Frankenstein by Junji Ito

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is perhaps one of the most well-known horror novels ever written, if only by name. In his horror manga of the same name, Junji Ito tackles the mammoth task of bringing this novel into his disturbingly visual world.

Frankenstein is such a huge part of popular culture, however, I have to be honest and say that I have never read Frankenstein the novel; Ito’s version is my first time experiencing the story itself. I knew the rough story – the Doctor creating the monster, but I needed to check the major plot points on the novel’s Wikipedia page after reading this manga, just to see how close it was. 

The eyes of Frankenstein

I am happy to report that Junji Ito’s version of Frankenstein stays very true to Mary Shelley’s novel. Even the narrative structure of telling the story from the perspective of the ship’s captain is maintained. But I can’t give a full comparison as I am not familiar with the source material.

What is Frankenstein about?

During an expedition to the North Pole, in the pursuit of fame, the captain and his crew see the towering figure of a stranger in the distance. This is followed by them finding a man out in the freezing cold all alone and in need of shelter — a man by the name of Victor Frankenstein. Victor is in pursuit also, only his pursuit is of something far more tangiable than fame. His pursuit is of a creature he decsribes — the figure that the crew saw previously.

Suffering from exhaustion and cold, Victor tells the captain his story and how he came to be out here in the wilds of the North Pole. We learn of Victor’s childhood and family, and his growth into the scientist he became. He also recounts the terrible deeds he performed in the pursuit of greatness in his unique field of study.

He goes on to tell the Captain of his creation, the Frankenstein’s Monster, and how it came to escape and ultimately wreak havoc on his family. We bear witness to the awful deeds that the monster does, and Victor’s seemingly never-ending pursuit of it. Victor’s story ultimately brings us back to the current time on board the trapped ship and to the final moments of realisation of both the monster and the creator alike.

My thoughts

As I said before, this was the first time experiencing the full story of Frankenstein. I mean, I’ve always known about the characters and the creation of the monster through parodies and tv series tie-ins like Penny Dreadful and Carry On Screaming, but never the original story.

I am glad, in a way, that reading Junji Ito’s interpretation of it was my first taste. It meant that I got to experience all of the story’s twists, turns and moments of horror, only via the expert artistry of the horror mangaka himself. That’s not to discount Mary Shelley’s talents; I’m just saying that this was a very different way to be subjected to it for the first time.

I’ll leave this here.

I thought that the intricacies of the monster himself were put across very well too. It’s moments of horrific brutality; it’s moments of love towards the family whose home he hides in; and the moments of vulnerability where he pleads for his creator to build him a mate – a mate who won’t cower and scream at the mere sight of his face. Someone he can love — and receive love in return.

I can’t say that this is my favourite Junji Ito story, but nonetheless I thought he did a great job working within another writer’s world and the limitations that it can bring. His artwork is on point as always, with the depiction of both innocence and horror so expertly portayed, sometimes through the same character.

I’ve heard said before that if you are going to remake or cover someone else’s creation, whether a film, song or whatever, you should either strive to improve on the original or at least make it different. Whilst I can’t say whether or not he improved it, I do think he brought something completely different. Perhaps even bringing this classic horror story to the eyes of people who may never have ended up reading it — like me.

In Summary

Whilst I can’t recommend reading this version of Frankenstein before the original, nor should I, I do feel that it is definitely a Manga worth reading at some point. I’m not sure about any different experiences I may have had, had I have read the novel first. The big difference that does spring to mind is that all of the visuals would have been created in my imagination – making it even more scary perhaps?

But as a standalone horror manga, regardless of the source material, Junji Ito’s Frankenstein is a great read in my opinion and worthy of your time.

The Silent Scream (Hammer House of Horror episode 7)

The Silent Scream may be one of my favourite episodes from the Hammer House of Horror series. It doesn’t contain any deaths – not of people anyway – and doesn’t really have much in the way of gore. But where this episode excelled for me was on the psychological level.

Plus, escaped nazi war scientists always bring with them a particular brand of horror for me. Memories of American Horror Story‘s Dr. Hans Grüper.

Lay the right bait, and almost any creature will walk in of its own accord.

Martin Blueck to Chuck Spillers

Main Characters

What is The Silent Scream about?

Chuck Spillers, played by the excellent Brian Cox, is fresh out of jail and back into the loving arms of his wife, Annie – played by TV actress Elaine Donnelly. Whilst in prison he was visited regularly by an older man, Martin Blueck – played by the ever-charming Peter Cushing. Blueck would talk with him and give him money for his time. Although this initially seemed very generous, it is soon apparent that this was just bait; grooming him for what was to come later.

True to his word, the day after his release Chuck goes to visit Blueck at his place of work – a pet shop in the centre of town. He goes to say thank you to this old man whom he now considers a friend. Blueck then offers Chuck a job, only in a secret back area of the shop.

Chuck and Annie are reunited after Chuck’s time in prison

In the back is a large warehouse where Blueck keeps all manner of dangerous and exotic animals in cages. These include Lions, Tigers, Panthers and Baboons. What is perhaps more surprising for Chuck, is the fact that the cages all have their doors open.

Blueck explains his ambitions to create zoos without bars, where animals can walk freely and still be of no danger – something that Chuck sees the benefit in having just been released from jail. These animals have been conditioned to know that the open doors do in fact contain an electrical field that will instantly kill any who attempt to pass through. Only after the power is turned off, and the loud buzzer is rang, is it safe to briefly step out to get their prepared food.

Chuck dutifully tends to the animals each day whilst Blueck is away, as he is paid to do. However, Chuck’s attention is continually drawn to a safe housed in the wall on the second floor of the warehouse. He knows he has the skills necessary to open such a safe and obtain the potential fortune within. But his greed may well be his undoing.

Prisons without bars — my thoughts

Imprisonment is a big theme in this episode: Chuck has just been released from jail, where he found the confinement particularly hard to cope with; the animals being housed in their open cages with fear of death on exit in Blueck’s warehouse; and even the limitation of locations in the episode. For the most part we are either in the Spillers’ kitchen or Blueck’s shop.

On writing this it even occured to me that perhaps the prisons that these character’s carry within them are of importance too. The way that Chuck’s desire for more leads him to crack open the warehouse safe, causing his own imprisonment by Blueck.

Or even the way that Annie is still bound to Chuck with love, even after his greed and criminal actions lead directly to his being imprisoned. And her being bound to him, attempting his rescue, leads to her own capture by Blueck.

And finally Blueck himself. His desire to experiment on Chuck and Annie, to create a prison without bars, ultimately leads to the overlooking of his most dangerous captive animals – sealing his own fate

I found this episode to have a good amount of tension — the most poignant moment just has to be that scene with the puppy. Although not gory, it still manages to leave it’s trace across the rest of the episode. I didn’t find the lack of blood and conventional Hammer Horror deaths to be a thing I particularly missed either. I mean, a bit of gore can be fun alot of the time, but in this story the suspense and tension were balanced enough to carry it on their own.

The ending was suitably nightmarish for me, although I could see it coming a mile off. This was simply due to a previous scene with Blueck driving away from a location in his car. It was a shame, because had it have been edited in a slightly different way, I believe that the closing scene could have been much more of a surprise twist.

Summary

I loved this episode. The over-arching theme of imprisonment and being beholden to the desires we carry within us was an interesting one. Some of these episodes can be a bit hit and miss for me, but there are enough good quality episodes, like The Silent Scream, that really hit the mark.

I enjoyed seeing the legendary Peter Cushing in the role of Blueck. I was so used to him portraying the side of good, like as Van Hellsing in the Dracula films and Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles. So it was a real treat to see him in such a dark role.

(I know he played Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars too, but I’m only thinking of the more horror-themed films here)

Also Brian Cox playing Chuck Spillers. He has one of those faces that I knew I recognised – I just couldn’t remember from where. Then I read his filmography and saw, amongst many other entries :

1995BraveheartArgyle Wallace

Instant recollections of the opening scenes from Braveheart hit me. That’s where I know him from!