Ten minutes is all it takes to tell Mary Shelley’s classic story in this pioneering adaptation by Thomas Edison’s production company. It’s a splashy choice at a time when film was still in its infancy and considered a novelty, and it now has the status of being the first horror films ever made.
Given its one reel limit — D.W. Griffith wouldn’t pioneer the feature length film for another half decade — the story is strictly bare bones and told in three scenes. Dr. Frankenstein (Augustus Phillips) has his big idea, the monster (Charles Ogle) gets created, then it turns up to ruin Frankenstein’s wedding to Elizabeth (Mary Fuller).
J. Seare Dawley’s production is clunky and stagy, even by 1910 standards, although the creation scene is innovative. The centerpiece of the film, and taking up about half of its running time, the monster’s birth isn’t portrayed as the usual stitching together of corpses but as a creation from chemicals. The early special effects were created by burning a dummy in costume to ashes then running the film backward. Also striking is Ogle’s makeup, which he created himself.
Filmmaking of that period hasn’t aged well, so don’t expect loads of entertainment from a century old film. But it is worth a look, especially for the glimpse it gives us of the way people thought about Mary Shelley’s novel before Universal’s landmark 1931 production came along to leave its indelible stamp on Frankenstein and his monster.
The creation scene, of course.
The film was considered missing from shortly after its release until the mid-1970s when one surviving print was finally discovered hidden in a farmhouse in Wisconsin.
“Nosferatu” (1922) and “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1919).
Take a Look:
The full film: