Mary nudges me out of my normal way of seeing things by keeping me scared. I look because I search for a revelation of the "darklight" which will transform me, perhaps cause me to take life more seriously or value what I have. Without contrast, the ability to tell the differences between things, how can I detect good or evil? "Everything is beautiful," only when there are some genuinely ugly things to compare them with.
There is another way of reading or viewing horror which keeps us blind to the value of being horrified. Earlier I mentioned Nightmare on Elm Street. While it may have some value in clarifying adolescent transition, I consider it sub-horror or part of the "slasher" genre. Slasher enables us to see without recognizing ourselves at all. If we allow exaggerated savagery and blood lust to distract us from genuine fear, horror becomes vulgarity or stupidity. If we expose ourselves to monsters so hideous they become hilarious then horror becomes comedy. The film history of Frankenstein: or the Modern Prometheus is replete with degrading parodies on the original book. Film director James Whale and Boris Karloff may have started the trend in Whale's reinterpretation of Frankenstein in 1931. He made the monster into a grunting buffoon, so sub-human it couldn't talk, never mind quote Milton. Whale's version of the monster was used to demonize anyone who was of another race or ideology. The Creature was so unlike ourselves that when we looked at him we saw no correspondence, nothing of our nature.
There are some benefits in watching Frankenstein as comedy. By looking at a horrific scene-turned-hilarious, we give ourselves permission to laugh and not take our foibles quite so seriously. We project ourselves onto the screen and belly laugh at what would normally be enough to crush us. Better to titter at it, joke about it, and allow horror to creep part way up our throats even if only in the form of a joke. Better that than to not see horror at all, to live in the giddy bliss of sunshine with a heart full of malevolence. Young Frankenstein or Vampire in Brooklyn are perhaps our best bets when in need of this sort of horror fare.
If you are worried about "grossing the kids out," I have lately discovered that the PBS series Wishbone will introduce children to Frankenstein without terrifying them beyond their developmental stages. Wishbone is a little dog who enters the classics of literature in a way that children can understand. Surprisingly, Wishbone has entered Frankenstein in the episode called "Frankenpaw". Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson) and The Purloined Letter (Edgar Allen Poe), are also featured by Wishbone.
As you read the essays in our series on Frankenstein (coming soon), imagine yourself on holidays, perhaps around the campfire. In this way, you will be following the example of Mary Shelley and her romantic friends telling tales of horror and macabre. In the summer of 1816 they sought to open each other's eyes wide in horror and in transformation. Mary invites us to follow her: