You’d imagine if you’re going to develop a game based on Mary Shelley’s 1818 Frankenstein novel, the first thing you’d need to have clear in your head is who the eponymous title actually belongs to. Victor Frankenstein is the young, Genovese, nutjob scientist (not a doctor) with a finely tuned god complex who assembles a hybrid monster in his laboratory by combining various body parts acquired from human and animal cadavers.
Close (ish), but no cigar
Henry Frankenstein: Dangerous? Poor old Waldman. Have you never wanted to do anything that was dangerous? Where should we be if no one tried to find out what lies beyond? Have you never wanted to look beyond the clouds and the stars, or to know what causes the trees to bud? And what changes the darkness into light? But if you talk like that, people call you crazy. Well, if I could discover just one of these things, what eternity is, for example, I wouldn’t care if they did think I was crazy.
What transpires – his brute of a creation itself – doesn’t actually have a name. Nevertheless, it’s often erroneously presumed to be Frankenstein, probably since that’s what was splashed across the movie adaptation posters – before ‘horror’ existed as a genre – along with an image of the grumbling, mumbling not-so-jolly green giant. He’s the real star, the F-word is up there in lights, so people do a quick calculation and get… wah-wah.
In Icon Software’s 1985 BBC Micro, Electron, and ZX Spectrum game you pilot a microscopic UFO-like craft, travelling within Frankenstein’s body. Where is he then?
It’s always the widely divergent movie interpretation of the Monster that people remember and parody – perhaps the one portrayed in the comedy, Young Frankenstein (1974), in particular – not the thoughtful, verbose original character who emanated from the inaugural text. Even so, people were confused back then too, partly courtesy of various misrepresentative theatre adaptations that emerged several years after the novel was first published.
Edward Van Sloan: (Introduction to the film) How do you do? Mr Carl Laemmle feels it would be a little unkind to present this picture without just a word of friendly warning. We’re about to unfold the story of Frankenstein, a man of science who sought to create a man after his own image without reckoning upon God. It is one of the strangest tales ever told. It deals with the two great mysteries of creation: life and death. I think it will thrill you. It may shock you. It might even horrify you. So if any of you feel that you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now is your chance to, uh… Well, we’ve warned you.
PSS Software have a stab at it via their Spectrum/Amstrad horror-themed offering, published in 1984.
It’s really not that complicated. Still, Ariolasoft who published an 8-bit game in 1987 based on the 1935 movie sequel, Bride of Frankenstein, opted to swerve falling into the same trap by Christening the object of the protagonist’s affections ‘Frankie’. They weren’t convivially referring to the scientist, but his hodgepodge offspring. Developers, 39 Steps (an allusion to the Alfred Hitchcock movie I expect), seem to have been aware of the distinction, yet ran with a sort of halfway house compromise, playing on the common misconception.
Maybe gamers would have assumed the gormless green zombie had adopted a pet had Ariolasoft referred to Frankenstein’s Monster. Plus, Frankenstein’s Monster’s bride sounds a bit cumbersome and awkward. Should anyone have misconstrued the identity of Frankie, Ariolasoft could have retorted with evidence cited from Bride of Frankenstein itself!
Lord Byron: (speaking of Mary Shelley) Can you believe that bland and lovely brow conceived of Frankenstein, a monster created from cadavers out of rifled graves? Isn’t it astonishing?
Confusing matters further, in their game we play as the Monster’s bride who has taken it upon herself to construct her groom from harvested body parts. It’s odd because in the movie it’s the bride who is fashioned together by Victor and his mentor to keep the Monster amused, and as an experiment to assess the feasibility of correcting prior mistakes.
The Monster: Alone: bad. Friend: good!
The Monster: I want friend like me.
The Monster: Woman… Friend… Wife…
The Monster: You – make man – like me?
Doctor Pretorius: No. Woman! Friend for you.
The Monster: Woman? Friend! Yes!
Victor’s Monster already exists having been the focus of the first movie! Actually, three movies preceded James Whales’ first Frankenstein outing, except they are largely ignored what with being silent/very short/lost. Furthermore, the Monster doesn’t die in the 1931 movie as the cliff-hanger climax might lead us to suspect.
Bride of Frankenstein wasn’t a novel to begin with, it should be noted, rather a subplot within Mary Shelley’s original text that evolved into Karloff’s second movie. Yes, as his popularity grew, Boris became mononymous.
To add another layer of unnecessary complication, Victor also has a human bride, Elizabeth Lavenza (played by Valerie Hobson), so when people speak of Frankenstein’s bride they could be referring to Elizabeth or the female monster Victor creates to keep his male monster company. Given all the religious allegory generating life from dead flesh entails, it might have been simpler to call them Adam and Eve, as I believe some of the later spoofs did.
Let’s see if the manual can make any sense of the situation…
In the middle of the night, outside an electrical storm is raging and you’re all alone in Castle Frankenstein. Your task is to revive Frankie, the monster who wants you at the top of the tower while you hunt around for the vital organs that will make his life complete. You need to find a pair of lungs, a pair of kidneys, a liver, a heart and of course a brain if you want to make a man of him. But make sure you use only quality spare parts, as some of the older items may cause a breakdown.
It won’t be easy. The castle has many rooms, dungeons, dark corridors, crypts, graveyards and laboratories to explore (sixty screens in all). And who knows what may lurk behind those locked doors?
More cryptic clues
Some places are definitely more friendly than others, so keep an eye on your heart rate, as any sudden shock from ghosts or ghouls could bring on a fatal heart attack. If you find the old ticker working overtime, you could always head for sanctuary through one of the three arches and try to relax for a while – but which arch?
Keep your wits about you because mysterious things can happen – does the whole castle change while you are in sanctuary or is it just an illusion? All this exertion means that you must keep your elixir of life topped up with the invigorating green liquid. Measure your steps carefully as there are only a few sources. Remember this is the real thing and you have only one life.
To find Frankie you’ll need to collect the right tools for the job. You’ll find you have a choice of seven different types of key, but which one will open which door? In the dungeons you’ll find
shackled prisoners longing for escape, but will they thank you for setting them free, or are they more use to you in other ways? A spade will be useful for gravedigging, but a pickaxe could also come in handy if you hit any bones or feel the need to lash out suddenly. You may find you have a smashing time in the crypts with the pickaxe too. A lamp will be invaluable to explore some of the less well-lit areas of the castle and when you finally get to the top of Frankie’s tower you may find it necessary to do a little electrical repair. Good luck, although if you’re quick you may not need it!”
With a manual this thorough for such a simple budget game, this one practically reviews itself. And it did – read most of the reviews from the era and you’ll see that they largely consist of extracts from the manual.
To answer the question I almost forgot I’d asked though, that’s a definite no. We’re none the wiser having read it.
Frankenstein’s bride played by Elsa Lanchester – the bride manufactured by Victor Frankenstein – only appears in the movie for three minutes during the finale. Although, Elsa does also introduce the proceedings as Mary Shelley believe it or not (aka ‘Mrs. Percy B. Shelley’ according to the accredited author seen beforehand). That’s not so much breaking the fourth wall as shattering them all! You’d be advised to skip this scene altogether.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley: It’s a perfect night for mystery and horror. The air itself is filled with monsters.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley: An audience needs something stronger than a pretty little love story. So, why shouldn’t I write of monsters?
Curiously, Elsa was credited for playing Mary Shelley, yet a question mark was assigned to the actress behind the bride make-up, mirroring the situation with Boris Karloff who played her proposed hubby (in the opening credits anyway, not the closing ones). He wasn’t even invited to the premier by Universal Pictures despite being the main attraction!
Henry cries: “She’s alive! Alive!” They remove her bandages and help her to stand. Doctor Pretorius declares: “The bride of Frankenstein!”
Henry, it should be noted is the revised name given to Victor Frankenstein (played by chronic alcoholic, Colin Clive) in the movie because it was assumed that American audiences would find ‘Victor’ too “severe” and “unfriendly”. Bizarrely it’s his best friend, Victor Moritz, who carries this legacy… by stealing his name! It’s true; Victor Frankenstein is Henry Frankenstein, and Henry Clerval is Victor Moritz. Colin’s alcoholism lent his performance an advantageous “hysterical quality” according to director James Whale, though as a long-term method acting crutch it wasn’t exactly advisable. He died two years after filming concluded. Cinematographer, John Mescall, suffered from the same disorder, kept on the payroll because he was so talented.
The Monster: Friend? Friend?
The Monster’s Mate: Awwwwwwww!
Doctor Pretorius: Stand back! Stand back!
The Monster’s Mate: Awwwwwwww!
The Monster: She hate me, like others.
Having cast eyes upon Monster One, in her terror she attempts to elope from the castle (try that wearing stilts and skin-tight bandages!), only to be caught in the detonation pandemonium caused by Adam pulling a big ‘do not pull’ lever. You know the kind, the ones that cause mighty castle-consuming explosions, obliterating everything in sight when the pullee has a tantrum, aiming to wreak vengeance upon his inventor.
Well, in the novel anyway, kind of. It’s not exactly what you’d call canon. Anyway, counterintuitively, Monster One actually spares Henry and Elizabeth, and somehow survives himself, allowing another sequel to eventually unfold. By which stage Henry and his dad have passed away.
The Monster: (speaking to Frankenstein and Elizabeth) Go, you live.
(turning to Doctor Pretorius)
The Monster: You stay, we belong dead.
Yes, despite all the toil and grave-robbing channelled into bringing the bride to life, she’s terrified of her intended playmate, thus rejects him outright. Ironic since even other monsters find Monster One hideously ugly and creepy. Of course, one of the complex themes that permeate Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the nature of true evil; the concept that it isn’t easily designated by the appearance of cliched repulsiveness. Appropriately forward-thinking of the 19-year-old author considering that physiognomy was more likely to be taken seriously at the time. A theory stating that we can make accurate judgements about a person’s morality, personality and so on, based solely on the way they look. Today it’s known as cobblers or stronger words to that effect.
The Adventures of Dr Franken developed by Motivetime (SNES, 1993).
To be fair, Adam is well within his rights to be a bit miffed. He didn’t ask to be dragged into the world as a shambling, demented, practically mute, freak. To be unable to connect on an emotional level with almost (blind hermits excepted) all the inhabitants of his environment, to be eternally hounded by those who fail to appreciate his equivalent humanity and fear his, umm… idiosyncrasies.
When even decapitated heli-heads see you as a pest to be eradicated you know something’s wrong with your DNA!
Hermit: (to The Monster) We shall be friends. I have prayed many times for God to send me a friend. It’s very lonely here and it’s been a long time since any human being came into this hut. I shall look after you and you will comfort me. And now you must lie down and go to sleep. Yes. Yes. Now, you must sleep.
Abuse and ostracism aside, if you’re going to throw a seven-year-old girl into a lake to see if she’ll float and then run away leaving her to drown, you’ve got to be prepared to endure a bit of flak.
Little Maria: Would you like one of my flowers? You have those and I’ll have these. I can make a boat.
(Maria throws her flowers in the lake)
Little Maria: See how mine float.
(the Monster throws his flowers in the lake; then, picks up Maria)
Little Maria: No, you’re hurting me! No!
(the Monster throws her in the lake)
“I’d run out of flowers and thought Maria might enjoy it”, as a defence, would never wash with a judge. Nor would, “I was only doing my Broadway jazz-hands manoeuvre and she just slipped”. Censors at the time didn’t want to risk it, so until the home video re-issue in the 1980s, this segment remained a deleted scene.
Junkyard’s interpretation of the classic electrode-jacked movie monster. Published by Merit Studios for DOS systems in 1994. Correct names check? Tick!
Hans: (Hans brings the dead Maria to town) Maria she’s drowned.
The Burgomaster: My poor man, why do you bring her here?
Hans: She was MURDERED!
He’d stand a much better chance of convincing a jury of his warm-hearted intentions trapped in a blazing windmill inferno having reached the end of the line fleeing from the wrath of enraged villagers.
Hunter in Woods: The Monster. He’s in the woods!
Burgomaster: Get out the bloodhounds! Raise all the men you can. Lock the women indoors. And wait for me.
What’s hilarious about the production of this scene is that the little girl in question – played by Marilyn Harris – had to reshoot it multiple times despite being a poor swimmer, so to keep her motivated she was offered any bribe she liked. Her number one choice wasn’t exactly stereotypical: a dozen hard-boiled eggs, these being her favourite snack! Given what an easy request it was to fulfil, she was actually presented with two dozen.
Placing such a strong emphasis on the bride’s beating heart as a means of measuring her state of health does suggest that the developers had seen the movie… before deciding to ignore most of it, veering off at a tangent. On the big screen, the bride’s heart is reaped from a dead girl, murdered specifically for regifting purposes. It’s then wired up to a monitoring device until it can be considered sufficiently stable for transplantation. All of which makes you wonder why the two scientists didn’t just kill and then revive a whole person rather than faffing about mixing and matching components. Or if the goal had only been to find Adam a pal, pay an already living, breathing human woman to be nice to him.
“Don’t try this at home kids”, hooted the wise owl as little Johnny’s mum peered in dismay over his shoulder.
Doctor Waldman: You really believe you can bring life to the dead?
Henry Frankenstein: That body is not dead. It has never lived. I created it. I made it with my own hands, from the bodies I took from graves, from the gallows, anywhere! Go and see for yourself.
Victor Moritz: Oh, the bodies of animals. Well, what are the lives of a few rabbits and dogs?
Doctor Waldman: You do not quite get what I mean. Herr Frankenstein was interested only in human life. First, to destroy it; then, recreate it. There you have his – mad dream.
In the game it’s an incarcerated prisoner we slaughter (with a pickaxe), his delicious, juicy brain being the essential module we’re interested in. A nice touch that it’s an abnormal/criminal brain for those of you familiar with the movies.
Dogsbody ‘Egor Woodenhead’ receives a lesson in body part scavenging from boss, Frankenstein. 1994 DOS game by Junkyard.
Henry Frankenstein: The brain you stole, Fritz. Think of it. The brain of a dead man waiting to live again in a body I made with my own hands! With my own hands.
Doctor Waldman: The brain which was stolen from my laboratory… was a criminal brain.
Frankenstein for the C64 developed by Enigma Variations, published by Zeppelin Games in 1992.
With the remaining organs accrued, we head towards the apex of the tower to install them, jacking up an artificial electricity source (the mains as opposed to lightning) to kickstart our handsome beau. A scene that seeks to emulate that witnessed in Universal Picture’s original 1931 movie as well as their 1935 follow-up. A little ditty plays alongside the text message, “it lives!” by way of congratulations.
Henry Frankenstein: Look! It’s moving. It’s alive. It’s alive… It’s alive, it’s moving, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, IT’S ALIVE!
Victor Moritz: Henry – In the name of God!
Henry Frankenstein: Oh, in the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to be God!
There it is, the famous line from the 1931 movie that was originally deemed blasphemous, thus censored (altogether the uncut movie was 15 minutes longer and featured a body count of 21 rather than 10). Not that it stopped the scriptwriter from revisiting the touchy topic in the sequel.
Henry Frankenstein: Oh, what a wonderful vision it was. I dreamed of being the first to give to the world – the secret that God is so jealous of: the formula for life. Think of the power – to create a man – and I did. I did it! I created a man – and who knows, in time, I could have trained him to do my will. I could have built a race. I might even have found the secret of eternal life!
Henry Frankenstein: It may be that I’m intended to know the secret of life. It may be part of the divine plan.
Altogether it wouldn’t be such a complicated task had it not been for our ability to only carry one key at a time, live a single life, and be hamstrung by a no-weapons caveat. Trudging back and forth repeatedly to match the right key with each locked door ensures we cross paths with a plethora of ghouls and skeletons that sooner rather than later get to feast on our recycled organs. They’re relentless.
“A very impressive game that is well structured and logical, interesting to play and watch and extremely humorous. I hope Ariolasoft continues to produce games like this and doesn’t fall into the same trap as many software houses who bottle it and end up producing variations on the same boring theme.”
Computer Gamer (75%, Amstrad, June 1987)
“You don’t get many clues and may have to rely on blundering luck rather than logic. That may put you off to start, but if you stick with it, Bride will reward you handsomely.”
Sinclair User (8/10, Spectrum, August 1987)
“Bride of Frankenstein is aimed fairly and squarely at arcadesters who seem to enjoy this sort of mindless but mildly entertaining drivel. It’s competently and attractively presented – though with a continually irritating and often fatal change of viewpoint every time Gretal goes through a door. But the game’s difficulty all hinges on one feature that for me kills the whole thing stone dead. You only get one life.
However far you progress, one deadly encounter with a nasty sends you right back to the beginning for a new game. You don’t even get a percentage score for your trouble.
And so playing Bride of Frankenstein boils down to performing the same actions again and again and again. That’s not challenging. That’s just boring.”
Commodore User (6/10, C64, August 1987)
“The appeal of Bride of Frankenstein wears off soon. It has good presentation, and quite pleasant graphics (most of the characters are amusingly drawn). But it lacks content. And most annoying is the way in which, on some screens, you leave by the top exit and emerge in the next screen’s top exit – an unprofessional and disorientating effect. Though there are some good ideas, such as the heartbeat meter, Bride of Frankenstein could have been much better.” – Mike
“I think this type of game, where you have to hunt around a building searching for keys to get into other rooms, went out years ago. The graphics are above average, though there’s jerky animation. And the ghosts and ghouls don’t move in set patterns but home in on you, so if you stay still for a couple of seconds you die, which makes it quite frustrating.” – Nick
“Someone’s actually done something original with a 3D adventure game – the graphics in Bride of Frankenstein give the old theme a new dimension. Action is fast and accurate, but the game is slowed badly when lots of people appear on the screen. Some of the backgrounds are very detailed and help the atmosphere tremendously. My only gripe is the strange way the character flicks from location to location – it’s very distracting and off-putting. Bride of Frankenstein is out of the ordinary, and definitely worth considering.” – Paul
Crash issue 43 (59%, Spectrum, August 1987)
If you suffer from transgender phobia issues and would rather not play as the bride, you might be interested to know that in 1990 the same game was re-published as part of the ‘Cartoon Time’ collection, albeit retitled Frankenstein Jnr. Sidelining the bride, we play as son of Frankenstein, Frankie Junior. Note that we’re not son of Frankie the monster, but Frankenstein, obviously screwing up the correct naming conventions. Otherwise, the scenario and maps remain identical.
This time, concept and coding was attributed to ‘Viz Design’ (another of Ariolasoft’s sub-labels), whilst the package was published by Codemasters. Had you bought both titles blind expecting two different games you would have felt a tad cheated I’m sure!
“Frankenstein Jnr is a bit of a sad effort. It looks a little jaded and dated, not surprising really. This type of game had I thought been buried forever. But it’s been ‘resurrected’ by Cartoon Time. One for fans only.”
Your Commodore (62%, C64, April 1990)
Let’s see how the manual compares…
“Run around the castle to rebuild your Dad. Find his parts and plug in 1,000,000 volts to revive him! Find the right keys for the right doors to get around the castle. Just walk into open doorways. But watch out for the ghosts and ghouls! Objects and keys are displayed at the bottom of the screen. If your energy runs out, you will have a cardiac arrest!
Brilliant Cartoon Adventure!
Frankenstein’s young son ‘Frankie Jnr’ runs amok in a hilarious comedy.
Bring Frankenstein back to life!
Skeletons, ghouls and ghosts, graveyards, 3D castle complex.
Plug in 1,000,000 volts!!
So funny… you may have a cardiac arrest!!
Loads of monster action in this hilarious spoof. Terrifically funny!
Hints and tips:
- Take the key on the wall of the first screen; find which door it fits!
- Run through doors to avoid other monsters.
- Find the sanctuary and use the spade to dig up bits of bodies in the graveyard.
- Walking in and out of the sanctuary toggles between two different worlds.
- Skeletons can be dealt with by smashing them into a heap with the pickaxe.
- A cardiac arrest can be soothed by spending time in a safe or sanctuary area, where the heart rate will slow to normal.
- In the dungeons, prisoners are chained to the wall. If you free them while they are alive they will run away. Each prisoner carries a part of Frankenstein, so club them dead with the pickaxe before you remove their chains.
- When you have collected all the parts, you will be allowed to the top of the tower where Frankie’s Dad is waiting for them. You also need a plug to switch on the machine.”
Ah, so aside from the protagonist sprite swap, it looks like the only change is that we can now use weapons. That ought to make our task much easier. Not really befitting of an undead lady to go on a skull-crushing rampage in any case.
“The graphics aren’t bad, but the gameplay doesn’t really hold up. Perhaps CodeMasters should have thrown this one back in the water…”
Your Sinclair (39%, Spectrum, April 1990)
It would appear that the ‘Jnr’ in the title refers to the third Frankenstein movie, Son of Frankenstein (1939), starring Boris Karloff as the Monster, as he did in the first two. This one stepped up the star quality, however, introducing Bela Lugosi as Ygor. Bela was actually Universal head honcho Carl Laemmle’s first choice to play the Monster; an offer rejected on account of it being a non-speaking role. It’s safe to skip much of part three’s tedious exposition, only tuning back in for the finale. This manages to be simultaneously disturbing and amusing, while equally as memorable as the conclusions of the preceding entries in the never-ending series.
Naturally, the game’s resemblance ends with the title, erroneously referring to the Monster as Frankenstein, and now his son as Frankenstein Jnr. There’s no disputing the moniker of this one; the second sequel spotlights Henry’s adult, human, never-been-dead son. He has a wife/former bride too, Elsa, the real name of the actress who played the bride and Mary Shelley in Bride of Frankenstein. Here we go again with the naming crossover schtick. I won’t get into the messy Igor/Egor/Ygor/Fritz situation since Victor didn’t have an assistant at all in the original text.
Frankenstein for the Amiga/C64 developed by Enigma Variations, published by Zeppelin Games (1992). Incidentally, this one uses the correct names, starring Baron Frankenstein rather than his son, Victor.
Where were we? It’s difficult to tell if Codemasters were completely clueless or got this basic tenet deliberately wrong for comic effect. Either way, Son/Bride of Frankenstein is a well-presented game that showcases some charming animation and an effective, caricature-horror atmosphere, evoking fond memories of source material that inaugurated over two centuries worth of glorious monster mayhem. According to a curated list I found on IMDb, Frankenstein has appeared in a total of 112 movies to date, so if you intend to get up to speed, you may find it’ll take you several reincarnations.