Frankenstein, Bad Movies, and the Pop Culture Icons that Change and Do Not Change

I have just watched what is, quite possibly, the worst movie I have ever seen….

I once thought Blair Witch Project was two hours of agonized shaking my fist at the screen and yelling “follow the river out of the woods, you jackasses!” But BWP had the virtue of utilizing what was still an original film technique—the personal camcorder—that has now become a horror method standard.

In previous blogs I mentioned Night of the Lepus—the one about the herds of killer rabbits—but it had DeForest Kelley in it.  Who can truly hate any movie with Dr McCoy in it?  Besides it was also campy, unscary, and kinda funny in that hammy 70s way.  So, even though Night of the Lepus was quite terrible, it had bunnies, which are cute.

I admit to seeing Halloween 3: Season of the Witch.  Now, this wasn’t actually my fault.  I was sick in my lazyboy armchair, in my jammies and under a blankie, with a cup of lemon tea. And, I was home by myself.  The movie showed on television, but I didn’t have the remote control, and it was too much effort with plugged sinuses to get up and get it.  So, I watched, as the grotesque foolishness that is Halloween 3 unfolded before my unsuspecting and blood-shot eyes.  It might be due to my weakened state, and all the cold and flu meds pumping through my system, but I felt myself drawn into it, as one is drawn to a car crash.  The only thing I can say on the plus side of things is that they tried to build the film without the character of Michael Myers (the resident Halloween psycho) but they failed. But they tried.  So, tiny props.

However, last night I watched Frankenstein.  Oh no, not the beautifully filmed and sensitive 1931 Frankenstein with Boris Karloff.  And not the surreal and startling 1994 Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  I picked this movie up because it was produced by Scorsese, and because it was made in 2005—so a little newer.  But oh my, where do I start on how bad it was.  I just don’t want to—it would take too long.  I really did want to slap the woman who portrayed the female cop to cliché perfection.  I could go on.  No, I mean I really could go on.

It’s too late for me, but save yourself! Avoid this 88 minutes of movie wretchedness.  A nice paper cut followed by a drop or two of rubbing alcohol would be a more attractive choice—at least a cut will eventually heal.

That emphatically stated, I have one thing to say about this movie.  With the exception of The Bride of Frankenstein, this is the first time I have seen multiple creatures created by the Frankenstein character.  Also, he was able to make use of his time (both he and the creature are two hundred years old) to take faulty creatures back to the “drawing board” as it were, and work on perfecting them.  Frankenstein has grown into a truly evil being, and the first “Adam” creature has grown into a thoughtful and moral person.

The audience sees the love scene between Frankenstein (called Helios) and his stunningly beautiful wife whom he treats with unhidden tyranny and denigration, while she seems constantly mewling how she loves and wants to please him.  At the end of this scene, Helios turns and the audience sees that his back is open to a layer underneath—like his spine is a zipper.  It is quite horrible, and then the audience knows that he has been “worked on” also.  Is he or is he not the original Frankenstein? His wife, meanwhile, can’t seem to get it together, so he drowns her, and puts her back on the table where he makes some changes to her brain.  Then she gets the lightening zap again, and reawakens.  Her mind now is not as compliant.  She’s a bit more of a handful for him, and doesn’t sit still for any of the abuse he tried on her previous self.  Hmmm.

The police are involved because one of the creatures has become, quite expectedly, a serial killer.  And—has made himself, quite unexpectedly, pregnant.  Yes.  Pregnant.  Naturally, when he is killed toward the end, the fetus gets free of the creature’s dead body and vanishes.  The audience only sees the ominous black hole where it had once been.  Yikes.  Then the original creature, now called Deucalion, tells the police woman and her young male partner that their enemy is Helios, and that he is their ally.  And there the movie ends.  WTF??  There are no words.  What was it, a movie? A TV pilot? Was the last part of the disk somehow erased?  I don’t know.  I’m so confused.

The worst movie I have seen thus far, but with an original twist on the Frankenstein story, such as it is.  Which brings me to me next point…

Having read through and written papers on the Vampire folklore in pop culture, I know that there have been many alterations to the vampire mythology.  In truth, very little of this mythology has remained unchanged over time, and if it is basically the same, then it has, in spite, evolved.  Count Dracula is now merely one in an auditorium full of original vampires with their own independent mythologies.  Now there is Lestat and Edward Cullen.  Not only has the character of Count Dracula evolved, his story has been changed and rechanged.

Just within films over the past decades, the audience witnessed the emergence of a monster that was both powerful and incontrovertibly evil in the 1931 movie Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi. There was no doubt in the minds of movie-goers that Count Dracula was evil.  They did not soul search, wondering why he was evil, and what drove him to his damnation.  All the audience wanted to do was see Dracula die.  This attitude continued for several years—kill the evil monstrous vampire.

Suddenly, along came Anne Rice who invented a vampire who was not so evil, or for whom evil was a point of view.  This vampire didn’t shy away from crosses because he was an atheist.  He didn’t pursue only young women but young men also, because this vampire was androgynous.  This vampire “Lestat” felt that his vampiric state was a gift that he would share with only a treasured few—he did not create slaves as did Dracula.  Lestat believed himself to be godlike, beautiful, above the laws of mortal man, and sublime—he did not believe he was damned.  He didn’t know if he even believed in himself as either soulless or ensouled.  And for a while, audiences wondered whether or not Lestat was actually evil, while he grappled with his nature over several books and movies, and thought maybe they had got it all wrong where the vampire was concerned.  Can evil actually be just a point of view at times?

Then came the Twilight Saga movies beginning with the first in 2008 and finishing with the fifth film in 2012.  These vampires are not evil at all.  The audiences learn that evil is not a point of view, or a state one is cursed to, but it is defined by our choices.  One can be a vampire, but one can choose NOT to commit acts that are evil.  Which begs the question, what is evil?  Well, Twilight doesn’t delve that deep.  Because Twilight is written for the 10-13 “tweenie” girl readership.  Yes, vampires are now PG-rated entertainment.  It is a far cry from the Dracula monster who preyed on innocence to the gentlemanly Edward who chivalrously protected the young Bella’s virtue.

Yes, the vampire mythology has evolved to where Dracula is no longer “evil”, and don’t get me started on Dracula Untold (2014) where he sacrifices his immortal soul and becomes the undead in order to save his family and country from an evil Persian prince.  And this questioning of Dracula’s evil-ness, for me at least, really took hold after the 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  This beautifully filmed and Oscar winning film took another look at the character of Dracula and developed him in a sympathetic light, kneeling in front of his wife’s lifeless body and sobbing aloud as he reads her suicide note—a suicide she committed after hearing he was killed in battle—and then as he gently caresses her hair, the priest tells him that she is a suicide and is therefore damned.  Flying into a rage of grief and horror, he curses God and drives his sword through the chapel’s crucifix which then begins to bleed.  He drinks this blood, “the blood is the life,” and is thereafter a vampire.  But then, he finds his wife reincarnated, and everything he does after this from Jonathan Harker’s arrival onward, is in an attempt to be reunited with her.  While the film has many frightening scenes, it’s actually very sad indeed.  When he releases her at the end, and dies instead, it’s a bit of a tear-jerker.  In my opinion, this is one of the best Dracula movies ever made, even though it does not closely follow Bram Stoker’s novel.

This little blurb about vampires, could be repeated about the werewolf also.  Or the Zombie. Or aliens. Or Mummies. In fact, all of the monsters have changed, evolved, been repurposed, reinvented over the years.  All but Frankenstein.  Virtually unchanged, the Frankenstein monster is always created out of body parts by a madman, animated by the use of electricity/lightening, and misunderstood by the outer community.  He is always ugly and alone.  And he is always the tragic anti-hero—the monster who, in his world, is the least monstrous among many monsters—and the one desiring a human soul and personhood.  Mostly, he desires to love and be loved, and grieves that he is not only rejected, but without “another” with whom to share his days.  For me, Frankenstein is always about the search for the meaning of life.

But, there is no excuse for Frankenstein (2005).

Be warned…..

Gabriel Tarde, Cave Dwelling Artists, Asian Cannibals, and a Dreadful Lack of Condoms…

I know I promised to discuss werewolves next, but I must say that I have had trouble getting into Guy Endore’s book, Werewolf of Paris. It’s not what I thought it would be, but then again, I really can’t find much written on it either, except for some fairly trustworthy sources that claim it’s one of the best werewolf novels ever written.  For me, I just don’t get it. At least, not so far.  I will return to it though in a week with fresh eyes.  But, I decided to put my “off put” to good use, and read something else.

I came across Gabriel Tarde’s Underground Man…not to be confused with Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground. I read it because it does include an apocalypse, the near extinction of mankind, the utter death of the natural world, and a necessary identity alteration for all remaining human beings. There are even some cannibals. Yet, it’s a utopian novel rather than a dystopia. Yes…I will elaborate further.

Even though this novel is frustrating in its level of racism and sexism, it nevertheless offers an elegant, albeit bizarrely optimistic, philosophy on the foundational brickwork of naked human nature.  That is, a study of human nature when not caught up by the stumbling blocks of the world: physical, social, political, emotional, sexual, psychological, spiritual, and all the myriad of desires that human beings reach for as part of their hierarchy of needs.   When the needs of this world—because we as humans must necessarily live in this world—are stripped away, what do human beings look like?  Gabriel Tarde’s response is strongly conditional, but promising.

Basically, his assessment seems to be that when a human is allowed to be a human without the negative effects of the world, the human will be ultimately reasonable, will strive for happiness through a search for beauty, and will live in a community based on an equal measure of law and justice for all. (Tarde obviously read Plato’s Republic.) And indeed, when separated from the natural world—which is oddly enough the enemy here—human beings dispense with the need for politics, clothing, sex, and plants and animals, and are happier for it.  Without the “weight of the world on their shoulders” they speak Greek, run around naked or almost naked, eat chemically engineered food created from rocks, sculpt, write music, and spew forth great poetry. There is no need for armies or police, and the politicians are unpaid pencil-pushers who work eagerly for the community. What was once considered love has changed to mean the freedom from everything. It’s hard to know whether or not to take Tarde’s narrator seriously.

But underneath this beautiful utopia where everyone is happy, carefree, safe, and uninhibited in the best way possible, a darkness lurks.  It is from this darkness that Tarde’s philosophy is fully revealed. Not all is as it seems to be, and weren’t we all just waiting for that other shoe? The audience sees lovers exposing themselves to the sunless earth, and dying instantly, still embracing, still kissing, because they will not live without physical intimacy, or people who break the law by having a child and are thrown into a lake of petroleum.  Not all is harmonious in this labyrinth of underground cities carved out by artists, philosophers, and poets.  Not even a global climate disaster caused by the death of the sun, and the slow deaths of all who could not get to the underground communities, could quash human individuality.  As it turns out, human beings will learn to exist in almost any sort of community, even becoming more successful through dire hardship than they were in a secure past, but the heart trumps the head.  According to Tarde, humans are driven by deep-seated needs that cannot be unlearned, driven out, or ignored.  At least, not indefinitely.

I kept reminding myself that Underground Man was first published in French in 1904 and then in English in 1905.  The “science fiction” element in this novel is somewhat amusing today, especially considering ideas such as the thought that mankind could make a livable society underground under a sunless earth, where mankind would live on synthetic food, and travel by lightning speed electric trains, but that something like birth control had not been thought of. Another laughable notion is that the plot is set millennia in the future, and women have just now got the right to vote—but must be represented by their husbands, fathers, or brothers.  Oh dear.

I have not decided if this novel is the utopian vision of a flakey philosopher/sociologist, or if it is actually a dystopia, or if it is a dystopia posing as utopia.  But, how does this fit in with my project discussing monsters in popular culture over the past several decades and how our fears are being reflected in the monster of choice today—the post-apocalyptic, mindless, man-eating zombie chasing the ragged human survivors all over the place.  Well, it is a very good resource for comparing the thoughts from “then” against what is becoming the most common school of thought “now.”  And it is this…what will the survivors become?  And today, humans don’t really have a lot of hope provided—unless they wish to trade their humanity in the process.  Thus, in contrast, Tarde’s novel shows the audience that humans came out on top; they didn’t merely survive the end of the world, they survived it beautifully, and in time, began to look to the stars and consider life elsewhere.

So far, the zombie stories I have taken in are all terribly depressing, but Tarde’s story offers some relief, even though it is delivered with a pang underneath.

Okay, after I complete my readings and refresher readings in Adorno, Camus, Nietzsche, Freud, and Baudrillard, I will return to the Werewolf.  Hopefully he will offer a better story thrill the second time around.

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