See, among the amazing things that Edison was involved in was a company called Edison Studios. If you haven't heard of them, it's probably because they closed their doors in 1918. Considering that before those doors closed over a thousand films were produced by them says something quite noteworthy, I would say.
One of those films was a short horror piece call Frankenstein, said to be the first ever filmic adaptation of Shelley's amazing book. While the film (which clocks in at around 16 minutes) is obviously an abbreviated and heavily extrapolated version of the book, it's no exaggeration to say that the film is really quite brilliant, especially considering the era in which it was released. In fact, this century-old monsterpiece actually has some special effects that would hold up as impressive even TODAY. Believe it!
The screenplay (by J. Searle Dawley, who also directed) first introduces us to Victor Frankenstein (Augustus Phillips) as a hopeful college student, but soon shows us the ambitious (the title cards actually say "evil") scientist he becomes. Soon Victor is writing to his FiancÚe Elizabeth (Mary Fuller) that he will marry her, just as soon as he's completed his master project of creating life... what he believes to be the "perfect" human being.
This is where the jumpy, scratchy, once lost film goes from mere artifact to sheer spectacle! Unlike many adaptations of the novel, Frankenstein (1910) shows us the Monster being created, layer by layer by layer in a special chamber that Dr. Frankenstein built. This is truly something to see and, in spite of its simplicity, the effect is amazing to see. The uncredited effects team created a lifelike doppelganger for The Monster and burned it in a chamber, filming every second as layer by layer melted and burned away to the bones and then to nothing. That footage was then played backwards to show the monster growing from a heap of ingredients, resolving its bones together and growing layer upon layer of flesh until he was fully formed. Yes, it's still impressive. See for yourself.
After springing to life, our Monster (played by Charles Ogle, who created his own makeup effects) presents himself to his Father, only to be greeted with horror. The experiment to create the perfect human being had failed.
Much of the remainder of this short film follows what we know of the Frankenstein story and with a film this short, it would be hard to push too far forward without giving away some spoilers that, quite simply, must be seen, not read about. (You can watch the full film on this page, so feel free to make your own decisions). I will say that the ending of this film is unique and not common among Frankenstein adaptations. It also has at least one more moment of quality trick photography that enhances the finale beautifully.
While it's true that there are certain conceits that must be granted to any film this old, once one puts themselves into the time this was made, it's easy to feel the excitement, horror and surprise that audiences of the time surely felt with each new scene. Further, the effects of the time (such as black and white film stock tinted different colors for different moods) may seem foreign and possibly even accidental today, but when one looks at the absolutely groundbreaking special effects in the creation scene as well as that impressive finale, it's not much of a stretch to say that there were very few accidents involved in this film. We're talking Effects work that even Melies himself could tip the old French Hat to!
One of the more refreshing things about 1910's Frankenstein is that the film rarely falls into the same trappings of wild overacting (though some major expressiveness is there) or silly comedy to keep the film going. Dawley set out to write and direct a dramatic horror film and that's just what we get out of Frankenstein. There is no slapstick or over-the-top pantomime used here to dilute the final product, just a strong, serious attempt at a scary movie with impressive results that hold up today.
For years it was believed that Frankenstein was a lost film. Luckily a collector in Wisconsin (who had no idea what he had on his hands) came forth a few decades ago and reintroduced this film to the world. That is a great thing, because Frankenstein is a great thing, worthy of Four and One Half Stars out of Five! That may seem surprising considering some of the less-than-visible parts of this film and some of the same silent film standards of the bygone times, but take note of the amazing things that the old Edison Manufacturing Company came up with 99 years ago (at the time of this writing) and see just why Frankenstein remains a marvel! See you in the next light-bulb-lit reel!
I created these reviews in my own special chamber of...
Okay, Okay, Okay, I was sitting up in bed with a laptop.
Click here for more reviews anyway, my sweet!