Directed by James Whale and starring Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster, Universals adaptation of the 1818 Mary Shelley novel Frankenstein was a crucial film in the studios line of horror pictures. Like Dracula, the film was released in 1931 and received critical acclaim from both critics and the public alike. The films narrative follows the now familiar plot of a mad scientist bent on creating a man from assorted dead parts and playing God. The twist occurs when the monster becomes uncontrollable and instead of creating man, Dr. Frankenstein creates a dreadful monster. By the end of the film, the local townspeople decide that the creation is an abomination and ultimately destroy it. The film was lauded because of its superb make-up, special effects and thrilling plot. It later spawned several sequels, prequels and side stories including Bride of Frankenstein and Frankenstein vs. the Wolfman.
The true testament to the iconic nature of the film can be seen in the visual representations of Frankenstein that pervade the world today. Almost every single representation of the character we see in western society is based on the green skinned, bolted and shambling version presented to us by Universal in the early 1930’s. We see versions of Boris Karloff’s face on cereal boxes, cartoons and, of course, in the masks of Halloween costumes. The longevity of these images that occur in our culture is a genuine indicator of the success of the Universal horror line of films; they have become integrated into our popular consciousness and now represent the traditional fiends and monsters that we draw on for inspiration. Like with Dracula, Universal’s Frankenstein has become the most recognizable version of the monsters narrative, even more so than the original work by Shelley. Because of these reasons, Universal was able to establish itself as the best studio producer of horror films of the 20th century.