Frankenstein. Never was a name more unfairly associated with a shambling re-animated corpse.
If only Mary Shelley had given the monster a name then we would have been spared the horrible linguistic circumlocution we’re forced into just to refer to him, pedants would have a smug cause for complaint removed and overall the world would be a happier place.
Still, the nomenclature of the monster isn’t what I want to talk about today, but how did he become the square faced, green skinned, bolt necked monstrosity that we’ve all come to know and love?
The construction of Mary Shelley’s original monster is left to the imagination. The materials used unspecified, save a mention of the ‘dissecting room and the slaughter-house’ and he is large only because ‘the minuteness of the parts formed a great hindrance to my speed. There is no mention of the now standard elements of the tale; lightning storms, graveyard robbery, brain implants (from Mr Abi Normal) and certainly no neck bolts. Shelley’s monster is also perfectly capable of speech, far from the grunting in-erudite beast we have come to expect and gives long speeches in an attempt to win over his creator.
So, moving on from the novel, we turn to Hollywood. The first film production of Frankenstein was as early as 1910. Edison Studios produced a 12 minute film starring Charles Ogle as the monster. Ogle also apparently designed his own make-up, but his efforts bare little resemblance to what we would expect today.
For the modern look, we have to head forward to 1931 and the classic Universal studios adaptation. Boris Karloff starred, but credit for creating the classic monster look goes largely to the king of monster make-up, Jack Pierce. HIs monster has all the classic features: square head, brain insertion scar on the forehead and, most importantly, the bolts through the neck (actually electrodes used to conduct the electricity used to bring the monster to life). It is Jack Pierce who puts the pieces together to give us the monster’s iconic look.
Not content with creating one of the most enduring Halloween monster masks, Jack Pierce also gave us The Mummy, the first time we saw Imhotep, 67 years before the one who kidnapped Rachel Weisz and Universal’s 1941 Wolf Man, sticking yak hair onto Lou Chaney’s face to give us another Halloween classic.
Jack’s films were in black and white of course, so we can’t hang Frankenstein’s colour onto him. The first Frankenstein film to be made in colour was Hammer’s 1957 classic, The Curse of Frankenstein but the first time he seems to pick up a greenish tinge is in the 1970 Spanish film Los monstruos del terror. Watch the trailer and judge for yourself:
However, it’s more likely that his colour comes from the TV Show, The Munsters. While that was broadcast in black and white, many publicity photos were taken in colour, and Herman Munster has that expected green hue. It might not have even been intentional, different colours of make-up would have been used to achieve different shades of gray on screen and perhaps green just gave that corpse-like pallor they were after.
Still, much of the credit for our freakish favourites must stay with Jack. His star was to eventually fade at Universal, as modern latex masks which were cheaper and quicker to use gradually took the place of more traditional techniques, but this Halloween, while you’re getting dressed up, remember Jack Pierce, the man who gave us the Mummy’s bandages, the Wolf-Man’s facial hair and Frankenstein’s Monster’s bolt.