August 2, 2009

Episode 13: It's Alive!

The last episode of our first season aired on July 17th, completing the run of what we'd like to think of as "the basic episodes", the ones dealing with the foundations of the horror genre, its core archetypes, characters and media. The monster we kept for the big finale is probably the biggest of them all, deeper and more interesting than any vampire of the month (yes, including Eric from True Blood), the one and only Thing-Without-A-Name a.k.a. Frankenstein. Just how this literary creation became such a phenomenon over the course of the last 200 years, what bastardization was necessary to make Mary Shelley's complex story digestible for the masses, and what a deity Boris Karloff really is, makes for a truly tough puzzle, one that we were more than happy to discuss during our lucky 13th show.

The Thing-Without-a-Name is the fourth archetype Stephen King analyzes in Danse Macabre, along with the werewolf, the vampire and the ghost. The Thing... is basically a story about humankind's self-destruction in the attempt to reach for knowledge or power that is beyond what it can handle, parallel in many ways to the contents of Pandora's box. The focus of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus is Victor Frankenstein, the scientist that aims to copy God (creating a human being from nothing, not from "left-over" body parts!), and the monster is the horror, the punishment that he has to bear for his actions.

In this sense, Shelley's Frankenstein has been called the first novel of the "mad scientist" sub-genre. Of course, popular culture has changed the naive, well-meaning Victor Frankenstein into a much more corrupt character just as it has changed the creature into a more sensational, dehumanized being than was originally portrayed. In the original story, the worst thing that Victor does is to neglect the creature out of fear. He does not intend to create a horror. The creature, on the other hand, begins as an innocent, loving being, and develops bitterness and hatred only after the world rejects him because of his appearance (the rejection is so extreme, the creature doesn't even have a name!). There are absolutely no "abnormal brains" involved anywhere in the process, trust me :)

Just as Victor highlights scientific knowledge as potentially evil and dangerously alluring - it is said that Mary Shelley considered the original Prometheus evil - so do all others representatives of this archetype, most notably H.P. Lovecraft (who we'll get to know better next season).

Again, almost all of this rich story about what it means to be human - not a "thing", not a god - has been lost in the book's translation to other media, be it theater, comic book or film. Some have at least attempted resemblance to the original, even as a parody, but the flood of movies that only nominally include Frankenstein is what most of us know and cherish. The best example of this, I think, is Ishiro Honda's Frankenstein Conquers the World, probably the last word in trash movies the world has ever needed!

So the first season of Danse Macabre is over, and what did we prepare for you musically to mark this occasion? Well, after several episodes of italo prog and industrial, it's time to get back to honest-to-God psychobilly! This means, lots of Dr. Frankenstein, Man or Astroman? and The Cramps dashed with quite a few references to good old Frankenstein. 'Till next season and the heap of surprises we are preparing, enjoy the show!

>>> Download the episode, good man!

>>> Stream the episode, Scottie!

Oh, and don't forget to eat your daily bowl of Frankenberry cereals!

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