As much as I enjoyed rereading My Sister the Serial Killer last week for book club, it does mean that I’m now a book behind for reviews. I didn’t want to post a second review of the book because my feelings haven’t changed much since my first read. I could have tried hard to finish my current read in time but, I’ll be honest, I spent much of the weekend playing Animal Crossing and was too busy collecting wood and catching bugs to be reading. So, it left me without a topic for today’s bookish. As it’s October, the scariest month of the year, I thought it would be fitting to discuss some of my top scary books. Disclaimer going in, I’m not much into the horror genre, so this is probably going to end up being massively underwhelming. I thought about including some examples of traditional gothic fiction but decided against it. Partly because I’ve already covered it. Also because they might not seem as spooky to modern readers.
Years ago, I started watching this film but, for reasons I can’t remember now, I never finished it. I also never went back to it. So, in an attempt to justify my Disney+ subscription, I decided to finally finish it. Plus, it seemed like a good companion for my review of The Willoughbys on Tuesday. The stop motion animation is a full-length remake of a short film that Tim Burton made in 1984. The earlier film got him fired from Disney because it wasn’t deemed suitable for a young audience. Of course, Disney changed their tune after Burton found future success as a director. They released his short for home video release in 1992 and as an extra with the DVD of The Nightmare Before Christmas. After signing a two-picture deal with Disney, Burton made a stop motion animation version based on the original film. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really think much of Corpse Bride when I watched that, which might explain my reticence to watch this. I love Burton’s style but sometimes his narratives can be a bit much. But, I can’t resist a good literary homage.
Like the original short, Frankenweenie is filmed in black and white. Mostly because the film is both a parody of and homage to the 1931 film Frankenstein. Meaning it’s based on the super popular gothic tale written by Mary Shelley in 1818. The narrative follows the basics set out by the 1984 short but with a few exciting embellishments. Victor Frankenstein is a boy without many friends. In fact, he only has one. His family’s dog Sparky. After Sparky meets a grisly fate, Victor has the idea tom reanimate him for his science fair project. The idea was given to him by his science teacher. Victor finds a way to bring Sparky to life but his fellow students find out about his revived pet. What will happen when they start to force Victor to give them the secret to bringing animals back from the dead?
Tim Burton wanted to make the original film using stop motion animation but it was seen as too costly. This time, he had the clout to get it done, so we get to see his original artwork come to life. Burton has always had a flair for the gothic and his designs here are glorious. The film pays homage to the horror films he loved growing up and there are plenty of references to catch. Victor’s science teacher, Mr Rzykruski, has been designed to resemble Vincent Price and one of his schoolmates is called Edgar E Gore. We always knew that Burton was a fan of the genre but this film is everything we could have expected. It’s made with love and care, which makes it impossible not to fall for its charms.
It’s not a flawless film and the ending does get a bit messy and muddled. I guess this is to expected when you make a feature film out of a 30-minute short. However, none of these imperfections is so bad that you can’t ignore them. This is a film that is full of energy and fantastic little details. This was a passion project for the director and the end result is a delightful one. The stop motion animation brings the story to life and the world Burton creates instantly draws you in. It’s not the greatest film that Burton has ever made but it doesn’t matter. It’s a lovely story that clearly meant a lot to its creator. And who wouldn’t relate to the story of a young boy desperate to bring back his childhood pet?
As a children’s film, this works on quite a few levels. It has some horror elements in it but there’s nothing too scary that a younger audience won’t be able to enjoy it. It’s got plenty of humour and happier moments to make sure nobody gets too scared. The story is pretty slick and doesn’t waste any time unnecessarily. It might not look the same as the rest but this is a classic Disney film. You could argue that Burton has reigned in his weirdness here, which is a valid point. But I don’t think that matters. This film wasn’t supposed to be about pushing things too far. It was about his boyhood love of horror films and presenting something that could recreate that feeling for a new generation of children. On that basis, it does exactly what it needs to and it does it really well.
As children we’re so often told that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. It’s a quaint little adage that I completely agree with when talking about people but not when talking about actual books. As any bookish person will tell you, you can very often tell whether or not you’ll like a book based on the cover art. I buy the majority of my books based on chance encounters in book shops. The typical romantic-comedy meet cute kind of thing. I walk into a bookshop, come face to face with something beautiful, everything gets a bit blurry, strings start playing in the background, I read the synopsis, we’re a perfect match, and we end up going home together. It’s a tale as old as time. And exactly what happened with the last book that I read. It was just your everyday lunchtime book shop browse and I fell in love. With a simple white cover with a black illustration. It was creepy. It was gorgeous. I had to pick it up. As soon as I read the word Frankenstein on the back I was doomed. I’d never read anything by Marcus Sedgwick but, if this cover told me anything, I knew this was going to be for me.
Before we get into the nitty gritty of this letter let me just say happy birthday. What a wonderful year; both of us celebrating significant ages. Your 200 does make my mere 30 years seem a bit trifling, so thanks for that, but at least you’re one of the few things that actually makes me feel young these days. And, let’s be honest, you look really great for it. If I look half as good when I reach my bicentenary year then I’ll be happier than a mad scientist bringing a corpse back to life.
Now, in relation to a lot of the books on this list, we haven’t known each other for that long. I think I first read you as a 15-year-old probably. I guess I wasn’t in a big rush because I’d seen so many hammy, black and white film adaptations. You see a big lumbering monster capturing women and fleeing from angry mobs with pitchforks a hundred times then you’re not necessarily in a rush to read the book. I expected you to be camp and overly kitsch. A bit embarrassing. But, thankfully, I was introduced to an English teacher who made me read you. And I’m so glad they did.
Let me be honest with you for a second; I’m a pretty bad bookworm. I don’t tend to reread books all that often. There are certain ones I make an exception for but it’s very infrequent. I don’t set aside a few weeks every year to read the same novel again and again because I love it so much. There are more than a few people who I follow on Instagram who will read the Harry Potter series at least once a year sometimes more. How can they do that to themselves? Do they not have a massive library of unread books to read first? And, really, I’m of the belief that too much of something is a bad thing. If I were to revisit my favourite books too often then I’d eventually hate them. And I already dislike most of the books I read these days. I’d have nothing left. So I tend to just fall in love with a book and deposit it safely on my bookshelf and never speak to it again. Well, I might occasionally stroke it or take it down to photograph it but I tend not to open its pages. It’s safer.
But you broke the mould. You changed the rules. You have the honour of being the book that I have reread most in my lifetime. Okay, so we’ve established that that’s not a very meaningful title to give, especially after I’ve just read something by someone claiming to have read you 50 times, but for me its huge. I’d love to say I did it off my own back but I didn’t. Nope, you followed me everywhere I went. I couldn’t get away from you. You were my Annie Wilkes. Every time I thought I’d got away you would come back in and cut off another of my feet with your axe. I read you for about 5/6 years in a row for my English studies. I started to think I was cursed or something. Every time, I thought to myself, there is literally nothing more I can get from this book but, every time, I was wrong.
You are so much more than the story of a man creating a murderous monster. Yes, you’re the grandfather of modern science-fiction. Yes, there is a lot of mythology surrounding your creation. Yes, you revitalised gothic fiction of the age. But you have so much more to say. So much to say about the human spirit, about science, about obsession, and about fitting into society. You were revolutionary. You changed everything. You changed literature. You changed me. I enjoyed every new read even more than the first time. I fell more and more in love with you every time. And I will continue to fall in love with you every time I read you.
You are a beautifully crafted novel and by someone so young. There is such heartbreak and pain within your pages along with such exciting prose. You are, to borrow a word found so frequently in your film counterparts, alive! I don’t think any book out there has made me feel so many different emotions every single time. You have created some of the most memorable and human characters I’ve ever read and are one of the most interesting books I’ve ever studied. You could debate on who the real victim of this novel is for years and still change your mind every other week. You were, most likely, my first introduction to proper gothic fiction and I’m sure you started my obsession, even if I didn’t know it at the time. You are a book that I will never get bored with and will recommend to everyone. You are everything.
I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine