Young Frankenstein

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1hr 56mins // directed by:Mel Brooks // featuring:Gene Wilder, Teri Garr, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman // 35mm

"Some varm milk…perhaps?” Director Mel Brooks turns the Frankenstein legend into comic gold in this inspired parody of 1930s Universal horror classics, filmed in gorgeous black and white and recreating in loving detail the look and feel of the original movies.

Young neurosurgeon Frederick Frankenstein (co-writer Gene Wilder) has spent his entire life trying to live down his family’s reputation by altering the pronunciation of his name (“That’s Fronkensteen”) and rejecting his infamous grandfather’s experiments in reanimating dead tissue (“My grand­father … was a very … sick … man). But when he is forced to visit the old family castle in Transylvania and discovers grandad’s lab journal (“How I Did It” by Victor Frankenstein), he embraces his destiny: to succeed where his ancestor failed. With the help of a salvaged corpse, a purloined brain, and an electrical storm, Frederick creates his monster (Peter Boyle) and brings him to life, with hilariously unintended consequences. Wilder is supported by one of the best comedic casts ever assembled, including Teri Garr as voluptuous lab assistant Inga, Marty Feldman as pop-eyed hunchback Igor, Cloris Leachman as fearsome housekeeper Frau Blücher (cue horse whinny), and the late, great Madeline Kahn as Frederick’s high-strung fiancée, who finds sweet mystery in unexpected quarters. Woof!

“Life! Do you hear me? Give my creation…life!" - Frederick Fronkensteen

Back in 1786, Italian scientist Luigi Galvani discovered that a frog’s severed leg muscles twitched whenever he touched a nerve with his electrostatically charged scalpel. Among those intrigued by his work in animal electricity was young author Mary Shelley, who used galvanism – the idea that electricity could animate matter – as the basis for her novel Frankenstein. Other scientists expanded on Galvani’s work, but interest in electricity’s regenerative potential fell by the wayside for much of the twentieth century.

Today bioelectricity research is alive and well at the Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology. You won’t find scientists there trying to harness the power of a lightening storm to bring a corpse to life – that’s for the movies. Rather, pioneering researchers like guest speaker Dany Adams are investigating how the natural electrical signals that are transmitted among cells help guide biological shape, and how these signals may be manipulated to generate specific organs and body parts. By tweaking bioelectric properties, Tufts scientists have prompted tadpoles to sprout new tails past the normal stage of regeneration and produced all manner of odd creatures: tadpoles with working eyes on their backs, four-headed flatworms, frogs sprouting toes at the site of an amputated leg. Applied to humans, these techniques could one day be used to regenerate lost limbs, replace damaged organs, repair birth defects, and more.

About the Speaker

Dany Spencer Adams, Ph.D., is a Principle Investigator at the Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology, part of the Biology Department at Tufts University. Adams is particularly interested in the biological process (called morphogenesis) that causes an organism to take shape during its growth from embryo to adult. Having studied the biomechanical aspects of animal development in graduate school, she now focuses on investigating how the electrical signals generated by cells themselves help initiate and guide facial formation and limb regeneration. Combining four-dimensional imaging with experimental manipulation of electrical signals using the tools of molecular biology, her work has, not entirely wrongly, been compared to that of Mary Shelley’s fictional character, Victor Frankenstein. Dr. Adams is affiliated with the EBICS program at MIT, and is a regular participant in the Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremonies at Harvard.