Frankenstein is in the pantheon of stories like A Christmas Carol; It’s a Wonderful Life and The Wizard of Oz where they are constantly being ripped off through “homages.” There’s a reason why it’s so popular though. The rampant evolution of science has so much possibility for suspenseful stories.
In the story of Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein creates a monster to see if he can reanimate dead tissue. He doesn’t think very far in advance and after he is a success he’s left with a fully functioning person. Disgusted by its impureness, Victor hates the monster and that puts the monster in a position of horror. The biggest problem with this story is that Victor is an unlikeable dick. The variations are more effective if the hero/creator is sympathetic.
In Splice, the scientists are a married couple played by Adrian Brody and Sarah Polley. Here they are not seen as gods of their genetic creation, but as parents. As they flux between responsible scientists and humanitarians, they are always seen as trying to do the right thing. Until the last third of the film when it gets a lot muddier.
With sympathy towards its characters, the horrors that follow have a much stronger effect. I have only seen the David Cronenberg version of The Fly, but I like how he took the time to establish Jeff Goldblum as a person and his relationship to Geena Davis. This makes the film work as a tragedy because his metamorphosis is truly an accident. It is this element that decides whether the Hulk films work for you. Do you care about Bruce Banner or are those scenes getting in the way of Hulk Smashes? Same goes for the poor Dr. Jekyll. These films use human mistakes as a way to show science going wrong.
What makes these movies work is their potential to become realistic. We, as humans, are insanely ambitious creatures and it’s almost impossible to curb that progress. That’s why films dealing with artificial intelligence gone array are so popular. As the science catches up to Hollywood we may be in a world like I, Robot. Errr, bad example. How about the book I, Robot?
Having things go wrong is this cosmic way of keeping humanity in check. This is in the same vein as the popular plot conflict of man vs. nature. Jurassic Park is a wonderful hybrid of these plots. As Dr. Ian Malcolm comments “Life will find a way.” The “way” in this case is through human arrogance. The scientists on the island think they are able to contain the dinosaurs but they quickly discover that is an impossible task.
Being in the vulnerable or prey-like position makes for some great suspense. It is not just a random serial killer, but something of our own creation. The more technology evolves the more inventive the films can be especially with the right storyteller. At this point only a little is known about Inception’s plot but that seems like the next exciting entry in this subgenre.