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Universal Monsters Minimates
by yo go re

Take a look at this photo, and think of what it is:

It's a sandwich, right? Not "the Earl of Sandwich's one-handed 'bit of meat between two slices of bread' snack"? The creator's name is used synonymously to refer to the item itself, but still nobody gets mad when you call it a sandwich? Fine, then the green guy with the bolts in his neck is frickin' Frankenstein!

The most famous tale of Dr. Frankenstein's Monster is still the 1931 "Frankenstein," starring Boris Karloff as the Monster. Created from the body parts of the deceased and given life through artificial means, the Monster ultimately turned on its master, and on humanity.

Frankenstein was first turned into a film in 1910, by Thomas Edison's film studio. Since it was made so long ago, it's in the public domain and thus you can watch it for free. Universal Studios' version is infinitely more iconic, however, forever altering the way we think of Frankenstein as a character (nearly as much as The Wolf Man did for werewolves). Though today Frankenstein is a Halloween staple, that wasn't the case when it was released in 1931: it first appeared in theaters on November 21; in other words, exactly 80 years ago today! Happy birthday, Frank! Now you know why we didn't post this review during Horror Month.

Boris Karloff's makeup was designed by Jack Pierce, the same in-house guy who did the Wolf Man. It was designed based on anatomical textbooks, and even the scar on his head was thought out logically. Mortician's wax was used on the eyelids to create the "drooping" look, but it tended to crumble into Karloff's eyes. Oh, and the "bolts" on his neck? They're actually electrodes, to facilitate his reanimation. The ring around the Minimate's neck has the same excess plastic tabs on it as the black and white version, suggesting they're intentional.

The sleeves of the jacket were shortened to make the arms look longer. To keep the legs stiff, he wore two pairs of pants with steel braces underneath. To provide the proper bulk, Karloff wore a double-quilted suit underneath all that - it made him sweat so much that he could only wear it for an hour, then had to switch out a spare suit (which was usually still damp from the last time). His boots were actually asphalt spreaders' boots, which had a thick, heavy sole to help the wearer gain stability while working on hot asphalt (because nobody wants to fall into that stuff). Each boot weighed 13 pounds, which contributed to the monster's lumbering gait. They also exacerbated Karloff's back problems. While the clothes on this figure are gloss black, the shoes are matte black for contrast.

Picking up where "Frankenstein" left off, the 1935 sequel showed the monster's desire to be accepted, and his creator's attempt to provide him with a mate. But just because she was created through science, like he was, doesn't mean that she will be his willing Bride.

Oh, that's right, what's the name of that 1935 sequel? Bride of Frankenstein, and it sure as balls doesn't refer to Elizabeth. It's not called Bride of Frankenstein's Monster, either, so there's another point in favor of just calling the monster Frankenstein and being done with it. Universal wanted a sequel to Frankenstein as early as the film's preview screenings, which is why the ending was changed to allow the doctor to live. They had a script for the sequel in 1932, but it was rejected and it took several more drafts to come up with a good one.

The idea of a mate for the monster comes from the original novel, though there she's destroyed before ever being brought to life. The character only appears in about five minutes of the film, but she's nearly as iconic as Frankenstein himself. As Rustin revealed, AA/DST didn't get the likeness rights to Elsa Lanchester, but it's like we said about the Dracula Minimate: in this format, who can tell? She's got some scars, she's got the eyebrows, she's got the hair... it's her!

Actually, she doesn't quite have the hair. People forget that the Bride didn't have a Marge Simpson beehive, sticking straight up off her head; rather, it was designed to suggest Nefertiti's crown, tapering to a wider outline at the top than it had at the base. The DST figure gets this right, but the Minimate doesn't: the hair slightly narrows as it moves back from the head. It's detailed well, and the white stripes are raised above the surface for better contrast. The real hairdo was built over a wire frame, so it wasn't obscenely heavy.

The Bride first appears fully bandaged then, in a dissolve cut, her head is uncovered and she's wearing a smock. The Minimate's arms are ecru, to contrast with the stark white of the new gown she's wearing. There are "bandage" paint apps tampoed on the outside of the arms, but not the insides. The figure's hip block has some production problems, including an untrimmed sprue on the waist peg, and the same leg-blocking problem that affected the Curse of the Mutants box set: an excess of plastic on the underside of the hip, preventing the leg from moving the way it should. Admittedly, that's a minor problem since the dress covers the legs so completely, but whatever mold these hips came out of, it's time to replace it.

This young scientist has one dream, to create life - specifically, to create life through the re-animation of dead human tissue. Assisted and also sabotaged by his hunchbacked assistant Fritz, he ultimately succeeds, but at what cost?

As early as 1908, literary snobs were already complaining about people using "Frankenstein" to describe the monster rather than the creator, so it's definitely not something that can be laid solely on the movie. Though he's known as Dr. Henry Frankenstein in the film, in the book his name is Victor (possibly a reference to God in Paradise Lost, or to the pen-name of her lover, Percy Shelley) and he's a college dropout. The name Henry does appear in the book, however, as Victor's best friend, Henry Clerval. "Frankenstein" is German for "stone of the Franks," and there are several places named Frankenstein in Germany - including a Castle Frankenstein Mary Shelley would have passed near on a trip several years before writing her story.

Frankenstein was played in the film (and in Bride of Frankenstein) by Colin Clive. He only appeared in three horror films, but his portrayal of the "mad scientist" has been the basis of many similar characters since. The figure gets a new hair block, and the design of his face looks decently like Clive, though it's not an unmistakable likeness, especially since Clive had such a prominent nose and ears. If someone told you this was a different actor (or even a generic face), you'd believe them.

Dr. Hank is wearing his white operating gown over grey pants and black shoes. The gown itself has a few wrinkles painted on the front, and has two ties painted on the back. The lower portion is a new mold, and has more ties sculpted holding it closed. The switch from painted bows to sculpted ones means they don't all look like they belong together, but what else could they do? If they'd just painted the ones on the "skirt" portion, it would have looked weird with the sculpted wrinkles and seams, and if they'd given him a chest cap, he'd look too big (and probably cost too much).

There's only one figure in this set that's not available in any of the Toys Я Us two-packs, and much like last year's Wolf Man and Creature from the Black Lagoon sets, it's the woman. Namely, Elizabeth Lavenza, Dr. Frankenstein's fiancee. In the novel she was Victor's cousin and adopted sister, but the movie eschews that particular brand of horror. "Elizabeth" was also the name of Percy Shelley's sister, adding fuel to the Victor = Percy fire.

Elizabeth is wearing a cream-colored dress taken straight from the film. The dress, not the color - the film was in black and white, so all we see there is that the dress is "light" colored. In the film the dress had loose sleeves and a "skirt" portion around the waist that this figure doesn't attempt to duplicate. In fact, the lower half of the dress lacks almost all detail entirely, save for a few simple wrinkles near the waist. The paint on the arms and chest is very good, though, both showing the lacy pattern and accurately re-creating her pearl necklace and the heart-shaped brooches on her neckline.

Elizabeth was played by Mae Clarke in Frankenstein, and by Valerie Hobson in Bride of Frankenstein, but this is the Mae Clarke version - you can tell by her dress and her new hair piece. Which is handy, since there's no way to tell by the face: in an attempt to make her suitably feminine and youthful, she's got no details other than her eyes and mouth.

Frankenstein was subject to heavy censorship throughout its run, due mostly to scenes of blasphemy: in particular, Dr. Frankestein's line "It's alive! It's alive! In the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to be God!" caused a stir among the prudes. New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts cut the scene where the monster accidentally drowns a young girl, and Kansas, just as much of a joke back then as it is today, requested 32 separate edits that would have dropped the film's running time to about half an hour. Still, the film is a classic, and this Minimate set offers good representations of iconic characters.

-- 11/21/11

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