Boris and Jack's Undying Monster

It is a character that has been reinvented countless times but Boris Karloff's portrayal of Frankenstein's monster is still the most familiar.

When you answer your door to children in make up this Hallowe’en it is more than likely that one of them will have taken on the incarnation of Mary Shelley’s imagined creature.

It is a striking image that stands out from the other generic vampires, ghosts and witches and one that was invented by two men in Hollywood over 86 years ago.

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All these years later the word “Frankenstein” inevitably conjures up a picture of a tall flat topped lurching creature with a bolt through its neck and a ridge of ugly forehead stitches.

None of the other versions have stayed in the mind. It’s this one that everybody knows.

The monster who never seems to want to leave us was created in the early 1930s by Universal Studio’s make up genius Jack Pierce and applied to a softly spoken English actor called William Henry Pratt who then decided to give himself a more recognisable and sinister name - Boris Karloff.

It was an arduous and lengthy task turning Karloff into the character that would make him a household name. Starting in the hellishly early hours of the morning the construction took several hours to complete before the actor was led to the set to face a day of uncomfortable shooting without being able to consume solid food.

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Karloff, whose facial looks were perfect for the role, helped Pierce out by removing a dental plate to complete the dramatic and disturbing look which gave thirties cinema audiences sleepless nights.

After filming was wrapped for the day another couple of hours work was needed to remove the incredible collodion and gum creation before Karloff could return home. The same routine lay ahead the next day.

It was certainly all worth it. The Frankenstein series of films made by Universal in the 30s and 40s were hugely successful and Boris Karloff, who made three of them became a big star with a reputation as the consumate English gentlemen.

Jack Pierce’s make up work was showcased in a great many immortal films of the period including The Mummy, also with Karloff and The Wolf Man starring Lon Chaney Junior.

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Arguably he did not receive enough recognition but perhaps the ultimate honour is that every Hallowe’en we all dress in the monstrous style that he and Boris Karloff invented.

It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet.

It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

-Mary Shelley

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