by Art Chantry:
lovely chap. but, what’s with that blockhead look, dude? and those bolts in yer neck? they really don’t work. gets in the way of your bling and such. but you just can’t hate a guy who loves a good cigar, ya know? “Smoke. Goood.”
the frankenstein monster’s general appearance is as american as apple pie. in fact it may actually be more familiar than apple pie these days. his frankie-look has become so famous and so iconified that we all sort of think it grew on a tree. his stylish appearance shows up repeatedly revived as the ultimate outsider look. every time a new pop culture trend emerges (especially in music) ol’ frankie pops back up taking his bows (sometimes literally on stage). however, did you now that every time you sketch a frankenstein monster with a blockhead and bolts, you are violating the copyrights of universal pictures, inc.? basically you owe them usage payments (unless you specifically licensed the right to use it). and they often sue to protect their copyrights. ever wonder why frankenstein never looks like frankenstein in those euro-trash hammer films, etc.? that’s why.
where did that design of frankenstein come from, exactly? most people automatically respond with, “jack pierce did it.” well, yes, jack pierce, head of universal studios make-up department (and a certifiable genius) actually did the make-up for frankie (along with so many other infamous universal horror creations). but, where did the actual IDEAS for the look come from?
james whale, the director of the first two frankenstein films (the original and the bride) spent a great deal of time thinking about what the monster should look like. his was a sophisticated man whose openly gay lifestyle repeatedly forced him to identify closer to the monster than the creator. among ideas considered was a perfectly normal human being, and animalistic beast like a gorilla and even a mechanical robot. whale did many sketches (that still exist) showing that he carefully considered what a person would look like after having so many brains surgically popped in and out of a single skull.
he studied actual surgical techniques common during the time period represented (as did jack pierce). the conclusion that whale came up with was that there would be a heavy ridge of scar and bone tissue circumventing the skull right about the brow line. sound familiar? the idea that it was done over and over again lead to the idea of a lidded “pot” construction (for ease of access). it became basically the idea of a simple skull-pot with a hinged lid (those metal things on the front ridge are actually hinges). that is where the ‘flat top’ look came from. it was an imaginative attempt to create what a ‘flip-top frankie’ would actually look like. silly, huh? not back then.
the neck bolts? where did that come from? again, jack pierce claims he came up with the idea. but, the neck bolts original showed up (significantly pre-dating pierce’s claims) in sketch designs for the original frankenstein movie poster. the equally brilliant (to jack pierce anyway) head of poster art for universal pictures, Karoly Grosz, seems to have come up the idea first and his sketches acted as the model for the finished monster design.
karoly grosz also created a vast number of infamous posters for most of the universal movies (especially his horror film posters). even though his name is obscure to most of us (especially those of us inside the graphic design industry), his posters for the invisible man, metropolis, frankenstein, dracula, the mummy and the bride are the single most avidly collected posters of all time and his movie posters currently hold the world record for the highest prices ever paid for a single poster. it’s been that way for a very long time.
karoly grosz is the guy who designed the bolts in frankenstein’s neck. he created what horror movies posters look like. he’s also the most successful, highest priced, and most popular poster artist of all time. who knew?