There’s a case to be made that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the very first science fiction novel ever written. There’s an even strong case to be made that her story of a scientist consumed with the mysteries of life and death is one of the first truly modern tales of horror. Since Frankenstein’s (and Shelley’s) creature first lumbered to life almost 200 years ago, the monster has cheated death in a way that Frankenstein (and Shelly) could have only conceived in a fevered dream.
In the Shadow of Frankenstein, provides a first-rate example of how the creature’s heart has continued to pump life into the horror short-story genre. First collected in 1994, these stories feature some of the very best Frankenstein-inspired tales from the latter half of the 20th century. For those who need to brush up on the gothic terrors of the original before wandering the haunted hallways inspired by it, this edition includes a reprint of Shelley’s tale, a tale conceived by a precocious teenager on a dark and stormy night in the summer of 1816.
Though inspired by the Frankenstein story’s tale of bringing life from death, the stories in this volume are a bit more contemporary than the original, reading more like stories from EC Comics horror magazines than like Shelley’s romantic and gothic inspired fiction. The first story to follow Shelley’s in this volume is particularly reminiscent of one of those EC stories. As a matter of fact, Ramsey Campbell’s “New Life” is an intentional tribute to those gory little morality tales with twist endings that came to define pre-Comics Code comics of the ’50s. In this tale, the main character awakens in the laboratory of Dr. Frankenstein and the reader is gradually led to realize that the person at the center of the story is one of the scientist’s creations.
While Ramsey’s story wonders what it was like for one of Frankenstein’s monsters in the first moments of new life, Nancy Kilpatrick’s “Creature Comforts” wonders what it would be like if the monster still roamed the Earth today, in this case as a famous rock star who goes by the name of “Creature”. When Candy, one of Creatures biggest fans, finally gets her wish to be alone with her idol, things do not turn out the way that she had hoped.
Other stories focus less on the scarred characters from Shelley’s original story and instead draw inspiration from that fiction in order to tell tales of new forms of evil. For example, Manly Wade Wellman’s “Pithecanthropus Rejectus” is a story told from the perspective of Congo, an ape who is given human intelligence by another scientist and then taken into that scientist’s home to be raised as his child. Maternal love and a rising moral consciousness serve to complicate matters for the little monster and his creator.
R. Chetwynd-Hayes provides my favorite story in the collection in “The Creator”. The creator in this tale is Charlie Brownlow, who decides that he wants to create a monster and uses the remains of his recently deceased grandfather as the source for his monster materials. Armed with a little experience as a butcher and a little experience as a mechanic, Charlie is no trained scientist like Frankenstein and his monster making is more hobby than scientific research. Chetwynd-Hayes’ description of the creature that butchery and mechanics makes is among the creepiest scenes in the book:
Butchery was of course responsible for Grandad’s torso and his goat’s head; while the motor industry must be given credit for the metal arms, the red flashing eyes and the sparking plugs which were embedded on either side of the Grandad/goat blended neck. Inner tubes aided by glue hid whatever needlework that had been necessary to unite crankshaft arms to Grandad’s shoulders, while hands — complete with six fingers — had been fashioned from back-seat cushion springs. Charlie had sacrificed most of Grandad’s legs, and he was … down to his hambones. Short thick stubs were encased in inverted car wheel-hubs and held firmly in position by glutinous rubber solution. A pair of trolley castors … were riveted on to the undersides of the wheel-hubs and served as an excellent — even an improved — substitute for feet.
Just try getting that image out of your head! I, for one, find it just as unsettling as the first glimpse of Karloff as the monster in James Whale’s 1931 Frankenstein.
In the Shadow of Frankenstein is a scary read with stories by Guy N. Smith, Graham Masterton, Lisa Morton, Brian Mooney, and a lot of other masters of the macabre. These stories show just how influential the Frankenstein story has been for the modern horror story. Life from death is a classic theme and time and again it proves to be the perfect fodder for a scary tale. Put this book by your bedside for a little bedtime reading and you may find that your dreams are as haunted as Mary Shelley’s.