Notice I used the word “Frankenstein’s” in the title rather than “Frankenstein”. That’s because the monster actually has no name besides “Frankenstein’s monster”. The name actually goes to the doctor who created him. Or it.
Frankenstein and Dracula are two of horror’s biggest icons, both deriving from famous books with completely different authors. For example, Mary Shelley was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft who wrote A Vindication for the Rights of Woman. While Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, expressed rather sexist and unflattering views towards women in his most famous work. But enough about that.
They have both starred in their own brand of horror films, with famous actors such as Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Christopher Lee. Dracula strikes terror as the vampire half-man, half bat, who comes in the night thirsty for human blood. Frankenstein’s monster strikes not only fear, but repulsion as the hobbling zombie comprised of human organs. Both are terrifying. But they represent different kinds of fear.
Frankenstein’s monster is the classic story of the experiment gone wrong. He is a monster created by man. And then rejected by man. Like Quasimodo he is cast into the shadows and marginalized for his hideous form. And then he becomes the villain, stalking down his creator for revenge.
In Frankenstein, the monster is given a conscience. He is not the mindless, bumbling fool we see in movies and cartoons. He is very intelligent and can speak articulately. More importantly he feels the despair and the loneliness that comes with being a beast. He did not ask to be a monster, or make a conscious choice to become one: he was simply MADE that way.
Dracula, by contrast, in depicted as evil incarnate. He is a monster living inside what appears on the surface to be a man, while Frankenstein’s monster is a man living inside a monster. Dracula only exists to feed on the blood of humans, and must do so in order to achieve immortality. He is by nature a predator, someone to be feared.
Frankenstein’s monster, by contrast, is presented as someone to be pitied. He is shown as the victim, rather than the oppressor: a victim of circumstance. We are made to believe, in spite of his hideous appearance, that the “monster” has a soul, desperately longing to live in a world that reviles him. He wants true life for himself, which is what drives him in anger to take it from others.
Dracula simply seeks life from others. He does not do that out of oppression, but out of selfishness. He wants to sustain himself, not to live as a man, but to live for eternity as a god. And he will do it by any means, even murder.
Dracula is like a poison: sapping the life force out of all his victims. He kills them by draining them slowly, night by night. And he does it with no remorse. Unlike Frankenstein’s monster, he seems to have no origin. He is more of a mythical beast. Stoker uses Christian symbolism to illustrate his evil: the cross, its most notable icon, is something he fears. To Dracula it is like kryptonite, making him weaker the closer he comes to it. The use of religious imagery to ward off the vampire paints Dracula as a form of devil. Also, the depiction of sunlight as the vampire’s mortal enemy. Dracula becomes synonymous with the darkness through his aversion to the light: a metaphysical antithesis to the forces of good.
Frankenstein’s monster, on the other hand, is slave to the forces of man. He is not like Dracula, a monster independent of the circumstances around him. The circumstances are contingent on his being. They have molded and made him. He has not, like Dracula, chosen his monstrosity. The monstrosity has chosen him instead.
The monstrosity is apparent in Frankenstein, both physically through the Creature, and also symbolically through his creator. The creator, Dr. Frankenstein embodies a human folly: ambition. Unchecked, ambition can lead to dangerous outcomes, when man decides to reach for the height of gods. By engineering life, Dr. Frankenstein has reached beyond his right, with devastating consequences. Hence, the monster becomes apparent through human error.
Dracula, on the other hand, is a force beyond man. By nature he has engineered his own monstrosity, rather than having it thrust on him reluctantly. His quest is never vengeance, but eternal preservation. And because of that he is beyond redemption, beyond any morals or sense of reason outside of his own. He is truly absolute evil. And he is defined as monstrous, not because of the way he looks, but because of his monstrous actions.
Obviously that makes Dracula worse. And hella scarier, to boot, since he can’t be killed by regular means. Frankenstein’s monster ultimately turns to evil, but his story is much more tragic because he is driven to it out of despair, fomented by a lack of love. His fate has, in a sense, been settled against his will. He is a human mind living inside a body that can never be human. Dracula, by contrast, has never sought to accept humanity: only supplant it. And he does by robbing others of life, just to complement his own.