Horror Movie Maven

Lover of all things that slash, gash, bleed, and otherwise terrify.

Category: Horror Facts and Trivia

The Face of Frankenstein’s Monster

We have grown so used to the classic visage of Frankenstein’s monster. It’s plastered on Halloween-themed goods every year, and it is so common that we could barely imagine him looking another way.

frankenstein's monster clipart

Clipart of Frankenstein’s monster. Not every image is so iconic that it gets its own clipart.

But the flat-topped skull and neck bolts were once an innovative and entirely new way of presenting the monster from Shelley’s classic tale.

The look for Frankenstein came from a variety of sources. First, was Boris Karloff himself. Karloff’s unique features and wide brow inspired much of the look.


Karloff without makeup: the face that inspired a monster.

Second, the makeup was created by Jack Pierce, a master in the art of makeup. He went on to create some of the most famous monsters in the Universal lineup, Bride of Frankenstein and the Wolf Man among them.

According to the book The Horror People, by John Brosnan, Jack Pierce spent weeks preparing for the first makeup test. And he certainly did his research. Pierce said:

“I discovered there are six ways a surgeon can cut the skull, and I figured Dr. Frankenstein, who was not a practicing surgeon, would take the easiest. That is, he would cut the top of the skull straight across like a pot lid, hinge it, pop the brain in, and clamp it tight. That’s the reason I decided to made the Monster’s head square and flat like a box.”

Pierce and Karloff

Jack Pierce (right) doing Karloff’ monster makeup, flat top and all.

Lastly, sources disagree on how heavy a hand director James Whale played in the final makeup design. While Jack Pierce never admitted Whale’s influence, many contend that he played a role in making the monster we know today (source: The Monster Show by David J. Skal).

Regardless, the makeup was certainly effective. The first time he wore it, Boris Karloff ran into a prop man in the hall. Karloff said:

“He was the first man to see the monster — I watched to study his reaction. It was quick to come. He turned white — gurgled — and lunged out of sight down the corridor. Never saw him again. Poor chap, I would have liked to thank him — he was the audience that first made me feel like the monster.” (source:  The Monster Show by David J. Skal)

The frightening look of Frankenstein was so popular and effective, that Universal took great pains to protect its intellectual property in future non-Universal films. When Hammer Films created the Curse of Frankenstein more than 20 years later, Universal threatened to sue if Hammer used any elements that were unique to their movies (source: The Hammer Story: The Authorized History of Hammer Films by Hearn and Barnes). This included Jack Pierce’s famous makeup. This is why subsequent, non-Universal pictures look so different from the monster we expect.

curse of frankenstein

Christopher Lee as the monster in Curse of Frankenstein (1957).

Which is your favorite version of Frankenstein’s monster?

Top 3 Things I Learned at Crypticon 2014 in Minneapolis

I swung by Crypticon 2014 in Minneapolis this past weekend and went to a few Q&A sessions. These are the top three things I learned at the annual horror convention:

1. Shooting Gremlins took a long, long time.

The first Q&A I saw was with Zach Galligan of Gremlins fame. Here’s a shot of him answering questions:

Zack Galligan

Zach Galligan at Crypticon 2014 in Minneapolis

Zach mentioned that Gremlins took over 34 weeks to shoot. The first 17 were with the actors and gremlins. The last 17 were entirely with the Gremlins. This was back in the days before CGI, so the gremlins and Gizmo were animatronics, operated by people off screen. They were fragile and finicky creatures.

According to Zach, the dog in the films, whose real name is Mushroom, was obsessed with the Gizmo creature/robot. In the scene where Zach’s character is opening the box with Gizmo inside, Mushroom got excited and jumped on Gizmo. The dog broke off a piece of Gizmo’s ear. It took 10-11 hours just to fix the ear and be ready to shoot again.

2. Bodega Bay makes for good, creepy filming.

At the next Q&A, Tom Atkins took the stage:

Tom Atkins

Tom Atkins at Crypticon 2014.

He has been in a whole host of movies, from Escape from New York to Halloween 3 to My Bloody Valentine. He was also in The Fog, which was directed by John Carpenter.

Tom Atkins pointed out that The Fog was actually shot on-location in Bodega Bay. That is the same location as Hitchcock’s The Birds. Clearly, that is one creepy town.

Tom Atkins also mentioned how difficult it was to film a movie like The Fog in the days before CGI. He said that the special effects guys would spend hours creating fog and trying to make it look “more ominous.”

3. Goonies 2 is a “distinct possibility.”

The last Q&A I went to had none other than Corey Feldman. He has been in about a hundred films, spanning throughout the time I was growing up, including The Burbs, Goonies, The Lost Boys, and Gremlins Here he is answering questions with Frog Brother Jamison Newlander:

frog brothers

The Frog Brothers came together to answer some questions. Sorry for the graininess.

Of course, someone asked Corey Feldman whether there would be a Goonies sequel. He said that it is a “distinct possibility.” That’s good enough for me. I’d watch it, even if it has been nearly 30 years since the original came out.

My husband, always the asker of questions at every conference or convention we attend, asked Corey, “What makes a good horror movie?” His simple reply: “suspense.” He noted that the best horror movies don’t show too much gore and rely on suspense to build the tension. He specifically referenced Halloween in this regard, and I have to agree with him here. Suspense is the backbone of any decent horror movie.

Do you agree that suspense is essential? Did you go to Crypticon and learn something cool that I missed? Leave a comment.


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