Frankenstein Operator's Manual

Happy Halloween, everyone.

As a self-professed writer, it is incumbent upon me to actually write and release material, which is what has been done here. As the old saw goes, America is about a Ford in every driveway, a chicken in every pot, and a Frankenstein in every laboratory.

The market has been flooded with simulacrums, but there's only one guy who offers the real bolts-on-the-neck experience you'll be demanding from your Frankenstein.

Ah, I can sense you are intrigued, this is excellent!

Why burden yourself with questions about which Frankenstein has a steady yearly growth and a strong market? These are investments and probable co-habitants with your family. Gone are the days when a Frankenstein could be caught raiding the potato shed - no, no, these days Frankensteins are treated with the same respect as anyone else. This not only clouds the issue of "is a Frankenstein really a human?" but also makes you give pause when noting your dependents once tax season rolls around.

Get the straight-talk you need in order to make informed Frankenstein decisions, now available in long-essay form as Frankenstein Operator's Manual. Might as well hop on the train now, next year is the 200 year anniversary of the original novel being published, so you'll be hearing about it anyway. Give in!

It's only $.99, and it should be available in Amazon's Kindle store within 72 hours. So go search my name and kindly get yourself a dozen.

As a tease, please enjoy this first section for free:

PART I: Monster Mechanic

Welcome to my monster garage. Shopping around, are we?

I love it. I love to see a family outing like this. And look at this guy here! He looks like he’s just about monster-age, huh? Are we maybe hoping Mom and Dad will be getting us our first monster when we turn 16? Haha, that’s okay, you don’t have to say anything—I know how it is. He’s a sharp one, isn’t he Mom?


Never mind.

Oh, you’ve heard some things about Frankensteins, have you? Been browsing online, huh? No, that’s great, you want to be an informed consumer. Any questions I can maybe tackle for you? As a certified monster mechanic, I firmly believe in passing what I know on to the next generation of enthusiasts. I sense some skepticism in your tone - what kind of things have you been reading about?

Ah, I see: the novel.

Okay, forgive me, but I’m going to stop you there. Do me a favor and take a look outside at the road you were just driving on. You don’t see a lot of Ford Quadricycles tooling around out there, do you? Of course not, and that’s because these complex, paradigm-shifting things evolve. Mind you, actual, dyed-in-the-wool Darwinian evolution-evolution is not in play here, since we’re talking about a man stitching together dead body parts and reanimating them with electricity. This is completely at odds with the notion of survival of the fittest. But my point is, such tinkering leads to more and more refinement, and so we find progress.

Think of that grainy film footage of the bouncing Sky Car with the whirling cocktail umbrella propeller—ludicrous, right? And yet, here we are, over 100 years in the future, and hover conversions are completely standard-issue. See, these are not machines so much as they are events. But, you’ve gotta start somewhere, and that was very much the case with Frankensteins. So, here’s the deal with your 1818 Mary Shelley Frankenstein: it’s a curiosity that should be admired for what it was and what it inspired. But it’s certainly not practical for the post-modern age, even in a fun, “retro” kind of way. Have you ever seen one? Sure, sure—school, right? British Literature? Yep. Where it’s used as a text book, just as it should be. A text book for booooooooring.

I reread it a few years ago, having found a reissue that featured some quality woodcut illustrations. It’s a handsome edition, no doubt, but it speaks volumes that the best part of my reread ended up being the pictures; I liked the physical book more than its contents. And this is not to say that it’s not an important part of the canon - the idea is as sound as ever, and continues to inspire different interpretations (cough Jurassic Park cough). And it’s a keystone example of Romantic writing. Boy, is it ever Romantic.

If it feels like homework, that's because it is homework. You like extended passages about scenery and not a lot of monster-talk? Well, then you’ll definitely not hate the 1818 model. If Mary Shelley had only replaced 90% of her glacier descriptions with ghoulish murders, this would have been a real barn-burner. Or a real windmill-burner, if you’d rather. However, she did not, and so, proto-sci-fi and gothic novel street cred aside, we’re all free to tip our caps and immediately move along. This kind of book cannot be expected to wind the clock of a twenty-first century audience, so let’s just skip it.

If you really want to make the investment and jump into the market, you should- hm? Oh yes, there’s definitely a market for Frankensteins, and it is insatiable. But you want to stick with your Universal Pictures Frankensteins of the 1930s and 40s, as these are the strongest, most desirable models. The Hammer Film Production-makes are great in their own ways, but there is no replacing the flat-top, neck-bolt look of a vintage Universal. And they are an investment, I cannot stress this enough. The market goes through cycles, and right now it’s a little soft, meaning it’s the right time to buy. And you needn’t worry about Frankensteins coming back—Frankensteins always come back. I mean, if the sequels aren’t a tip-off, consider that the original novel-model Frankenstein is almost 200 years old. There’s no getting rid of it, no matter how hard the mob tries.

Say, why don’t you all grab a cup of coffee from the machine over there, and I’ll give you a brief primer before you get out to those Monster Swaps. No, no charge, folks. What kind of monster mechanic would I be if I let you spend your (I assume) hard-earned money on some clunker? You’d be unhappy, that piece of junk would end up back in circulation, my business would fail, and my reputation would suffer.

Oh, are you not familiar with my reputation? Take my word for it: my reputation is very well-reputed. Should you need qualifications and certifications, look no further than my almost 30 years of being in the Frankenstein-racket. Yes, when I was a boy, I’d wander the monster scrapyard of the local library. There, I would pore over the sacred texts of Crestwood House’s 1985-issued picture book adaptations of the classic Universal Monster films. My mentor was that bespectacled master of vintage cinema, Bob Dorian, whose woolen suits and silver hair oozed authority across the landscape of early-80s and late-90s basic cable. It was Dorian’s bumpers before and after AMC’s featured-creature picture that loaded up my impressionable grey matter with only the most trivial of trivia; indeed, I can still recall his analysis of Jack Pierce’s post-immolation makeup continuity like it was yesterday.

Listen, I understand your apprehension with undertaking such a pastime, believe me. Let’s face it: in 1931, we as a species were still not that good at making movies. The medium itself is only around 30 years old at this point, and the talkie feature is still box-fresh at around 5 years, so, you know... they still needed some practice. This is an era where you’ll find a lot of gangster pictures and some of your shittier, pre-Bugs Bunny Looney Tunes.

Frankensteins from this earlier age simply feel heavier. It’s as though the director and his camera had just indulged in a turkey dinner and were having trouble getting up off the couch. With every movement of the camera, you can almost hear the crew groaning from the strain of it all. Likewise, with audio recording still in its nascent stages, film scores blare through your speakers with a piercing mid-ranginess unencumbered by the spatial organization found in the stereo spectrum and multi-track mixing. This means that no matter how menacing the timpani pulse, how angular the threatening brass line (you know the one—it goes “Bwah-bw-bw-BWAH-bwah!”), it’s all doomed to sound like a pile of hot mono garbage being manually cranked out of one of those old-timey phonograph horns.

Editing seems equally laborious, as though cuts were made by pure memory of footage shot. We clunk along from one angle to another, each one seemingly spooled on its own projector, to be swapped out against that of another projector, situated next to it. You can almost hear director James Whale muttering to editor Clarence Kolster, “Did we run out of stock here? The scene isn’t really over. Well, just fade to black, I guess—we’ve got to keep this moving.”

And move they do, for while the sludgy feel of film mechanics is still working itself out, the stories being told move at a brisk pace, rarely approaching the 90-minute mark. Surely, we can take the time to appreciate them for what they are. You won’t see a lot of gearheads sticking with their Model A in a world filled to the brim with seat warmers, cup holders, and satellite radio (cups weren’t even the same size back then!), but you will find them admiring the most well-preserved and detailed editions still in circulation.

As such, we need to be clear about the pros and cons of investing in a Frankenstein, and what to look for out on the market.

The Five-Point Frankenstein Service Inspection

You're going to want to run a five-point service inspection on any Frankenstein you're thinking of acquiring. It's a common-sense system I've developed over my many years in the business. I'd recommend it to anyone, but especially someone new to the trade. These are the hot spots you can look for on-site when you’re kicking the tires, as they say. The five pertinent questions you should be asking yourself are as follows:

How Mad Is Your Scientist?

While the passage of years has made Mad Science as commonplace as the concept of telephony or the notion of baking altitude, it's interesting to acknowledge that there once was a time in which all science was considered to be rather mad. Mind you, the era we're speaking of here (the turn of the twentieth century Frankenstein hey-day) is not that time, and therefore any monster-building doctor can be certified "completely mad." But for a while, it was pretty well-accepted that if you spent your days zoning out and puttering over microscope slides for hours on end (or even knew what a microscope was) then you must've had a screw loose. As we shall see in the analysis that follows, the entire spectrum of madness can be found in the history of Frankensteins, from the morbidly-curious to the stark-raving bonkos.

What Kind Of Brain?

Sometimes the monster-to-brain relationship is a shell game; the second you look away from your Frankenstein, someone might plop some new gray matter into that big, green cranium. Whose brain is this? Tough to say, but the track record as we know it shows a rogues gallery of leaky think tanks, cycled from one vaguely-European flesh-pod to another. A lot of the older model Frankensteins you'll find on the market will be either missing serial numbers or featuring heavy wear and tear, so count on doing some detective work as you decipher what form of psychotic cerebrum you're going to be living with.

What Are the Lab Conditions?

Mad Science, not unlike regular science, requires plenty of room in which to be done. Mad Science, very much unlike regular science, also requires plenty of privacy, lest the local medical oversight committee, constabulary, or villagers stumble upon the unholy results of your toils. Thus, we commonly see remote, abandoned, or re-purposed locations serving as home base for some of the most innovative of mad scientists. Since pre-war Europeans had nothing but time and rocks on their hands, most of these spaces will be large and made of stone. This suits the amount of voltage flowing through the area at any given moment, and makes any required chain-fastening an easy, yet secure experience.

Where Are Your Notes?

A classic trope we shall see worked again and again, the mad sciencing notebooks are typically just as secreted as the laboratories themselves. But listen, aspiring mad scientists: stitching bodies together and then filling them with life-giving life is a complicated process. These are not IKEA instructions, and for as intuitive as it all might seem (You: 'I have a body, this should be a breeze...'), there are many, many steps between taking the parts out of the box (here, a coffin) and the final, murderous product. You need to take notes—there is no purpose for these experiments if you're going to have to relearn the processes every time you want to cook up a fresh race of super-people.

Mind you, these notes are controversial—what some might consider "too hot for TV," like the backroom goings-on of the commodity market, or the Area 51 files. You need to find a place to keep them safe. Then, at some point, off-screen, share this hiding space with your son/daughter/assistant/granddaughter etc. At the very least, you want the existence of the notes to be known, even if the hiding place remains classified. You might want to consider having your probably-deformed lab assistant write up some copies during some of that elusive monster-building downtime; the above-mentioned labs tend to blow up or burn to the ground quite regularly, and as there is no "cloud" to speak of, you'll need that information passed on somehow. Try making each version with a different cover to toy with the obsessives who love continuity!

How Angry Is the Mob?

It's always important to know what level your local mob is at. A great workaround solution to this is to send a member of your staff into town for some all-purpose reconnoitering. The townsfolk are the oil, and your stooge is the dipstick. It's always good to check the level, color, and viscosity of your potential mob. Oh, and make no mistake: they are always teetering on the brink of moving from "mob" to "angry mob." Who's around, who stirs the most waters, who has lost loved ones at the hand of the very same golem you are currently trying to shoot life back into? Feeling shorthanded and overwhelmed by the number of things piling up on your to-do list? Maybe kill two birds with one stone and have your assistant dip into the local pub on the way back from picking up the cadaver hands. Be sure to have them leave the hand-basket outside, and then do some light probing over a draught of the local microbrew. This is in imitation of what society would call “normal behavior” and should not raise too many suspicions. Through this line of inquiry, it should be easily determined who will be a problem, and who will simply be influenced by those who have a problem.

And on more thing, before we run down the various models you’ll be wanting to keep an eye out for: don’t be precious about the name.

We’ve all been there, mixing at a cocktail party, discussing Frankensteins. And, as sure as the sun sets in the west, it’s only a matter of time before some haughty know-it-all clears his throat and informs the discussion, “Ah, excuse me? ‘Frankenstein’ was the name of the doctor – not the monster.”

First of all, you need to never invite this person to another cocktail party; they are a total buzzkill, and you want to be keeping the company of stone-cold chillers. Why are you hanging out with this snob? Second of all, Dr. Frankenstein put this monster together with his own two hands and a lot of love. And a lot of manic delusion. But he built that beautiful, murderous brute, and that brute was brought to life and ushered into this world at his whim. If that is not fatherhood, then I don’t know what is. Therefore, the monster is a Frankenstein – a true son of the baron who wanted to harness the fire of the gods. The name applies to both creator and created, and while anyone in the business will tell you it is sometimes confusing, we professionals embrace it as an idiosyncrasy of a different, less-smug age. As such, I declare the argument over the doctor-and-monster nomenclature closed, forever.

Now let’s learn you some Frankensteins. read more of this definitive study, check out Frankenstein Operator's Manual: An Essay by Justin Zeppa in Amazon's Kindle store. Right here.

Also, be sure to listen to the Sauropod. It's good for you.