Frankenstein in Popular Culture

Instructor: Elisa Goldman

Elisa has taught K-6 grades and has two master's degree in Instructional Technology and Education.

Author Mary Shelly's 1818 creation, Frankenstein's Monster, has greatly influenced popular culture. This lesson examines how the monster you see in movies, television, and other forms of entertainment might not be what the author originally intended him to be.


''Oh! No mortal could support the horror of that countenance. A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch. I had gazed on him while unfinished; he was ugly then, but when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion, it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived.'' -- Dr. Victor Frankenstein

The popularity of Mary Shelley's novel and its various adaptions has been going strong for almost 200 years. The 'monster' has spawned thousands of spin-offs, ranging from discussions on the dangers of science interfering with nature to graphic novels. And with that comes the image, endlessly reproduced in everything from horror movies to breakfast cereals, of a green-skinned, flat-headed, groaning, lumbering giant with bolts in his neck. In fact, Frankenstein's monster had none of those features. A description by the Swiss doctor Frankenstein states that ''His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful!-Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriences only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they were set, his shriveled complexion and straight black lips''.

Frankenstein, 1831 Edition Illustration

Stage, Screen, and T.V.

Productions have been made of Frankenstein since before the days of the movie camera. An original theater production was mounted in 1823. Since then, numerous stage adaptations of Frankenstein have been written and performed all around the world.

Frankenstein has been adapted for television as well. In the 1960s, Fred Gwynne played Herman Munster in the sitcom Frankenstein, presented as an 'ordinary' family man with a day job. The legendary horror icon, Boris Karloff, made Frankenstein his own in movies like Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein in 1931 and 1935 respectively. Movies such as I, Frankenstein, Hotel Transylvania, Victor Frankenstein and the very humorous Young Frankenstein have all been part of the Frankenstein juggernaut during the last 50 years.

Frankenstein Model Head


Numerous books, poems, and stories have taken the idea of 'science gone wrong' and twisted it into modern parables. In fact, the subtitle of Frankenstein is The Modern Prometheus. Prometheus gave fire from the Greek gods to the humans and was 'rewarded' by having his liver plucked out of his body every day by a giant bird. The intended message was that people were not supposed to tamper with the natural order, be it fire or reanimating the dead.

Frankenstein has been adapted into many forms including graphic novels, children's picture books, and modern adaptations of the story. Examples of Frankenstein-related books for children include ''Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich'' by Adam Rex and ''Frank N' Goat: A Tale of Freakish Friendship'' by Jessica Watts. ''The Frankenstein Series'' by Dean Koontz is an adult book emphasizing the theme of reanimating/ creating something that should not be revived.


During Halloween, few can resist a big, scary character such as Frankenstein. As a result, people have been portraying Frankenstein every Halloween for many years. Even if you haven't actually read the novel, you likely have ingrained fears of unknown monsters. If Dr. Frankenstein calls his creation a demonical corpse, that makes it prime costume material!


Let's say you need some songs for your Halloween party or your monster movie marathon about Dr. Frankenstein's monster. The following are ten popular songs about our favorite frenetic, freaky guy.

1) Monster Mash by Boris Pickett - 1963

2) Teenage Frankenstein by Alice Cooper - 1986

3) Over at the Frankenstein Place by Richard O'Brien for the Rocky Horror Picture Show - 1975

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