A few days ago when my sister, Ann, convinced me that I had to play a role among all the other spooky characters on hand at The Times-Gazette’s haunted house attraction during Boo-Fest, I said I would be Frankenstein, my favorite horror character.
Ok, as a purist it is important to refer to Frankenstein’s Monster as just that, Frankenstein’s Monster, not Frankenstein. Frankenstein was the doctor, the creator. He was not the Monster. But for the sake of convenience and surrendering to popular vernacular, I will reluctantly refer today to the Monster as “Frankenstein.”
If I was going to do it, I was going to do it right, which meant not relying on some cheap or plastic Frankenstein mask. I went to Amazon and searched for the most realistic Frankenstein mask available, finding it from Universal Studios itself, the creator and holder of the original series of Frankenstein films.
It wasn’t just a generic Frankenstein mask, it was based on the likeness of the originator of the role, the great Boris Karloff. That made me happy because it meant that Boris’ daughter, the lovely Sarah Karloff, with whom I have corresponded over the years, would get a cut of the take. I was able to get the mask shipped in two days, and it landed on my doorstep late Wednesday evening.
The great thing about completing a Frankenstein costume is that the rest of it is pretty basic – just about any plain black suit and a dark t-shirt or sweatshirt under it will complete the proper look. Looking back, I’m not sure why Dr. Frankenstein dressed his creature so formally (at least he didn’t go all-out Bela Lugosi Dracula with a tuxedo), but hey, it’s become iconic. I added some monsterific Frankenstein-like hands – latex gloves painted with black fingernails, stitches – as a final touch.
So I was ready, taking my place near the end of the haunted house adventure, ready to send shivers up and down the spines of young and old alike. I imagined those poor brave souls snaking around one of the final corners of their terrifying trek and then gasping, perhaps screaming, and declaring in horror, “Oh no! It’s Frankenstein!”
In the dark now, I heard our first set of visitors enter the haunted house door. I heard screams as they encountered our first set of ghouls, the ghostly children, the haunted graveyard, the Invisible Man, Jason the hockey-masked killer with his bloody knife. Adults were laughing nervously, teens were trying to act brave, and some of the smaller children were whimpering with fear.
“Wait until they see me, the King of the Monsters!” I thought anxiously.
Finally, here they came. Parents with their little tykes, bravely trying to make their way out, praying to see the exit.
“Rrrrrrooooorrrrrrrrrr!” I exclaimed, suddenly stepping forward with my best Frankenstein growl and menacing arm wave, just like Karloff used to do.
And then a mom said to her little girl, who was whimpering from her previous encounters, “Oh, look, honey, it’s Frankenstein! You like him! Wave to Frankenstein!”
The little girl stopped and looked at me nervously for a second, her fear subsiding. And then she smiled and waved, as though she just spotted Santa Claus. I benignly waved back.
Well, that was an aberration, I was sure. Just wait for the next one.
But the next one came, and the same scene repeated itself. Over and over and over. After being truly scared by our other attractions, by the time the kids finally got to me I realized that Frankenstein was a relief, a friendly face in the dark crowd, a safe haven from the nightmares. I was Casper the Friendly Ghost. I was Ronald McDonald. I was a Walmart greeter.
Before long, I just gave up and decided to play the role. As hundreds of tykes, teens and moms and dads filed by, I extended my hand like I worked for the Chamber of Commerce, and the little boys and girls gladly shook it in return, relief etched on their tiny faces because they had found one friendly companion in an otherwise frightening labyrinth of terror.
About an hour into what had become my own personal meet-and-greet receiving line, one young mother actually leaned her head on my shoulder, patted my chest and said to her little girl, “Look, honey, it’s Frankenstein! Mommy likes Frankenstein!” Frankenstein smiled.
But the mom who really stole my heart was with a little boy who looked at me and said, “Look, mom, it’s Frankenstein!” His mom replied, “No, honey, it’s Frankenstein’s Monster.” What a lucky child.
Later, I sadly shared my experience with Ann and our other volunteers. They tried to console me. They explained that after years of being exposed to Franken-Berry cereal, the goofy Frankenstein-lookalike Herman Munster (one visitor had actually pointed at me and said, “Look, Herman Munster!”) and the latest Hotel Transylvania cartoons which feature a Frankenstein who is a lovable goofball, it’s no wonder kids aren’t scared of Frankenstein anymore.
And so, lesson learned. But maybe I shouldn’t be so dejected. After all, even Karloff himself used to say that he was always gratified by the fact that he received thousands of letters from children who sympathized with the Monster. They saw his goodness, recognized that he felt alone in the world and that his violent outbursts only sprang from rejection and his fruitless search for a friend. So maybe loving, rather than fearing, Frankenstein is how it’s been all along.
So next year, I’ll do it again. But this time I’ll be prepared. Hi, I’m Frankenstein. Wanna ride on my shoulders?
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.