By David Templeton
“I’ve seen every one of the Universal Frankenstein movies,” declares lifelong horror fan Ross Lockhart, publisher and editor-in-chief of the North Bay’s award-winning book publishing company, Word Horde. “And I’ve seen most of the Hammer Pictures Frankenstein movies. But I’ve deliberately skipped things like that recent one, the thing with Harry Potter as Igor.”
“That would be Victor Frankenstein, with Daniel Radcliffe,” I clarify, naming the horrendous abomination to which Lockhart is referring.
“Yes, that one,” he says. “That one seemed a bit messy—and not in a good way.”
Lockhart, who founded Word Horde in 2013 after years of working in the publishing business as an editor, rates himself as a big fan of Frankenstein. He also appreciates ghosts, demons, aliens, Cthulhu, giant spiders and most other things that bump and slither in the night. That enthusiasm is the reason for Word Horde.
In a remarkably short time, Lockhart has built his horror-friendly label into a thriving little company devoted to cutting-edge science fiction, horror and dark fantasy. The label’s first title was Tales of Jack the Ripper, in 2013, followed by Cthulhu Fhtagn!, an anthology of stories inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. Last year’s Mr. Suicide, a crafty shocker by Nicole Cushing, was just presented with the Bram Stoker Award for superior achievement in a first novel, and Word Horde’s upcoming The Fisherman—a deeply creepy aquatic horror tale by John Langan—is already garnering solid advance buzz, and has been described by novelist Laird Barron as “A River Runs Through It” … straight to Hell.”
And more to the point, this October 9, Word Horde will be releasing one of its most ambitious anthologies yet: Eternal Frankenstein, featuring 14 tales inspired by Mary Shelley’s groundbreaking novel. OK. This is where, in the interest of full disclosure, I reveal that one of those 14 stories will be my own romantic-horror novella, Mary Shelley’s Body. As for the rest of the authors, they include some of the fastest rising voices in modern-day horror fiction.
While working on the project over the last two years or so, Lockhart and I have frequently discussed the enduring power of the Frankenstein story, and its many theatrical and cinematic adaptations. It is a fact, we both agree, that there is never a bad time to watch a Frankenstein movie.
One could add, however, that there has never been a better time for a Frankenstein fix than right now, this very week, given that Thursday, June 16 marks the 200th anniversary of the night in 1816 when Mary Shelley—then still Mary Godwin, an unmarried teenage mother and illicit lover of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley—had a terrifying dream. That nightmare inspired her, at the age of 19, to write a story that would, in 1818, be published as Frankenstein.
It is in celebration of this storied date in literary history, that Lockhart and I have sat down to talk about our favorite Frankenstein films of all time. Lockhart, I am already aware, prefers the really old ones.
“Black-and-white just does it for me,” he admits. “Growing up on those Boris Karloff films, by James Whale—not to mention the silly ones that came along later with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and that kind of thing—I just came to love Universal’s black-and-white horror films. Those, to me, are perfection.
“But the Hammer Pictures movies, of the ’50s and ’60s, they do have their appeal,” he adds, referring to such classics as The Curse of Frankenstein, with Peter Cushing as Frankenstein and Christopher Lee as the Creature. Unlike the earlier Universal films, the Hammer productions made gloriously gory use of full color.
“There is no red quite as red as the color of blood in a Hammer film,” Lockhart says with a grin.
He even appreciates the much-derided Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, featuring Robert DeNiro as the Creature and Kenneth Branagh, who also directed, as Victor Frankenstein.
“I truly think that one was pretty good,” Lockhart says. “At least it was was trying to be faithful to the source material, to a degree, anyway. Yes, it took liberties. But with any cinematic adaptation of Frankenstein, you have to, because otherwise you run into the problem that, as it’s written, Frankenstein is essentially un-filmable.”
“Why is that? Is it because nobody wants a Frankenstein where the creature can actually have a conversation?” I ask. “In the book, he’s more eloquent and athletic than anyone else he encounters. He leaps over icy crevices in a single bound. He even speaks in ‘thees’ and ‘thous.’”
“Exactly. It’s hard to make that work on screen,” he says. “Mary Shelley’s story has definitely got its showpieces, big moments that are perfect for a movie. But so much of the rest is just Victor Frankenstein and his creation arguing philosophy. That’s not too likely to put butts in seats.”
The many filmic Frankenstein adaptations, however far they might deviate from the original, have themselves become the stuff that inspires others. He confirmed this while editing the upcoming Eternal Frankenstein anthology.
“A few of the stories in the anthology deal directly with the cinematic adaptations,” he reveals. “Anya Martin’s story, The Un-Bride, or No Gods and Marxists, and Nathan Carson’s Wither on the Vine, or Strickfadden’s Monster, both interact directly with the James Whale movies. Orrin Grey’s Baron von Werewolf Presents: Frankenstein Against the Phantom Planet imagines a young boy watching a late-night horror show and getting his own glimpse of Frankenstein.
“That relationship between literary horror and cinematic horror,” he notes, “it’s always there. One inspires the other. The snake devours its own tail. Any good anthology is like that old parable of the blind men and the elephant, where they’re all trying to describe the same animal, but every description gives a different picture. The big picture that forms from all of those little pictures—that’s where the magic happens.”
“What do you supposed Mary Shelley would think,” I ask, “about all this cinematic mayhem she started exactly two centuries ago?”
“I think she would be amazed,” he says, adding, “Of course, she’d probably want royalties. But I hope she’d appreciate it. To create something that, 200 years later, people are still talking about, something that still has the power to astound and frighten and amaze and inspire—and most of all, to make you think—that’s quite an accomplishment.”