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Universal Monsters
by yo go re

Remember, it's only Frankenstein if it comes from the Frankenstein region of Germany - otherwise it's just a sparkling homunculus.

As Monkey Boy recently observed, there are only, like, six licenses left anymore, and companies just take turns passing them back and forth. For example, Mattel had the Ghostbusters license, then Diamond Select, and now Hasbro. Everybody gets a turn. Another one that swings all over the place are the Universal Monsters: Sideshow, Jakks, Toy Island, DST... they all had their go, but once again someone's spun the big Wheel of Licensees, and the arrow has come to rest on NECA.

NECA's beginning their time with the license by celebrating the 90th anniversary of Frankenstein. Yes, the movie opened at the end of November, not in August, but given the way NECA releases generally show up, putting him out now is the surest way to make sure anybody can actually find one before the the year is over. [You know Frankenstein is afraid of fire, you should be careful throwing around those SICK BURNS!! --ed.]

Bela Lugosi had been too vain to appear in any prosthetic make-up for Dracula, but Boris Karloff leapt at the chance to be buried under Jack Pierce's work, so they (along with director James Whale) collaborated on a design for the monster. Since Mary Shelley's novel doesn't actually describe the creature much at all, Pierce spent months experimenting with how he would look.

In fact, Pierce claimed in a 1967 interview (for For Monsters Only magazine) to have spent months studying anatomy, surgery, burial customs and more in order to have a good working background for what he wanted to cover. Intense research for the creation of frivolous entertainment? A man after our own hearts!

Frankenstein may have been a doctor, but he wasn't a surgeon, which is why he just cut straight across the top of his scavanged skull to get the brain inside, explaining the scar and staples on the square head. It was Karloff's idea to make the eyelids thick and heavy and lifeless, and to remove his dental bridge to create the asymmetrical, sunken cheeks. This figure has three heads, all with amazing portraits: one at rest, one with a lopsided smirk, and one with the teeth fully bared. It's hard to ascribe emotions to those last two - from one angle, they look happy; from another angry.

The packaging attributes the sculpt to Trevor Grove and Kyle Windrix, in that order. If our guess if correct that the heads were done by Grove, then that leaves the body to Windrix. Franky has the "bolts" on his neck (actually electrodes, like on a battery), and his jacket sleeves are so short they only come to the forearm - Pierce had read that in ancient Egypt, when criminals were bound and buried alive, their extremities would look long and swollen, and this was his way of showing that. The jacket is a separate piece over the black shirt beneath, and there are sculpted scars on his arms.

Thanks to the giant, thick-soled boots, this figure stands more than 8" tall. The idea of Frankenstein as a mindless, lumbering brute predates Universl's movie - the novel was published in 1818, and though it was initially considered a flop, within a decade there were more than a dozen stage plays based on it. In 1910, Thomas Edison turned the story into one of the world's first narrative films, and in none of those versions was the book's nuanced take retained - it's much easier to just make the monster a monster. This monster moves at the ankles, knees, thighs, hips, chest, wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, and head - plenty to act out the things he does in the movie.

Frank comes with six hands: two relaxed, two reaching, one holding, and one gesturing. The "holding" one is meant to hold the included daisies, from the scene where he briefly makes a friend in a young girl, before getting confused and throwing her into a lake. A lake where she somehow drowned like two feet from shore. In a scene that was cut by the censors in several states, so 1930s audiences might not have known anything happened at all. Since the hands are removable, he's also got a pair of shackles that can fit onto his wrists.

Pop culture thinks of Frankenstein as being green, and it's true the makeup Karloff wore was - because of the way prosthetic design worked back then, the makeup had to be made from scratch every day, built up over the course of four hours from cotton and spirit gum, that being the only useable face-glue there was at the time. The entire thing was then painted green, but in a shade that would photograph as deathly white - remember, Frankenstein was not a color film, so what color they made him on set didn't matter as much as how it would look on the screen. NECA's usual pair of Jon Wardell and Geoffrey Trapp have assigned Franky a dark yet sallow shade that has a green tint, though perhaps not as much as you'd expect. A black-and-white version of this mold was released a few weeks after this initially hit shelves, but it's not like this one is supremely colorful on its own or anything.

NECA has already shown off pictures of the Wolf Man and the Mummy, so we're on our way to a decent Universal Monsters collection. Mezco is currently making them in the One:12 Collective style too, but NECA's will be much more affordable.

-- 08/28/21

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