All I Want For Halloween is Victorian Monster Movies

This Halloween I was really excited about reviewing the new Mummy— the first film to launch a new Universal Pictures  own Cinematic Universe named the  “Dark Universe” which is a reboot of their industry changing black and white monster films. However, we will not be reviewing that film because it was simply awful (and here I would like to direct you to the review by Screen Junkies on YouTube). Instead I would love to take a moment to celebrate the original films and their frequent connections to the wonderful world of steam.

Note: Many of these films contain elements that are not exactly steampunk visually, but the science, creativity, and technological creations in them are entirely within the spirit of the genre.

Frankenstein 

Creator: Mary Shelley (novel) Peggy Webling (adaptation) James Whale (director) Boris Karloff (starring)

Media Type: feature film (1931)

Audience: Though originally a spine chilling horror film, a modern audience would rate it at ages 10+

Summary: The one that started it all! Eccentric academic Henry Frankenstein retreats to an incredibly rainy castle with his laboratory assistant Fritz to conduct experiments in reanimating dead tissue, resulting in birthing a monster. The film solidified the image of the mad scientist surrounded by lighting strikes, switch boxes, and scalpels. The film takes creative license with many of the original novels theme though, focusing less on the relationship between the Monster and his Creator and more on the impact the monster had on the surrounding town– switching the conversation from the evils of man to the domino effect of evil.

Bottom Line: A must see for fans of horror films, steampunk, and groundbreaking special effects.

Find It: Amazon and YouTube

Murders in the Rue Morgue

Creator: Edgar Allan Poe (novel), Robert Florey (director), Bela Lugosi (starring)

Media Type: feature film (1932)

Audience: Produced during the pre-Code era in Hollywood, this film is generally fine for modern 13+ audiences but the Librarian recommends pre-viewing.

Summary: A mad scientist engaging in ape/human genetic experimentation begins abducting women from the streets of 1840s Paris. Based on Edgar Allen Poe’s novel of the same name, the story is credited with being the first piece of modern detective fiction. Filled with human experimentation, murder, and dramatic chase scenes this film became part of the foundation of the genre.

Bottom Line: Generally reviewd as “A for Effort”. While not everything about the film withstood the test of time, the obvious creativity in every scene makes it well worth the 62 minutes of your time.

Find It: Amazon Video and Youtube

The Invisible Man

Creator: H.G. Wells (novel),  R.C. Sherriff, Philip Wylie and Preston Sturges (adapted by), James Whale (director)

Media: feature film (1933)

Audience: 14+.

Summary: Dr. Jack Griffin, a chemist, has been experimenting with a new drug which unintentionally turned him indivisible. This new-found feature leads Dr. Griffin away from research and on a new path: murder and world domination. The film was a well respected success, so a sequel The Invisible Man Returns was released in 1940. The new invisible man was played by Vincent Price which alone makes it worth a watch.

Bottom Line: This is one of the few films to earn a 100% on RottenTomatoes, which says a lot. Many modern reviews also still call the film frightening, which isn’t the case for most “classic” films (look at Dracula for example, which at the time was horrifying but is now often given a G/PG rating).

Find It: Amazon and YouTube

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Creator: Robert Louis Stevenson (novella)

Summary: Dr. Henry Jekyll is a well respected physician in a fashionable piece of Victorian London. His experiments with chemistry and pharmacology, while originally pure in intention, soon turn dark. Drunk on the freedom from Victorian social expectations (and the law) his new drug offers him, Jekyll creates a whole new persona for himself, a Mr. Edward Hyde. But as the allure of Hyde’s debauchery grows Jekyll has to ask himself: who is he really? An excellent continuation of the Victorian theme of the inner battles between monster and man.

A myriad of film and TV adaptations have been created. Here are links to as many of them as I could find.

1912 short/silent film, directed by Lucius Henderson.

1913 Short/silent film, directed by Herbert Brenon.

1920 silent film, directed by John Robertson. Note: there are two other 1920 versions of Jekyll/Hyde as well. One was filmed in Germany The Head of Janus (German: Der Janus-Kopf)  directed by F. W. Murnau, and another Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde directed by J. Haydon. However the Haydon film did very poorly and the director was known to have hated it.

1931 feature film directed by Rouben Mamoulian.

1941 feature film directed by Victor Fleming

Did I miss your favorite? Tell us about it on Twitter: @SteamLib

 

 

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Frankenstein’s Monster

Creator: Mary Shelley (novel) Written/Produced by Judith B. Shields, Directed by Syd Lance

Media Type: Feature Film, 84 minutes

Audience: Family Friendly (but use your best judgment with extra-small children)

Summary: This micro-budget, independent film adaptation from First Step Cinematics, Frankenstein’s Monster tells the story of The Monster, his creator, and the lives ruined in the name of mad science. Following the original frame narrative the film opens with Dr. Victor Frankenstein being saved at sea. He befriends the vessel’s captain and spins his tale of the creation of the murderous Adam, his science project made from the pieces of the dead and subtle steam-powered mechanics. Unlike the novel the story is told through third-person perspective across a single time-line and allows for insight and conversation with non-primary characters. These characters desperately try to help Victor maintain his sanity, but how can a man keep his wits with a monster on the loose and no one to stop it but himself? This adaptation is the most true to the source material I’ve ever seen, but that doesn’t mean it is without differences — most noticeably the inclusion of dream sequences and the removal of portions of Adam’s story.

The overall feeling is more like a play being recorded than it is a feature film, which helps keep its novel like feeling since the focus is on the characters and their dialog, not flashy creation scenes and gory monsters. One major flaw of the film, though, is the delivery of that dialog. All the dialog is in early 19th century English, not modern English and unfortunately the actors fell victim to what many Shakespearean actors do: the dialog felt memorized instead of free-flowing and emotionally driven. At two instances the speech pattern felt so odd I half expected them to break out into song. However the music is so well put together you don’t lose the emotion of the moment even when the language delivery is off.

Bottom Line:  It may not win any Oscars, but I highly suggest it for classrooms and libraries that want a visual companion for the novel. It will likely keep younger viewers’ attention better than a recorded play thanks to it’s score and sweeping artistic landscape shots.

Read More: First Step Cinematics 

Watch It via Amazon Streaming

Buy It on DVD

Watch the Trailer:

Also a huge THANK YOU to Producer Ms. Shields for reaching out to the Library and submitting the film for review. I really enjoyed it and hope to see more from you in the future!

Thoughts or comments on the movie? Comment bellow or send your reviews to submissions@steampunklibrary.net

Victorian Movie Monsters

Program Type: Film Series/Book Group

Audience: 13+

Time Frame: Varies

Space Needed: Film viewing room, book group meeting room

Budget Considerations:

  • Film showing rights, if applicable
  • Custodial for rooms
  • Popcorn/snacks for movie nights

Description:

When you think of monsters who comes to mind? Frankenstein? Dracula? The Victorian monsters became the staple of the silver screen for a reason: their stories are equal parts terror and intrigue. Since there are so many film options now the monsters make themselves an easy pick for a mini-film festival.

The festival can be stand-alone, or tied in to other programs, like a book group. The original story behind the films are very short (Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Invisible Man, The Portrait of Dorian Grey) which are well suited for teen readers. For adults Frankenstein, Dracula, or a Jack the Ripper novel lend themselves to longer book group discussions. The film showings are a great way to stir up interest and advertise the book groups to an audience with a noted interest.

Steampunk Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Author: Mary Shelley, Illustrations by Zdenko Bašić and Manuel Sumberac
Series: –

Age/Audience: Late teens

Genre/Style: Classic horror

Read If You Like: Frankenstein, Victorian Monsters, Classics

Summary:

The story – Victor Frankenstein is an up and coming scientist from a Geneva aristocratic family. After the death of his mother from scarlet fever, he is inspired to finish his studies so he can return to Geneva and marry his childhood sweetheart Elizabeth and complete his family once again. While at school Victor becomes obsessed with natural philosophy, and the notion that he could do the unthinkable, give life back to the dead. After months of study and midnight experiments he finally manages to create his masterpiece. But genius isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and soon things are far beyond Frankenstein’s control. As the death toll grows, is there anything that can be done to stop The Monster?

The Adaptation – I had a hard time deciding how I felt about this particular edition of Frankenstein. Given the heft of the book, and the obvious intention for it to be a steampunk adaptation through the inclusion of new illustration, not modification of the text I expected a lot more. Shelley’s original story is presented in half filled pages paired with too small illustrations too far in between. The kicker, though, is the illustrations are barely steampunk. They are filled with gears and goggles, but nothing functional and nothing in detail. I had very high hopes and this simply didn’t meet them. The cover, however, is fantastic to look at. If only the insides were as intriguing.

 

Bottom Line:

Not worth the weight. If you want a fantastically steampunk illustrated Frankenstein look into Gris Grimly’s Frankenstein.

Read More:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/19978286-steampunk

Find It:

http://www.worldcat.org/title/steampunk-mary-shelleys-frankenstein/oclc/864545382

Gris Grimly’s Frankenstein

Author: Mary Shelley & Gris Grimly
Series: –

Age/Audience: Teens and Adults, 15+

Genre/Style: Graphic novel, horror

Read If You Like: Frankenstein, Victorian Monsters, supernatural with a little bit of horror, graphic novels

 

Summary:

The story – Victor Frankenstein is an up and coming scientist from a Geneva aristocratic family. After the death of his mother from scarlet fever, he is inspired to finish his studies so he can return to Geneva and marry his childhood sweetheart Elizabeth and complete his family once again. While at school Victor becomes obsessed with natural philosophy, and the notion that he could do the unthinkable, give life back to the dead. After months of study and midnight experiments he finally manages to create his masterpiece. But genius isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and soon things are far beyond Frankenstein’s control. As the death toll grows, is there anything that can be done to stop The Monster?

Gris Grimly’s Adaptation – This is one of the purest adaptations I have ever seen. Instead of altering Mary Shelley’s original text, Grimly streamlines it. By pairing Shelley’s scenes with his own Steampunk/Gothic cross over style makes the text accessible to a whole new audience. Readers aren’t confronted with huge blocks of early Victorian language, instead they see bright red script letters, comic-style block image dialog, and a touching rendition of the Creature’s story – a piece of the novel often excluded in adaptations. Five stars, highly recommended for Frankenstein lovers, comic lovers, Steampunk fans, or anyone who will appreciate Shelley’s classic text with streamlined approachability.

 

Bottom Line: Five stars, a beautiful book filled with the original text that made Frankenstein a cultural staple.

Read More:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17331402-gris-grimly-s-frankenstein

Find It:

http://www.worldcat.org/title/gris-grimlys-frankenstein-or-the-modern-prometheus/oclc/697974171&referer=brief_results

Raising the Dead: The Men Who Created Frankenstein

Author: Andy Dougan
Series: –

Age/Audience: Adult, or advanced/patient teens with a general interest in historical science

Genre/Style: History of Medicine

Read If You Like: Context driven nonfiction, novel-styled nonfiction, Frankenstein

 

Summary:

This detailed discussion of turn of the century anatomical science has a lot going for it and a lot against it. While the information included is presented in an approachable, readable format it tends to stray quite easily. While I agree it’s tactful to understand Matthew Clydesdale as a person before we read several pages about his execution and dissection, a whole chapter devoted to his arrest, trial, and time in jail is completely unnecessary. The book seems to be written for people who have a general curiosity but aren’t looking for a research tool or anything too technical.

For steam punk readers and writers the number of diagrams and quotes from period newspapers could prove useful. The time period is earlier than most steam punk stories, but it does give a good understanding of the world older characters would have grown up in, and gives an appreciation for how far medicine came in just a few decades.

 

Bottom Line: Interesting facts, approachable style, but too unfocused to really enjoy. Also not nearly enough connection back to Mary Shelley to justify the title.

 

Find It: https://www.worldcat.org/title/raising-the-dead-the-men-who-created-frankenstein/oclc/190967792&referer=brief_results