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Horror Education of the Week: Edison’s ‘Frankenstein’

In the summer of 1816, Mary Shelley and her lover, Percy, visited the poet Lord Byron at his home in Geneva. Storms kept them inside and there they read ghost stories from a book Byron had titled Fantasmagoriana, ou Recueil d’Histoires d’Apparitions de Spectres, Revenans, Fantomes, etc.; traduit de l’allemand, par un Amateur translated by Jean Baptiste Benoit Eyries from German to French.

Byron then proposed a challenge – for each of the guests to write their own story.

Mary Shelley wrote in the third edition of Frankenstein:

“When I placed my head upon my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. . . . I saw–with shut eyes, but acute mental vision–I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous Creator of the world.”

While the most iconic face of Frankstein’s monster is Boris Karloff, the first Frankenstein film in the US was Thomas Edison’s adaptation in 1910.

– In this 16-minute film made by the Edison Studios, the Monster is created in a cauldron of chemicals.

– The movie was thought to have been lost for a very long time.

– In 1963, a copy of The Edison Kinetogram was found that contained several stills and a plot description.

– A Wisconsin film collector, Alois F. Dettlaff, made a 35 mm preservation copy made in the late 1970s of the film from his collection.

– A restored edition was released in 2010 along with a novel Edison’s Frankenstein, which was written by Frederick C. Wiebel, Jr.

– The same year a 100th anniversary edition was made, creating new title cards that followed Mary Shelley’s story more closely.



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