As the inventor of the science-fiction novel and a certifiable bisexual icon, Mary Shelley's unmeasurable influence on the horror genre as we know it continues even today. Published in 1818, the story of "Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus" has been told and re-told countless times ensuring Frankenstein's bolt-necked walking patchwork corpse creation would be one of the most iconic and recognizable faces in horror history.
But that bolt neck appearance we all know and love? That's a style choice from Universal Pictures' "Frankenstein" from 1931. James Whale's film starring Boris Karloff as The Monster became the blueprint for how we portray or subvert the look of Frankenstein's monster. But this portrayal was not the first time cinema tried to bring Mary Shelley's creation to life — that would be the Edison Manufacturing Company's 12-minute short film "Frankenstein," written and directed by J. Searle Dawley in 1910. There are two previous cinematic attempts now seemingly lost forever.
Had these two films been made, the way we see good ol' Frankie could have looked a lot different.
Life Without Soul
Directed by Joseph W. Smiley and written by Jesse J. Goldberg, "Life Without Soul" is an officially classified "lost horror film" from 1915. The second ever adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel and the first feature length film to feature Frankenstein and the monster, the silent film was about a doctor who reads Shelley's novel and dreams about creating a soulless man. Not only would this have been the first "Frankenstein," but this would have been one of the earliest examples of the "it was all a dream" plot device that has by now become an annoying trope.
Produced by the Ocean Film Corporation, the movie was broken into five parts featuring Dr. Victor Frawley discovering the "Fluid of Life" which grants him the ability to animate the dead. After falling asleep, Frawley's dream shows him turning a clay statue into his creation. The monster was known as the Brute Man and was portrayed by English actor Percy Darrell Standing wearing little to no makeup. No flat top squared head, no neck bolts, just … a dude. It's honestly scarier looking at the Brute Man, as his human appearance makes his violent rampage feel all too real.
Canadian writer and godfather of all things Frankenstein Pierre Fournier of Frankensteinia noted that the film was shot in multiple locations, with scenes shot in St. Augustine and Jacksonville, Florida, and Dahlonega, Georgia, with additional scenes shot on a steamer sailing from Savannah to New York. For 1910, this was quite the ambitious feat, as most films were shot within close proximity to studios or major locations. Frankensteinia also provides the most comprehensive plot synopsis, stating the following :
The action picks up in Europe, with Frawley, his fiancée and friends transformed into corresponding characters from the book. As Frankenstein, Frawley uses his elixir to bring a clay statue to life. Shunned by all, the mountainous Monster demands a mate. When Frankenstein reneges on his promise to comply, The Creation embarks on a murderous rampage, killing Frankenstein's young sister, his friend Henry Clerval and, on their wedding night, Frankenstein's bride, Elizabeth. More mayhem ensues aboard a sea-going ship, with Standing's brute throwing the entire crew overboard. In a climactic confrontation, Georgia cliffs standing in for the Grand Canyon, Frawley/Frankenstein traps The Creation in a cave and blows it up with dynamite, leaving the indestructible Monster trapped underground forever. Frankenstein dies from exhaustion, whereupon Frawley wakes up and promptly destroys his invention.
That's right, Frankenstein's monster does what we wish "Jason Takes Manhattan" would have, and brings a reign of terror all over the damn globe.
Where Did It Go?
The film left public consciousness until fifteen years later when Universal announced their plans to one-up "Dracula" and create something even scarier with "Frankenstein." Knowing the film was about to be a massive success, producer Michael Mindlin set out to repackage "Life Without Soul" as a new "Frankenstein" picture, and Universal was so pissed they took him all the way to the New York Supreme Court. The case was handled quickly with the 1930s newspaper "Film Daily" reporting that Supreme Court Justice Churchill ruling in favor of Universal saying Mindlin was attempting to exploit the popularity of Universal's new movie and was quoted as saying, "It is apparent that the only purpose of the use of the word 'Frankenstein' in the advertising, exploitation and publicity of the defendant's motion picture, 'Life Without Soul' or 'Body Without Soul' would be to confuse and mislead the public."
Losing the court case seemed justifiable, but it would also serve as the last documented knowledge of "Life Without Soul" existing. Silent films became outdated and unprofitable, and with the smashing success of Universal's "Frankenstein," no one at the time thought to preserve the film, so it was unfortunately lost to time.
This wouldn't be the last pre-Universal Frankenstein movie to disappear…
The Monster Of Frankenstein
Universal Monsters are as American as apple pie, but Mary Shelley's novel was a rousing success across the globe. "The Monster of Frankenstein" or "Il mostro di Frankenstein" debuted in 1920, one of the only Italian horror films made during the silent era. Produced by Luciano Albertini, directed by Eugenio Testa, and starring Luciano Albertini and Aldo Mezzanotte, the film was made after Benito Mussolini had seized control of Italy and put a ban on the production of horror films.
Following Mary Shelley's novel, the film is a faithful retelling of Dr. Victor Frankenstein who creates a man out of dead bodies and reanimates them into a singular being. Dr. Frankenstein is horrified upon realizing the monster has no soul and the creature goes on a rampage, ultimately resulting in the doctor confronting the monster in a cave and destroying him.
Where Did It Go?
With the ban on horror in place, "The Monster of Frankenstein" was heavily edited with a rumored runtime of only 39 minutes. Audiences had little interest in such a short silent film, especially one that was rumored to have all of the exciting parts of a horror film left on the cutting room floor. As Frankensteinia points out, all we have left of the film is a single still and a handful of advertisements for film screenings in a variety of different languages. From the advertisements, we are able to decipher that the film traveled throughout Europe and was screening as late as six years after release, but everything else has been lost.
Film is a beautiful medium, but it is extremely delicate and can be destroyed easily. We are fortunate that advertisements and published reviews of these films exist because, without them, there's a high probability that the knowledge of their existence would have disappeared with the footage. We'll never know how different the legacy of "Frankenstein" would be today had these films survived, but considering the power of Universal in the 1930s, it probably wouldn't have mattered anyway.
Read this next: Guillermo Del Toro's 'Frankenstein': See What Doug Jones Would Have Looked Like As The Monster In The Film That Never Happened
The post These two Frankenstein movies are likely lost forever — Here's why appeared first on /Film.