They call him Frankenstein, but that’s not his name. He is the creature or Frankenstein’s monster. He is what happens when a creation turns on its creator. Karloff made him iconic. So much so, that image has entered our collective unconscious as the representation of the character.
I love Frankenstein’s monster more than any other classic creature. To me, he is the most misunderstood monster of them all. He was never meant to be evil but was made that way by neglect and mistreatment. Mary Shelley’s take on this was well ahead of her time. Because of the humanity of the character, Frankenstein’s monster speaks to all kinds of people. We all can find truths about ourselves in him.
Someone who finds a kindred spirit in the creature is a man named Jonathan Mayhall. He wears a lot of hats. (To be honest, I’ve never seen him in a hat.) By day, Mayhall teaches psychology at Bevill State Community College. By night and on the weekends or whenever the mood strikes, he and his wife, Diana, become a rockabilly duo called: The Spook House Saints. They play, to quote Mayhall, “the rock n roll.”
The duo has a following locally and beyond. They play all over the Birmingham metro-area and central Alabama. Their music can be heard on internet radio stations all over the world. They play original songs with titles like: “Spook House Bop,” “Werewolf Beach,” and “Dolly Would.”
Oftentimes on his social media accounts, Mayhall posts a picture of Frankenstein’s monster looking like a greaser from an old 1950s drive-in movie. Needless to say, he and I share a love of the classic creature. So I reached out to Mayhall for his ideas about the character. Here’s what he had to say:
“I’ve always dug the existentialism of the creature in the book. He was self-aware and full of questions.”
Not surprisingly, Karloff’s character is how Mayhall sees the monster mixed, however, with the re-imaged take from artists like Mike Bell, Ben Von Strawn, and El Gato Gomez. These artists re-envision the creature as a brooding outsider-type, driving a hotrod with a surfboard strapped to it. This creature wears a leather jacket and is covered in tattoos. He smokes. It’s the picture that Mayhall uses when he posts Frankenstein’s monster on his social media accounts. It’s an image that makes it okay to call the creature, Franky. I don’t think another name could quite sum him up.
No conversation about the creature can be complete without discussing his Bride. The Universal movies made her an integral part of his story. Those classic films made them the first couple of the horror world. Mayhall has an opinion on her as well. He said that he pitied her in the movie but feels differently about her when she’s placed by artists into the same mid-century world that Frankenstein’s creature has been place in.
“Mike Bell made her cool, adventurous, sexy, and fun-loving,” Mayhall said.
The modern take on classic monsters, especially Frankenstein’s creature and his bride, is a breath of fresh air. I love the classic Karloff and Elsa Lancaster characterizations. There is something more to them when they brought up-to-date. It shows that all the things we love about them still applies to modern times. Frankenstein’s monster as a greaser plays to the original character’s outsider nature. That image shows the pathos of the people who lived that lifestyle. They were rebels, some with causes, others without them. All the old movie monsters could easily fit into this pattern.
“I love classic horror characters dropped in mid-century modern settings,” Mayhall said. “I dig hip versions of those classic creatures.”
After our discussion about Frankenstein and the bride, Mayhall started working on a new song for the Spook House Saints about the creature. He said that he had overlooked that character for too long. I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with. Whatever it is I know it’ll be tragically cool just like Frankenstein’s monster.
If you would like to listen to some the Spook House Saints’s music, you can hear it here: https://www.reverbnation.com/jonathanmayhall/songs. It’s worth a listen. I think you’ll dig them the way Fritz and Dr. Frankenstein dug up graves to make the creature. Maybe soon, his newest tune about Franky and his old lady will be up there waiting to be dug too.