake on both stage and screen, The Rocky Horror (Picture) Show, the role of Victor is played precisely for what had previously only been implied -- namely, androgyny -- and that the creature, Rocky, is also bisexual. But before discussing this extraordinary rendition, let me briefly review its important predecessors so we can see how the changes have unfolded.

Although there is only one great cinematic monster (Karloff), there are two dominant Frankensteins: Colin Clive of the Universal series in the thirties {180} and Peter Cushing of the Hammer series in the sixties. Interestingly enough, the moral tones of their characterizations vary greatly. Clive plays the young scientist as upright, neurasthenic, and good, although too curious and careless, while Cushing plays him as haughty, misogynistic, and, especially in the last version (Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell 1972), as downright demonic. However, the sexual, or rather asexual, nature of his character has been changeless. He is a neuter, sublimating his erotic energies into the mechanical creation of life. In fact, in all the Frankensteins both at Universal and at Hammer, the creation scene is always played very close to a scene of sexual arousal. The music, the lighting, the responses, are blatantly lifted from their usual matrix, and with good reason. After a great deal of tantalizing foreplay with electrically charged, sparking instruments, the scene centers around "Doctor" "Baron" "Professor" Frankenstein's discovery that "There, you see, it moves, it's alive; I've made life!" The scene is so visual that we pass by the obvious sexuality to watch the pyrotechnics.11

James Whale, the virtuoso screenwriter and director at Universal in the early 1930s, made the scene first and his (and Kenneth Strickfaden's) imagery has stuck. Here in Whale's words is the importance of that birthing scene:

I consider the creation of the Monster to be the high spot of the film, because if the audience did not believe the thing had been really made, they would not be bothered with what it was supposed to do afterward . . . . By this time the audience must at least believe something is going to happen; it might be disaster, but at least they will settle down to see the show. Frankenstein puts the spectators in their positions, he gives final orders to Fritz, he turns the levers and sends the diabolic machine soaring upward to the roof, into the storm. He is now in a state of feverish excitement . . . . The lightning flashes. The Monster begins to move. Frankenstein merely has to believe what he sees, which is all we ask the audience to do. (New York Times December 20, 1931, p. 4X)
But Whale was clearly buffeted by his intuitive knowledge that Victor's (or "Henry's" as he was called for some unknown reason) sexuality was frighteningly onanistic, and by the demands of the "front office" that every Jack must have his Jill. So, to make the creation scene presentable, Whale set out to rearrange the relationship of Frankenstein and Elizabeth in a way that both he and the studio could accept. Of the many things that were added to the saga because of Whale's genius -- such as Fritz, the evil hunchback who delivers the damaged brain, clearly marked "Abnormal Brain," the "doctor," the watchtower laboratory, the crucifixion scene, the windmill ending -- none has been more important than what was done with the monster and Elizabeth. Whale's monster was a long way from Mary Shelley's creature: it was essentially a huge child, sensitive but ignorant. It was the Golem of Paul Wegener's Der Golem (1920) all over again; in fact, Lugosi, who first tested {182} for the part, was supposedly made up to look just like the Golem. The monster was energy without intelligence, and that is why Whale was right, and Karloff wrong, in not wanting the scene cut in which the monster throws little Maria into the pond like a flower petal.12 In addition, if the monster was made a child, then Elizabeth was in a sense made the mother -- the proper but spurned mother. In the 1931 Frankenstein she was heroic. She was the one who twice led the posse (Victor Moritz and Professor Waldman) to the lab to rescue her fiancé from the perversion of single-sex baby building. She was spurned, of course ("You must leave me alone! You'll ruin everything!" Frankenstein blabbers), while he retires to create life on the operating table. But she will not be easily pushed aside and continually calls for caution. Though Henry assures her, as the phallic lift hoists the lifeless hulk skyward, that "there is nothing to fear," he is a fool and she knows it. He may say, as he does four times, that he has created life "with my own hands," but she knows this is not the proper manner. So when he later grandly announces, "In the Name of God, now I know what it feels like to be God," Elizabeth seems to realize that the word he wants is not "God" but "mother."'13

It is interesting to speculate on the rapprochement that develops between Elizabeth and the monster, for in a sense both of them are left out and exiled by the menfolk. Perhaps this is why the creature does not kill her (as in the novel), but simply appears on the wedding night to give her a good scare and then hustles off. This "hands off" policy is also because no monster could touch a Hollywood heroine in 1931 and get away with it. It may also be the result -- as we will clearly see in Whale's Bride of Frankenstein (1935) -- of a bond, albeit unspoken, developing between them.

The creature is finally destroyed in a burning windmill, but only after he heaves Henry over the side. Frankenstein's death (he hits one of the turning vanes on the way down) was to be the end of the movie, but once again Universal insisted that no hero of theirs was going to be so short-lived, and so Whale had Henry revived and returned to his father. The movie thus ends with the promise of impending matrimony and a toast to the future issue of the young couple. This ending was certainly the triumph of bookkeepers over moviemakers, for in no way has Henry been deserving of such salvation. When Whale's Frankenstein was re-released a few years later with his Bride of Frankenstein, the final scene of the convalescing Henry was removed, as well as the epilogue to The Bride (in which Byron and the Shelleys discuss the famous pact to write horror stories), so that the two stories have no break between them. The end of Frankenstein is really a tribute to giddy nonsense, for the Baron, Henry's pompous father, has the last word giggling and drinking with the servant girls. Clearly, young Frankenstein has not learned his lesson.

{183} Universal Studios didn't care; they made about $10 million on the movie, and so three years later it was time to ring up the cash registers again. This time it was The Bride of Frankenstein and this time it was one of the few Hollywood sequels better than the original. Once again, I'm especially interested in the role of Elizabeth, for it is she who continually explains what Henry is after. But first, just who is the "Bride" of Frankenstein? In the movie there are two of them: (1) Elizabeth, now played by the brunette Valerie Hobson rather than the blond Mae Clarke of the first version, and (2) the monster's intended, the seven-foot Queen Nefertiti with the famous lightning bolt in her hair, played by Elsa Lanchester. For literary purists, of course, there can only be one "bride" of Frankenstein and that is Henry's wife, but for movie buffs Frankenstein is the monster and it is his bride that the title describes. The confusion is not without intention, for Whale had planned something quite extraordinary: in The Bride Whale attempted to sever the evil aspect from his protagonist and introduce a mad scientist, Dr. Pretorius, who would do all the genetic tampering. This meant Henry could remain the curious but decent scout while Pretorius did all the nasty things. And the nasty thing Pretorius originally had in mind was to transplant Elizabeth's heart into the body of the female creature. Unfortunately, this bizarre plot never really made it into the finished film, although it came close, and we can still see that Whale almost had his way. If you remember the film, one of the most unsettling scenes is when the monster is grandly presented with his "bride," who recoils from him as if he were a pimply blind date. We are still amazed that she could so immediately detest him; her first response is a mad swan hiss. What happened is that this scene was shot before the producers vetoed the heart transplant idea and Whale could not re-do the laboratory scenes because the sets had been destroyed. Little wonder the bride with Elizabeth's heart recoils in horror, for she realizes that she is to be "mated" to her husband's progeny, the monster, by extension the proper issue of her own body! In other words, the same "horror of incest" that permeates the text of Mary Shelley's novel also energizes the James Whale movie, except that here it inheres in a mother/son rather than a brother/sister relationship.

In the first cut version of the film, in the famous explosion scene in which the monster pulls the Destruct Lever (all laboratories in the 1930s were equipped with such a well-marked lever), Henry is included among those destroyed. Since Elizabeth had been spared her vivisection by the Universal panjandrums (Karl, Dr. Pretorius' demented lackey who will develop into Ygor in the sequels, kills an unidentified village girl instead for the "bride's" heart), Henry must also be saved. Whale had already shot the explosion scene with Henry, and so rather than reconstruct the set he simply tried to excise {184} Henry in the cutting room. Whale didn't entirely succeed; you can still see Henry getting blown up along with the other mischief-makers. Whale also added an ending in which Henry and Elizabeth escape and are last seen silhouetted against the burning tower, Henry promising never to meddle again in the act of creation. Now, presumably, they will go home and make babies the right way.

But they don't. Naturally enough in this genre they continue to be unnatural. In the next rendering, Son of Frankenstein (1939), the young man, now known as Baron Wolf von Frankenstein, has finally had a son the respectable way, but it doesn't take long for the old habits to return. Wolf's onanistic behavior must he phylogenetically activated, for no sooner is he back in Castle Frankenstein, having lived as an American professor for a number of years, than he is tempted to fiddle around with "the source of life" just like his father. Once again his wife -- Elizabeth is now known as Elsa -- is kept out. Even their beds have been arranged so that normal procreation is out of the question: they are placed at an angle so that only the headboards touch. The maid introduces Elsa to the master bedroom, saying, "When the house is filled with dread, place the beds at head to head." And head to head they {185} remain. Clearly, Wolf prefers to spend his productive time in his father's broken-down "lab across the ravine," which is all that is left of the old watchtower since the explosion.

To his credit, Frankenstein père has warned his son of the dangers. He has left a letter for Wolf saying that "If you, like me, burn with the irresistible desire to penetrate the unknown, carry on. Even though the path is cruel and tortuous, carry on . . . . You have inherited the fortune of the Frankensteins. I trust you will not inherit their fate." Wolf makes a beeline for the lab, led by the demented retainer, Ygor, doubtless himself a descendant of Karl, Dr. Pretorius' aide-de-camp. Ygor (Bela Lugosi) has his own reasons for wanting the creature revived. He wants vengeance on the town fathers for sentencing him to death. En route to the inner sanctum Ygor and Wolf pass the tomb of the elder Frankenstein, complete with this graffiti scratched by some dim villager: "Maker of Monsters." Wolf pauses momentarily, carefully reads the epithet, and is then led still farther into the laboratory, right up to the slab where the enfeebled monster now lies. "Will you help revive your brother?" asks Ygor. "My brother!" gasps Wolf, looking at the Frankenstein monster. The truth slowly settles on Wolf as Ygor cocks his head: sons of the same father are brothers. Finally, in the name of science, Wolf consents. As they leave the lab Wolf scratches out the word "Monster" from his father's tomb and heroically writes with a fiery torch, "Maker of MEN."

From here on, the problem with Rowland V. Lee's exposition of the saga is that it is so predictable. Ygor is bad, Wolf is good but misdirected, and the monster well-meaning but unsympathetic. What is noteworthy is that poor Elizabeth/Elsa is once again prevented from partaking in life-delivering processes. It is still men's work in the Frankenstein family. Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill) comes to call with his prosthetic arm, and it is poor Elsa who must stand in that cold Caligariesque castle making small talk with a man who can speak thus of his amputation: "One does not easily forget an arm torn out by the roots." So she must play a menial role, caressing her infant son Peter, while her husband is in the back room nursing his monster with volts. It is especially hard to be concerned about Wolf's "baby" because, once on his feet, the monster is in the service of Ygor, who is using him as a bravo to settle grudges. Had Ygor's relationship with the monster been less exploitive, or had Wolf's been less clinical, or had Wolf's natural son been more a friend to the monster, this movie might well have made sense. But as it is, Son of Frankenstein looks great but adds little to the saga.

Universal's next four attempts add nothing but confusion: they are Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), and House of Dracula (1945). In Ghost Sir Cedric Hardwicke does the honors as Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein by introducing a new {186} twist that is still tangled up in the myth. Since the monster's problem is his bad brain, why not give him a new one, a sensible one? In 1941 Black Friday made plenty of money with the nasty transplant idea, so it must have been appealing to its producers. But whose brain? While the monster has his heart set on the brain of a neighborhood girl, Cloestine, Dr. Frankenstein wants to use the brain of a good scientist, Dr. Kettering. Ygor has a better idea. Why not use his own brain? While the little girl's brain would have made the movie fascinating, as Hammer Studios was to show in Frankenstein Created Woman (1966), it was Ygor who carried the day at Universal. Thanks, however, to problems with incompatible blood types, the operation succeeded but the patient died. The addlepated monster stumbles into some strategically located combustible chemicals and the lab explodes.

Universal missed the point in Ghost: the monster must be sympathetic for the story to work. In Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) the monster doesn't even have a chance to be sympathetic as he is shoved aside by the melancholy Wolfman. It is the Wolfman's show from the first reel, and really the monster is there only to battle him at the end. Still, the monster revival scene is interesting. A Dr. Mannering has taken over Victor s role and while this doctor is "pumping the juice" into the creature, Baroness Elsa Frankenstein, Victor's granddaughter who has kept his "Secrets of Life and Death," rushes into the lab. "You're making him strong again!" she shouts as she lunges for the Destruct Lever. The good doctor retorts, "I can't destroy Frankenstein's creature. I've got to see it at full power." Needless to say, the monster at full power gets loose and lunges at Elsa. Her grandfather should have told her to steer clear of boys in the lab. The Wolfman saves her. As always, the townspeople have the last word; they dynamite the dam upstream, which inundates the lab, drowning the monsters.14

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man made so much money that the studio executives would have gladly used mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to bring them back to life. As it was, the Frankenstein monster was barely able to shuffle through two more appearances, both of them little more than cameos in the monster reunion movies of the mid-1940s. After all, if two monsters could turn a profit of almost $4 million in 1943, think of the possibilities of three or even four monsters. So House of Frankenstein (1944) is really just a menagerie of monsters, each doing its predictable thing -- the vampire is vamping, the Wolfman moping, the mad doctor conniving, and the Frankenstein monster mostly just defrosting. It seems that he and the Wolfman had been stuck in huge ice chunks since their watery demise in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Once again, there is a lot of mumbo-jumbo in House of Frankenstein about transplanting a new brain into the monster's skull, and again the mad doctor "just wants to see the creature at full power." He {187} the hulk 100,000 megawatts of power and the monster comes alive, beats up the bad guys, grabs the doctor who re-created him -- in a sense his surrogate father -- and stiffly trudges into a convenient bog of quicksand.

There must have been a trap door below the quicksand ooze because in House of Dracula (1945) the monster, with the skeleton of the first mad doctor in his arms, is found by yet another doctor. The new doctor, Dr. Franz Edelmann, really wants to help, but because the vampire has infected his blood with a parasite, he can't be trusted at night. Thanks to Dracula's bad blood, Dr. Franz becomes a nocturnal Mr. Hyde by moonlight. As might be expected, his Mr. Hyde self decides to give the monster a new lease on life: "I'll make you strong . . . stronger than ever before!" "No, no!" cries the requisite nurse who has taken over Mrs. Frankenstein's role. "Remember your promise not to," and the doctor glowers at her, "You're spying on me . . . you shouldn't have come here . . . I don't like people who see what they're not supposed to see." His warnings are too late; she sees, she screams, the townspeople hear, and once again they descend on the castle. The monster {188} bumps into those strategically placed chemicals and perishes in the towering inferno.

Although the New York Times quipped that "Frankenstein's little boy doesn't die easily, and unfortunately neither does this type of cinematic nightmare" (December 22, 1945), this time they were wrong. The Universal saga was over; the Destruct Lever had been pulled. Karloff was no longer playing the creature, leaving it to Chaney, Lugosi, and Glen Strange, the cowboy heavy. Frankenstein himself had all but disappeared. Somehow all the sincerity had gone out of the productions. Perhaps World War II horrors were proving too competitive, but more probably it was because on October 1, 1946 Universal merged with International Pictures to become Universal-International, and this new unit had publicly pledged itself to only "high-quality pictures." First to go was what Universal did best: horror films were over.

Looking back to the 1930s and the 1940s one sees the Universal deluge of horror movies coming in two waves: in the first, the individual film makers experimented with motifs, situations, and characters, and in the second, the studio executives sought to consolidate their gains by working the same sequences over and over. In the first surge (Frankenstein, Bride of . . ., Son of. . .) Frankenstein is young and confused, the creation is central, and the monster is inarticulate but oddly sympathetic. In the second wash (Ghost of . . ., Frankenstein Meets . . ., House of . . .) the creator is older, a Baron or a doctor, the creation scene is partially displaced by the transplant motif, and the monster is a tool used by either Ygor or some madman to further some nefarious end. Along with these transformations Elizabeth changes from being a cast-aside wife to being an unimportant, unmarried nurse or a Frankenstein descendant. Clearly, it is the first wave that still surges through popular culture. Yet, as we will see, Hammer Studios, too, thought they could make something out of the transplant motif, but their real success came only by returning the protagonist to his earlier ephebic self, which they did by providing the scientist with a wide-eyed young assistant.

Before we look at Hammer's inundation in the 1960s we should pause to look at one of the more intriguing aspects of horror films -- the parody that is better than the original. Clearly what happens is that the parody maker, remembering his youth, reconstructs the plot with greater affection and knowledge than was ever lavished on the original work. After all, he remembers exactly what it was that was so frightening. Assuming that parody does indeed unfold what lies along the seam of its subject, it is especially instructive to look at Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein (1975). Young Frankenstein simply continues the argument begun with Frankenstein, Bride of . . . and {189} Son of but wisely neglects the inadvertent parodies of Universal's second wave.15

The first half of Young Frankenstein opens by extending the standard introductory scenes by exaggeration, but then the plot, which has been mimicking Rowland V. Lee's Son of Frankestein, takes a rush forward, a rush beyond the usual narrative. For, while the mob is out chasing the monster, he is, in fact, being seduced by Elizabeth. In the novel the monster murders Elizabeth and in Whale's Frankenstein he simply terrifies her, but in Brooks' version the monster has everything he could want, and more. If my understanding of the hurried psychology of the saga is correct, this has been the monster's function all along. He is indeed a projection of the young male and he is finally -- safely protected by parody -- getting what he wants. In parody nothing stops him, because no one bothers to take him seriously.

In a sense the monster at last is "young Frankenstein" acting out the libidinous {190} desires of his maker. The earthy humor here is that, because of his prodigious size, a size that extends to all members of his body, he is able to satisfy Elizabeth as she has never been satisfied before. It is in this broad humor that one clearly sees the implied adolescent fantasies being played out. For not only is the id-monster the first to sleep with the tabooed partner, he is successful beyond his wildest dreams. In a real tour de force -- because the story simply can't end here (for what would become of the pallid Frankenstein?) -- there is a transfusion of parts between the neurasthenic young doctor and the prepotent monster. Because the transfusion machine is shut off too soon young Frankenstein ends up the possessor of the monster's reproductive organ. The movie concludes with Frankenstein's female assistant asking Victor as they start to make love, "The monster got part of your wonderful brain [in the exchange], but what did you get from him?" As the lights fade she finds out. The last thing we hear is her shriek of joy.

The Americans relinquished the Frankenstein saga in the 1950s to the English. It was just as well, for nothing new was being added to the story except more werewolves, more mad doctors, more transplants, and more nonsense. With the exception of I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957), in which the teenage monster "son" kills the father-creator (an Oedipal layer of the story strangely enough not exploited before), it was a dull time indeed for this kind of horror story. But Hammer Studios, then just a small independent producer and distributor, decided to remake Frankenstein in its own image. It was certainly not going to use Universal's image, for Universal's lawyers had copyrighted the money-making mise-en-scène, from Jack Pierce's makeup for Karloff to Kenneth Strickfaden's rendition of Frankenstein's laboratory, and Universal was loath to deal with this upstart English studio. So Hammer did it on its own. In the fifteen years from 1957 to 1972 they made seven full-length features and each, until the end, made a substantial profit. The titles reveal Hammer's bias: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), Horror of Frankenstein (1970) -- the only one without Peter Cushing, and the worst -- and finally, supposedly Hammer's last, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974). Having seen them all recently, I was amazed at how well most of them have held up while so many other horror movies of this time are so "dated" by comparison. Think only of the countless outerspace monsters and mutants, let alone killer tarantulas, snakes, rats, even tomatoes, which are not even good enough, or bad enough, to reappear on middle-of-the-night TV, and one realizes the staying power of Hammer's efforts. These Hammer movies are still playing almost every weekend on television channels across the country.16

This "staying power" is, I think, the same that has led audiences to the Mary Shelley novel and the James Whale films. The plot is kept simple, some would say simplistic, the anchor scenes, like the creation, are played to the hilt, and the implied sexuality is always there. There are, however, three major shifts in the saga according to Hammer. First, Frankenstein is no longer the adolescent over-reacher, but is now a controlled master scientist. To a considerable degree this shift was mandated by the choice of Peter Cushing, for he is so urbane and suave that one imagines he couldn't lose control even if he tried. He never says, "It's alive! My God, it's alive!" Universal had already been moving the saga in this direction with their older mad doctors. And, second, the saga is no longer about creating life, but about transplanting life. In the days of Christiaan Barnard this was nothing if not relevant, and now that cloning is in the news, doubtless the next Frankensteins will be tampering with strands of DNA. In the most recent of the English "Frankensteins," Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell the doctor is actually transplanting whole brains and even "souls," so one can well imagine that the possibilities for horror (i.e., tabooed sexuality) are vastly increased. These two shifts mandated a third -- the doctor is given an assistant who acts the role of the "green" protagonist who traditionally had driven the plot by drawing back the curtains of forbidden sexual knowledge. Thanks to the genius of Jimmy Sangster, Hammer's screenwriter for the first movies, this role was not given to an Ygor or Fritz, but to a young, wide-eyed, sexless, lisping helper who stands by the doctor/father and asks the appropriate questions: "Should we be doing this?" "Can you teach me to create life?" "Here, let me try." In other words, this young man is the traditional Frankenstein, except that he is totally guiltless because he is, after all, "just helping the doctor."

So in the Hammer version the adolescent has it both ways; he sees how life is generated by aberration, and he learns by extension how to be cautious and respectful and genital. To practice this method properly he is paired with a buxom, technicolored, nubile girlfriend whom he initially spurns when working with the master, but later embraces after he sees how Frankenstein has botched it. Interestingly, in many of the Hammer Frankensteins the monster comes back to destroy (not really, because there must always be a sequel) the father-figure, for this Oedipal level of the story could only occur when Frankenstein, the father-creator, was divorced from Frankenstein, the adolescent son.

Of all the Hammer efforts, the most psychologically interesting is the 1967, Frankenstein Created Woman. The plot, so simple and bizarre, shows how close these latency sagas are to the fairy tales of childhood. Here is how it goes: Teenaged Hans is orphaned when his ne'er-do-well father is guillotined {192} by the town mob. He is "adopted" by the kind Dr. Frankenstein, who is in the midst of experimenting with the cryogenic preservation of his own body. The doctor is amazed that in this frozen state of suspended animation nothing leaves his body, no soul, no spirit, nothing. "Dead for an hour, yet my soul did not leave my body. Now why?" the doctor queries after defrosting. He is too kind to experiment on other people -- at least yet.

On a more mundane level, Hans has become friends with Christina, the local innkeeper's daughter. She is stunning: full-breasted but, alas, painfully shy. Not only does she limp, she also suffers the embarrassment of her teenage complexion for one side of her face is blemished. She and Hans fall in love, but are separated by her father who, knowing of Hans' father, does not consider him "of the proper type." Now into the inn come three bully-boys, complete with top hats, whiny voices, and atrocious manners. These dandies want Christina to serve them some wine, but she is mortified to appear in public and they mock and taunt her. When Hans protects her, they give him a good thrashing and escape in the melee, stealing his overcoat.

Meanwhile, back at the laboratory, Dr. Frankenstein is working in his Hammer-equipped version of the Universal workshop. There is the inevitable huge water tank that resembles a bathtub-sized aquarium in which bits {193} of human anatomy usually float (a visual donnée in the Hammer creation scene, just as the elevating table had been for Universal). There is also the requisite electrical apparatus -- wire, sparks, and levers (no "self-destruct" ones, however; these English are too cagey). The scene is all in lush, rich color, an effect contemplated, but never used, by Universal. The Doctor/Baron, who knows Nietzsche, has finally discovered that no "soul" leaves the body after death because there is a biological life-force: "You see the energy . . . the force trapped in the cells." The Baron hopes to use this energy to repair the feeble bodies of the unfortunate, but, alas, he will have no such opportunity, for his altruistic world is soon overtaken by stark reality.

The three dandies who stole Hans' coat return to the inn later that night to steal wine, are discovered by the innkeeper (Christina's father), whom they kill, and then flee into the night, leaving Hans' coat. They are successful in framing Hans for the police find the coat, and although the Baron testifies as a character witness, it is not enough: Hans is to be, like his father, guillotined. When Christina finds out it is too late, for justice here in Ingolstadt is swift. Hans is decapitated. She is despondent, jumps into the river and drowns. The Baron loses no time and dutifully collects the two bodies. The operations can now begin.

Since Hans has been decapitated, his life-force is transferred by the Baron into Christina's revived body. After the operations are completed, one by one the bandages are removed from her body. As the last bandage is unwrapped, the camera keeps us from seeing the results. We see only the face of Frankenstein as the creature asks, "Please, please, who am l?" The best the doctor can answer is, "You are a nice lady." She now becomes, as David Pirie has written in his history of English horror films, A Heritage of Horror (1973), "an utterly sensual, hermaphroditic and polymorphous perverse rejuvenation" (p. 77). She also becomes stunning to look at, because it seems the doctor, something of a dermatologist, has taken off her blemish and, as a bonus, repaired her limp. You see, he is not at all evil. Christina, inspired now by the male life-force of Hans, sets about seducing and then decapitating the bully-boys who killed her father and framed her boyfriend.

In all of this the Baron is a willing co-conspirator, but not directly involved. Hans is using Christina's corpus to further his bloody revenge and the doctor goes along, realizing that some restitution of order must be made, yet clearly knowing that things are all wrong. Those Russian bullies were nasty, but Hans goes too far by having Christina write his name in blood after he/she has decapitated, à la guillotine, one of the rascals with a meat cleaver. The townfolk believe Frankenstein must be up to mischief, and so they dig up Hans' body. They find his body, all right, but his head is missing. The head, we now learn, is resting on the post of Christina's bed, and it is {194} only a matter of time before the mob pays Baron Frankenstein its time-honored visit.

The Baron, fearful for his life, goes off to hunt down Christina to remove Hans' life-force ("call it a soul if you still want to," he says) from her body, yet knows something horrible has happened. It is too late; Christina has lured the last of the scoundrels into an almost surrealistic picnic ground, and to this pastoral glen she first entices, then decapitates, her last victim. As Frankenstein happens onto the scene, she is speaking with Hans' voice to Hans' head, which she is cradling between her hands just as Keats' Isabella did with her Lorenzo. Amazingly, the head replies in her own voice, thereby mixing forever spiritual, corporeal, and sexual identities. We have had the doppelgänger motif, always extant in the saga regardless of the rendition, carried about as far as it can go. Poor Christina/Hans ends it all, finally, by jumping {195} again into the river and receiving, once and for all, the blessed baptism into the world beyond. The Baron flees from the mob so he can reappear two years later in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed.

In the context of family romance run amok, Frankenstein Created Woman is a natural enough, although startling, continuation of the saga narrative. The Frankenstein archetype has again been split in two, leaving Hans to play the Victor role of "young" Frankenstein and the Baron to play the Dr. Pretorius role of conniving parent: in a sense the boy-child and his view of his father. As he grows up, the child becomes curious about a young girl who is denied by another father, the innkeeper, but once that father is removed the path is clear. Both youngsters, already motherless and now with only one surrogate father, do indeed become as one. But their union is all wrong; it is not at all what they intended; it is instead the result of the "father's" manipulation. There is no joy in this "marriage" (that word is never used but it is clearly implied by the officiating Baron), only utter despondency. Hence we are as relieved as they when matters end with the joint suicide and the banishment of the "father."

Two other revivals are worthy of note. In 1974 Paul Morrissey made a 3-D version which exploited his mentor's name in the title, Andy Warhol's Frankenstein. Although this film lacks the droll humor of Andy Warhol's Dracula preferring instead to dangle as many parts of human anatomy as possible under our noses and then to pour countless buckets of blood into our laps, it is the first film to portray Baron Frankenstein as aggressively and unremittingly androgynous. Frankenstein commits incest with his sister and, after they are both killed, their children -- born of this incest -- go on to populate yet another generation of Frankensteins. Far more interesting, however, is a television extension of the transplant motif written by Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy modestly titled Frankenstein: The True Story (1974). In viewing this "true story" it is hard to ignore Mr. Isherwood's sexual preferences, for it tells of how Victor leaves his Elizabeth to join Henry Clerval in creating "life." These two boys are going to do it together and, after Henry banishes Elizabeth from Victor's presence, they succeed. Lurking in the background, however, is the evil presence of Dr. Polidori (James Mason), who has no hands and thus needs the help of these brilliant young surgeons. To condense the four-hour drama: the boys succeed in creating an effeminately handsome creature (Michael Sarrazin), Henry is killed in an accident, Victor puts Henry's still-living brain into the creature, and Victor and his creature become like mother and child. The creature even wears diapers and is led around to be introduced to the wonders of life. They play games and hug each other, and Victor plays dress-up with his monster, saying such things as, "And now you will be the grandest dandy in town." {196} However, the life process is reversing and the creature is starting not to mature but decay. Victor is shocked and spurns his huge child. Despondent, he yields to social pressure and marries Elizabeth, and who should appear at the reception but Dr. Polidori, complete with the now-ugly monster in tow. It seems that Dr. P. wants to make a girl monster of his own and needs Victor's technical skills. Victor is blackmailed and together, again almost father and son, they fabricate the full-grown woman, "Prima." When Prima takes off to court Elizabeth, the undertones of Carmilla are too obvious to miss, but Elizabeth is neither available nor amused. The boys have the boys; the girls almost have the girls. Elizabeth is not alone in being startled by this extraordinary course of events; so too is the Frankenstein monster. In fact, he is so upset that he literally pulls off Prima's head. Victor and Elizabeth flee to America on a chartered ship, but en route the monster and Polidori reappear; the monster kills Polidori and Elizabeth, turns the ship northward to the Pole, and the story ends with Victor and his monster embracing as an avalanche is about to bury them eternally in snow and ice.

These variations show the malleable qualities of the myth, but in each version sexual aberrancy is the trigger for horror. To see real insights into the psychodynamics, we must look to see not where the myth is not overturned, but rather to where it is first imitated and then extended. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then parody is the sincerest form of imitation. For in parody you must first recognize the essential nature of the subject as well as its effects, and then you must turn the subject in on itself so that you achieve not the opposite effect, but a logical continuation. As we have seen in the Young Frankenstein, parody in the visual arts usually is most easily achieved through caricature of specific scenes or image clusters. The later Hammer movies, especially The Horror of Frankenstein (1970) and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974), are actually poor parodies of the more vibrant work of Terence Fisher's Curse of Frankenstein (1957) am Revenge of Frankenstein (1958). Although recent Hammer attempts to retell the saga often degenerate into desultory and febrile campiness, this does not mean that the story has been overtold, but only that this version, with its blood and bosoms and aquariums, has run out of interest. Andy Warhol's Frankenstein and Frankenstein: The True Story show this: they turn to their subject with ridicule because they have nothing new to say. The same thing happened at Universal in the forties.

Just as Young Frankenstein pokes fun at the Universal "Frankensteins" in what is really an affectionate tribute to the American horror films of the thirties, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a frantic and admiring burlesque of the Hammer versions as well as the English heritage of slightly skewed horror. Not only was Rocky Horror filmed at Bray Studios where the first {197} Hammer "epics" were made, it also uses parts of the sets of such classics as The Curse of Frankenstein and The Horror of Dracula. If Brooks' Young Frankenstein is quintessentially American in its broad vulgarity and visual puns, then RHPS is almost a caricature of English schoolboy humor: it is a horror movie playacted with Monty Python verve. Its very Englishness may account for the fact that the stage musical, The Rocky Horror Show was a smash hit at London's King's Road Theatre, but a flop on Broadway. The same thing almost happened to the movie, but the movie allowed something the theater never could -- audience participation.17

The movie, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is finally something quite different from any other parody; it is almost sui generis. RHPS has become the largest audience participation film in history (admittedly not much competition in this category), drawing enthusiastic fans back week after week to reenact what has become almost a religious ritual. Literally from coast to coast, each weekend before midnight (Twentieth Century Fox has wisely forbidden any other kind of showing than this Friday/Saturday midnight show), thousands of adolescents line up in costume and makeup to replay and mime this mythic rite of initiation. Fans also have their own newsletter, The Transylvanian, their own books, The Rocky Horror Picture Show Book, Rocky Horror Official Poster Book and, since 1977, their own yearly convention. The film audience, calling themselves "veterans," invariably know how many performances they have attended and are increasingly joined by their elders who go more to reminisce than to participate. For RHPS is not just an entertaining movie: it is one of the most artful condensations of the anxieties and excitements of puberty. It does for this generation what the print and celluloid Frankensteins have been doing for the last five generations: it provides a text, quite literally a recitative reading, of the do's and don't's of sexuality. Little wonder, then, that first-time viewers are referred to as "virgins" by the cognoscenti who have "seen the show" and are so introduced to the crowd before the film rolls.

The plot, what there is of it that can be discerned, is a bit more complex than usual. Brad and Janet, a well-scrubbed couple from the Midwest, drive off after a friend's wedding to consult their high school teacher, Dr. Scott, about matrimony, and well they should, since Janet has caught the bridal bouquet and Brad has taken the cue and proposed. En route they are caught in a storm, have a tire blow-out, and take refuge in a remote castle that has a sign out front -- "Frankenstein Place." The castle has a rather eerie look to it -- "Enter at your own risk" the sign outside also says -- but it is too late to turn back. The door creaks open and we are met by a Nosferatuesque butler, Riff-Raff. Along with Brad and Janet, we are led by this menacing Ygor through more doors, over yet more thresholds, until we enter the grand ballroom {198} filled with a giddy assortment of guests in penguin-like spats and sunglasses dancing the "Time Warp." It is clearly a sexual dance ("But it's the pelvic thrust that really drives you insane," the revelers sing), and Brad and Janet are understandably hesitant to join the throng.

Lowered by elevator into this melee is a caped, white-faced, lipsticked, eyeshadowed, sultry dynamo, Dr. Frank N. Furter. It is certainly a shock to our sexual stereotypes in horror films when he sings, "I'm just a sweet transvestite from Transsexual Transylvania," and, as he does, bumps and grinds his way out from beneath his cape. He is wearing black fish-net stockings and a corset. It's Frederick's of Hollywood at Fire Island, yet what makes it so startling is that it is alluring. The mise-en-scène is all Hammer Grand Guignol, but this central character definitely is not. Peter Cushing had been effete, but Tim Curry plays the role with so much sexual gusto and recklessness that it can only be called lust. He is so gleefully transsexual, so raucously alive, so husky beneath the sequins, that it's hard not to he swept along.18

After crossing the "Time Warp" we are all led upstairs to Dr. Frank N. Furter's laboratory. But wait -- it's the Hammer laboratory, complete with that aquarium and all the electrical gear, yet the Hammer monster is nowhere in sight. And when Frank N. Furter unwraps his creation it is no deformed creature, but instead a hulk of beefcake in jockey shorts named Rocky Horror. With clear reference to Hammer's transfusion epics, Rocky's life-force has been drained from Eddie, a "normal" delivery boy (played by the corpulent Meatloaf, a rock star in his own right) who has strayed from his normal deliveries and is now being held in cryogenic suspension in a nearby food locker. Suddenly, Eddie breaks loose from his freezer and causes mayhem by accelerating around the lab on his motorcycle. Frank N. Furter brutally bludgeons Eddie to death. It is shockingly violent, but strangely not out of character, for Frank N. Furter has always hidden his Mr. Hyde side under an overabundance of kinetic energy. Here, for a moment, we see violence without repression, and it is awful, even horrible.

We are now prepared for the third shock: this modern Frankenstein seduces first Janet, then Brad. Janet is upset: "You're to blame! I was saving myself," she moans. While Brad complains: "You're to blame -- I thought it was the real thing!"; but it is clear that both enjoy forgetting, not who they are, but what they are. After these two brittle virgins give in, when these examples of middle-class repression fall, there is not much left to debauch. But as the music and dance continually tell us, it is only good fun and will only last for a night. There is no longer any "normal" sexual identity, so nothing can be wrong. As a dour narrator intones, "It was a night out they would remember for a very long time," and, one might add, "never repeat."

{199} On the most obvious level this movie seems to say that it is okay to be sexually confused; it is okay for boys to run around in corsets and garters, to prance and flaunt and dance and sing; it is okay for girls to be naughty and dirty, to be sexual, bisexual, transsexual -- you name it as long as you enjoy it. Or perhaps, to be more accurate, it says it is acceptable to pretend to be this way, as long as it doesn't last. Horror sagas generally have such a level of "let's pretend" that long ago in another part of the world there were people who did act out, not so much our buried desires, as our curiosities. This version just does it with music and dances. Yet, in the tradition of the Schaeurroman there is an intimation embedded in the text that reminds us of what happens if pretending becomes reality. There is always that image of Eddie axed to death for staying too long under the spell; for taking things literally. But even that is clothed in irony, for we are continually assured that what we see on the screen is all an elaborate trompe d'oeil, a make-believe. A fatherly narrator often intrudes, book in hand, assuring us that he is telling this story from a big book just as our own fathers once did. We are again being "read" into Fairyland. Below this ambiguous level, however, we get the far more serious retelling of the Frankenstein story with all its attendant mythology and psychodynamics and horror.

{200} Paradoxically, for all its sportiveness, this movie celebrates the end of make-believe; it is the last of make-believe; it is the last Frankenstein story. RHPS is almost the exit ceremony from adolescence, the saying good-bye to polymorphous perversity.19 It is, in a sense, a modern saturnalia. In "Rose Tint My World" Rocky sings this passage:

And somebody should be told
My libido hasn't been controlled
Now the only think I've come to trust
Is an orgasmic rush of lust
Rose tints my world, keeps me
Safe from my trouble and pain.
{201} to which Brad adds:
It's beyond me.
Help me, Mommy.
I'll be good, you'll see.
Take this dream away
What's this, let's see

I feel sexy
What's come over me. Whoa--
Here it comes again.

Janet continues:
Oh I -- I feel released
Bad times deceased
My confidence increased
Reality is here
The game has been disbanded
My mind has been expanded
It's a gas that Frankie's landed
His lust is so sincere.
a And Frank N. Furter concludes:
Whatever happened to Fay Wray?
That delicate, satin-draped frame.
As it clung to her thigh
How I started to cry
'Cause I wanted to be dressed just the same.
Give yourself over to absolute pleasure
Swim the warm waters of sins of the flesh.
Erotic nightmares beyond any measure
And sensual daydreams to treasure forever--
Don't dream it. Be it.
Don't dream it. Be it.
Don't dream it. Be it.
Don't dream it. Be it.
That such sexual exuberance should be tied to the saga-lines of the Frankenstein story is not inappropriate. For Victor Frankenstein, asexual producer of a life turned monstrous, is simply the converse of Frank N. Furter, monster producer of a life turned bisexual. The allure of the myth is the same: {202} we celebrate without real consequence the libidinous dreams of non-role, non-specific sexuality. Since we do not have to accept the rigors of sex-role behavior, incest has become possible.

And that, of course, is why there must be horror; society cannot exist without procreation, and procreation depends on these distinct sexual roles. The result of what happens if one stays too long under the spell of Frank is Eddie. We have earlier seen Frank brutally ax Eddie to death, and with the unexpected appearance of the partly paralyzed Dr. Scott (the mentor whom Brad and Janet were seeking to explain marriage to them) this part of the story now becomes clearer. For Eddie, Dr. Scott explains to all, was a rebellious child whose only concerns were rock-and-roll music, motorcycles, drugs, and sex. He presumably made a "delivery" to Frank and was entranced. However, by the time he wants to leave the "Frankenstein Place" it is too late; he stayed too long; he has been used by Frank in the creation of the androgynous Rocky and discarded. We now see what has happened to Eddie, for his butchered body is stored under Frank's glass-topped dining table. After dinner Frank pulls off the table cloth to show his guests what they have been eating -- Meatloaf. It is a gross scene: Eddie's guts spill out of his breached stomach, his head cracked and chopped. This image finally spoils our fun; it goes too far -- we want relief.

It is the bizarre Riff-Raff who puts Frank N. Furter back in his proper place. Although Riff appears to be only a "handyman hunchback," he and his sister Magenta are in reality the masters of the place, custodians of the social norms they themselves subvert. "It's all over," they tell Frank. "Your mission is a failure . . . your lifestyle's too extreme." And so at the end his theme song, "Don't Dream It -- Be It," reverts to its sublimated text, "Don't Be It -- Dream It." When Brad asks Riff-Raff what Frank has done wrong, it is Dr. Scott, the "good father" who has repressed his own bisexuality, as we see from his black net stockings, who answers: "Society must be protected." Riff-Raff and Magenta agree. In a finale worthy of Busby Berkeley, the Marx Brothers, Esther Williams, and King Kong, Riff-Raff and Magenta disintegrate Rocky with ray guns and levitate the "Frankenstein Place" and all its inhabitants back to the planet of Transsexual in the galaxy of Transylvania. Brad and Janet are cast out of the land of puberty, now to follow their crippled but steadfast mentor, Dr. Scott, into the prescribed sexual world of men and women We are returned to the avuncular narrator; he closes the book; the house lights come up.

There will be many more renditions of the Frankenstein saga, but I doubt if there will soon be any as perceptive and artistic: Rocky Horror is a celebration of a meridian crossing, the last stage of latency, the acceptance of procreative sexual roles. As such, it recapitulates the whole history of the {203} saga. In its narrative muddle it makes clear sense of the psychological import of the myth, the attraction and the repulsion that have always been involved in Frankenstein's act of creation, the excitement and the horror of sexuality. When we juxtapose this saga with that of the vampire, we see an almost complete code of adolescent sexual behavior. Both myths tell us precisely whom to avoid as reproductive partners. In the next modern horror myth, that of the transformation monster, we will see the extent to which individual and social repression make certain that this code is not broken. And we will see the extent to which some people are willing to go to break it, and the extent to which they must suffer if they do.


1. So far I've only dealt with two myths. One could easily get lost in the shuttlecock interchanges of modern horror myths if one added, say, all the Mummy, Dr. Jekyll, and Wolfman films, for then the migrations become bewildering: Lugosi is "Bela" in The Wolf Man, Karloff is the bandaged one in The Mummy, Christopher Lee is all over the place: Dr. Jekyll, the Mummy, Fu Manchu, among many others. These inner and outer transpositions inspired John Carpenter to cast Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween precisely because he knew that his audience would know that she was the real-life daughter of Janet Leigh, the cinematic victim of the psycho-killer in Hitchcock's 1960 movie.

2. The problem of an authoritative text is complicated because we really do not know Mary Shelley's intentions. For those who like the 1818 text there is James Rieger's edition of Frankenstein (1974), which gives the variant readings, and for those who don't really care there is a spate of popular reprints of the 1831 book. The most important shift between the two is that in the 1818 text Elizabeth is Victor's first cousin while in 1831, to avoid any hint of consanguinity, she is an aristocratic foundling. I will be glossing quotations from Harold Bloom's Signet edition (1965), which is not only the most popular current edition, but also includes Bloom's provocative Afterword. My major complaint with the edition is that for some reason the publisher "normalized" the spelling of "daemon" to "demon," thereby destroying an important distinction. Even Bloom seems to realize this mistake, for in his Afterword he properly refers to the creature the way Victor does, as a "daemon," in other words, as a spirit not necessarily evil.

3. Victor's creature, which, since the movies, is invariably referred to as a "monster," is most often referred to by Victor as "daemon." In the M. K. Joseph edition of the 1831 Frankenstein (1969), the spelling "daemon" properly indicates Mary Shelley's intention that the creature represent life that is "other" than human (e.g., pp. 26, 76, 165, 166, 203, 204, 219). Unfortunately, the Signet edition, edited by Harold Bloom, changes it to "demon," which means an evil spirit in the Christian mythology, and does real damage to the characterization of both protagonist and his creation. Admittedly, the daemon becomes a demon, but this, in part, is because of the way he is treated.

4. It is interesting to speculate on the possible influence of Coleridge's Christabel on Mary Shelley's imagination. It is clear, especially in her note acknowledging Coleridge in the 1831 edition, that The Rime of the Ancient Mariner impressed her, but we also know that she heard Christabel not once, but twice, during the summer of 1816. The reason I find this interesting is that I think both works generate horror by showing a displaced protagonist acting out forbidden Oedipal desires; see my "'Desire with Loathing Strangely Mix'd': The Dreamwork of Christabel."

5. Although the doppelgänger transformation has been extensively discussed in Masao Miyoshi, The Divided Self: A Perspective on the Literature of the Double (1970), Carl F. Keppler, The Literature of the Second Self (1972), Irving Massey, The Gaping Pig: Literature and Metamorphosis (1969), and elsewhere, the best psychoanalytic interpretation of the monster as Victor's double is in Morton Kaplan, "Fantasy of Paternity and the Doppelganger: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" in The Unspoken Motive: A Guide to Psychoanalytic Criticism, eds. Morton Kaplan and Robert Kloss (1973), and Robert Kiely, The Romantic Novel in England (1972).

6. The relationship between Robert Walton and his sister Mrs. Savile (is there a pun here?) mimics the role of Victor Frankenstein and his "sister" Elizabeth. Once again, the doppelgänger transformations and implied incestuous relationships indicate not so much the author's weakness at delineating character as they do her almost obsessive compulsion to rework the familial relationships until she "gets it right." For more on this aspect of the novel, see Gordon D. Hirsch, "The Monster Was a Lady: On the Psychology of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" and Susan Harris Smith, "Frankenstein: Mary Shelley's Psychic Divisiveness."

7. See, for instance, Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic (1979); Marc A. Rubenstein, "'My Accursed Origin': The Search for the Mother in Frankenstein"; and Ellen Moers, "Female Gothic: The Monster's Mother," first appearing in the New York Review of Books (March 24, 1974) but subsequently reprinted with minor changes as "Female Gothic" in The Endurance of Frankenstein (1979), eds. George Levine and U. C. Knoepflmacher.

8. From a psychoanalytic point of view it is curious that William, the creature's first victim in Frankenstein has the same name as Mary Shelley's father, brother, and infant son (six months old while she was writing his name into her story). This child was to die two years later, and it must have been difficult indeed for Mary to revise the text for the second edition.

9. Ellen Moers in "Female Gothic" cleverly compares Victor's description of his newly created being with Dr. Spock's description (Baby and Child Care) of the newborn human:

A baby at birth is usually disappointing-looking to a parent who hasn't seen one before. His skin is coated with wax, which, if left on, will be absorbed slowly and will lessen the chance of rashes. His skin underneath is apt to be very red. His face tends to be puffy and lumpy, and there may be black-and-blue marks . . . . The head is misshapen . . . low in the forehead, elongated at the back, and quite lopsided. Occasionally there may be, in addition, a hematoma, a localized hemorrhage under the scalp that sticks out as a distinct bump and takes weeks to go away. A couple of days after birth there may be a touch of jaundice, which is visible for about a week . . . . The baby's body is covered all over with fuzzy hair . . . . For a couple of weeks afterward there is apt to be a dry scaling of the skin, which is also shed. Some babies have black hair on the scalp at first, which may come far down the forehead. (p. 77)
10. For extended information about Frankenstein on film see Donald F. Glut, The Frankenstein Legend (1973) and The Frankenstein Catalog (1984), which record almost every appearance of the Frankenstein monster from the novel to the breakfast cereal ("Frankenberry"); Martin Tropp, Mary Shelley's Monster (1977), chapters 6-8; Albert J. Lavalley, "The Stage and Film Children of Frankenstein in The Endurance of Frankenstein (1979); John Stoker, The Illustrated Frankenstein (1980); and Gregory William Mank, It's Alive!: The Classic Cinema Saga of Frankenstein (1981).

11. But this scene is not enough to carry the saga, as the producers of the most recent Frankenstein (1981) on Broadway recently learned. It cost them $2 million to find out that brilliant sparks, huge beakers of colored water bubbling with foam, {316} cyclotrons, bolts of lightning, booming organ music, and disco lighting were not at all what the story was about. This incredibly visual and expensive show opened and closed in one night (January 11, 1981), as well it should have, for the adapter, Victor Gialanella, did not realize that the real son et lumière of the play comes from Victor's interactions with his family.

12. The scene is still missing from most prints and the movie suffers from this excision. It now seems as if the monster was sexually bestial with the child, for the next scene shows Maria dead in the arms of her distraught father.

13. Elizabeth was not the only one who had trouble accepting this line; the movie censor at the Hays office did, too. The embarrassment has been resolved by an abrupt jump-cut from the laboratory to the living room of the Baron (Henry's father) where the Baron claims Henry's problem is with another woman; in a way the dotty Baron is right.

14. The best thing about this movie is the story told by Curt Siodmak about how it came to be. Here is how Siodmak recalled it for Gregory William Mank's It's Alive!: The Classic Cinema Saga of Frankenstein (1981):

My producer at Universal was George Waggner. He was very nice, and he made lots of money for Universal. He was very German in his tastes, and his fun was to drink beer and sing songs -- a typical German-American.

Well, I went to his office once a week, and gave him all the honey I could think of, telling him what a great man he was. I thought, "One day he must find out that I'm kidding!" He never found out, of course. He never found out. Anyway, with Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, what really happened was this: I was sitting in the Universal commissary, and George Waggner came by, and we had lunch together. And I made a joke. I said, "George, why don't you make a picture, Frankenstein Wolfs the Meat Man -- er, I mean Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man?" He didn't laugh.

So, it was during the war, and I wanted to buy an automobile and I wanted to get a new assignment so I could afford it. George would talk to me every day, and say, "Did you get the new car?" And I'd say, "No! What's my new job?" And George would say, "Never mind, get the car."

Well, one day I had to pay to get the car. George said, "Did you buy it?" and I said, "Yes, I bought it." George said, "Okay! Your job is Frankenstein Wolfs the Meat Man, er, I mean Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. I give you two hours to accept!" (p. 112)

15. Actually, Universal had already poked fun at these monster-mash movies by letting "the boys" at them in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). If one took Lou and Bud out of this movie it would be a logical successor to House of Dracula (1945), as it maintains the same characterizations (now copyrighted), the same production values (in fact, even better), the same plot (except the transfusions involve getting Bud's brain into the monster's skull), and the same "feel" of a Universal production. In contrast to the English attempt in Carry on Screaming (1966), Universal knew better than to change the stereotypes. They were right: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was the biggest money-maker of the year and the most successful film of the series.

16. The best accounts of these Hammer "epics" are The House of Horrors: The Story of Hammer Films, eds. Allen Eyles, Robert Adkinson, and Nicholas Fry (1973), {317} and David Pirie, A Heritage of Horror: The English Gothic Cinema, 1964-1972 (1973).

17. In 1983 two books appeared within months of each other discussing this phenomenon, both with the same title: Midnight Movies; one by J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum and the other hy Stuart Samuels. Both also discuss such cult movies as Eraserhead, El Topo, and the films of John Waters and George Romero.

18. Tim Curry's talent for portraying androgyny was not lost on the critics: he was considered "half Auntie Mame, half Bela Lugosi," "a cross between Greer Garson and Steve Reeves," "a hybrid of Sophie Tucker and Mick Jagger," "a combination of Joan Crawford, Francis Lederer, and Carmen Miranda," "Little Richard meet Elsie Tanner," "part David Bowie, part Joan Crawford, part Basil Rathbone," "Imagine Liza Minelli in Cabaret, Alice Cooper at his most demonic, Jagger at his most sensual. Then throw in Vincent Price and Bowie's drive for neuter sex," and "Charles Laughton doing Captain Bligh and Nita Naldi at the same time." See Bill Henkin, The Rocky Horror Picture Show Book, p 133.

19. Here is what Bruce A. Austin concludes about the audience in "Portrait of a Cult Film Audience: The Rocky Horror Picture Show":

While the range of ages reported was from 13 to 50, generally the Rocky Horror audience was a relatively young one. Most individuals were between 17 and 22. Overall, veterans tended to be the youngest and regulars the oldest audience groups. Further, an analysis of variance showed that each of the three groups differed significantly (p < .001) in age. Seventeen percent of the audience was under 17 years old even though Rocky Horror is rated R (restricted for such individuals without accompanying parent or guardian). Given the youthfulness of the audience, it is not surprising to find that few (6.3 percent) were married. Nor is it surprising that more than half of the audience (61.9 percent) reported their occupation as either high school or college students. (pp. 48-49)
20. [The following copyright information appears at the bottom of the page on which the lyrics for songs from "Rocky Horror. . ." are located (p. 201).] Lyrics written by Richard O'Brien, copyright [circle C] by Druidcrest Music. All rights for the United States and Canada are controlled by Hollenbeck Music (BMI), Los Angeles, California. All rights reserved.