Mary Shelley's Frankenstein helped to launch the entire genre of science fiction, and shaped our dialogue about the ethics of science and artificial life. But it's also created a pop culture explosion that's lasted over a century, and continues full-tilt today. Franken-culture is here to stay, and it often gets mighty ridiculous.
To celebrate Friday's release of Frankenweenie, here are the 10 silliest Frankenstein spoofs of all time. In no particular order. Runners up include the classic cartoons Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles, and The Groovy Goolies. Plus, arguably, the Reanimator films. And there's a Frankenstein monster spoof in Hotel Transylvania.
Frank Hennenlotter's bizarre horror comedy may be the most messed-up Frankenstein story of them all. Jeffrey Franken's beautiful fiancee gets chopped up by a lawnmower, but he's able to preserve her head. Getting inspiration from unusual sources (including drilling holes in his own head) Dr. Franken builds her a new body — only to find that she's not the same as she used to be. Creepy and incredibly messed up.
2) Young Frankenstein
So iconic, it actually became a disastrous Broadway musical. By this point, many people probably think bits of Young Frankenstein are actually part of the original Frankenstein legend, like the gag where Marty Feldman finds a donor brain marked "Abby Normal." Gene Wilder plays Dr. Frankenstein's grandson, who's determined to be normal — pronouncing his name "FrankenSTEEN" — until he finally owns it. Unfortunately.
This much-maligned 2008 computer-animated film features the voices of John Cusack (as Igor the assistant who wants to be a mad scientist) and Eddie Izzard (as a fake mad scientist who goes around stealing everyone else's ideas.) But as a Frankenstein spoof, it's got some nice ideas — the monster that Igor creates just wants to be an actress and do musical comedy, and when she finally rampages, it's while singing numbers from Annie: The Musical. The animation is pretty rough-looking, but there are some cute gags.
They don't get much zanier than this cereal mascot from the early 1970s, who somehow comes to be associated with artificial strawberry flavoring. He stalks around the landscape brandishing his ginormous box of cereal, and weeping over the fact that children are scared of him. But when kids do give him a chance, he unloads the full strawberry whammy on them. Weirdly he speaks like a kind of proto-C3PO. Sometimes caught up in a rivalry with Count Chocula.
5) The Munsters
Herman Munster is like a pastiche of a pastiche — by the time this show aired in 1964, we'd seen so many stylized Frankenstein monsters at the movies, Herman Munster is poking fun at an image that had become ridiculously familiar to audiences. He's got a convoluted origin story, but he's basically one of Frankenstein's monsters who's somehow become a British nobleman and found his way to the United States, where he digs graves. Soon to be rebooted, somewhat improbably, by Bryan Fuller.
6) Mary Shelley's Frankenhole
This stop-motion animated Adult Swim series seems to be still running — in a nutshell, Frankenstein is still around, having developed immortality, and he's created a nearly infinite number of wormholes, or "Frankenholes," leading all over space and time. Frankenstein's "Creature" is also immortal, and has become even more of a weirdo in his old age — witness the clip above, where he gives a bizarre performance with fake tentacles on his head.
7) Rocky Horror Picture Show
Perhaps the most famous Frankenstein pastiche of them all. Dr. Frank N. Furter lives in a spooky castle, where "we're all lucky" and everybody does the Time Warp (again.) And among 1000 other plot strands in this movie, Frank N. Furter is creating the perfect man, Rocky. There's cannibalism and aliens and sexual de-repression, and you basically need an audience full of people throwing shit and reciting lines for it to make sense. The ultimate Franken-spoof.
8) Weird Science
Just like Frankenhooker and Igor, this is about creating an artificial woman, rather than a man. And there are a ton of nods to the Frankenstein story, including lightning playing a key role in the creation of Kelly Brock. Instead of using dead bodies, they use a Barbie doll. And wear bras on their heads. The two "mad scientists" who create her are teenage boys, who need a lot of help getting an image upgrade and all that stuff — so a lot of the gags in the film revolve around the boys' creation recreating them in turn. This movie also spawned a TV show, which contained a ton of random Frankenstein homages.
9) Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
Long before The Munsters was on television, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were poking fun at Frankenstein and the other Universal monsters, using their famous images for slapstick and hijinks. The Frankenstein monster basically chases the two comedians around and around, while occasionally being outsmarted by them. This is basically the straight-up James Whale version of the monster, becoming a straight man in one long running gag.
10) Venture Bros., "Viva Los Muertos"
Written by the great Ben Edlund, a lot of this episode is told from the point of view of a henchman, who's killed by Brock Samson and then resurrected by Rusty Venture in a very Frankenstein-inspired sequence. And then he's killed again, and resurrected a second time. (Check out a clip, which has been randomly redubbed with new voices, as a student project.) Venturestein has a lot of trouble coming to grips with his new reality — and it doesn't help that a weird Scooby Doo/Manson Family mashup arrives to investigate at the same time.
Additional reporting by Amanda Yesilbas. Thanks also to Cyriaque, Annalee and Meredith for the input!