The impression I get is that Fritz Frising, “The Headless Hearseman”, could happily start his day watching his 4-year-old son, Andi, put Band-Aids on his monster models’ ouchies, move on to a comfortable tea-time chat with a WWII veteran’s 88-year-old widow, then finish up late discussing deathrock icons in the heart of a group most men in their early 40s would go out of their way to avoid.
A blend of past and present, courtesy and peril, elegance and roughness, plus a healthy dose of talent, that’s how Fritz strikes me … much like Monstrology Models, which Fritz has resurrected.
Monstrology originally rose in the 1990s under founder Jon Wang. “I was a huge horror movie fan and Aurora monster model builder since I was a little kid,” Jon said in an e-mail interview. “At the Fangoria and Chiller shows of the late ’80s and early ’90s I saw incredible sculptures by guys like John Dennett, Thomas Kuntz, Yagher and Bowen and of course the Billiken stuff — and was inspired to start sculpting.
“I hadn’t really planned on starting a company, but things just spiraled and eventually Monstrology was born — the idea being the ‘study’ of these horror characters through sculpture.”
The company produced more than its share of early garage-kit classics, particularly a handful of figures sculpted by William Paquet, “who did what I consider to be some of his best work for Monstrology,” Fritz said via e-mail.[caption id="attachment_534" align="alignleft" width="360"] Monstrology Models’ Edison Frankenstein Monster, painted by Charlie Coleman. The figure was sculpted by William Paquet.[/caption]
Those figures include a John Barrymore Mr. Hyde, based on the 1920 movie “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”; Vincent Price as Nicholas Medina in 1961’s “The Pit and the Pendulum”; and Charles Ogle as the Monster from Edison Studios’s 1910 production of “Frankenstein”. Jon also sculpted his share of great figures, including the ape man from a lost 1927 film called “The Wizard” and Glenn Strange as Petro from 1942’s “The Mad Monster”.[caption id="attachment_537" align="alignright" width="150"] Miss Shock, sculpted by Jon Wang and painted by Rainer Engel.[/caption]
“It was satisfying to bring a project from something in one’s imagination to something 3D and all that went along with that as far as marketing and advertising — box art, instructions, etc.,” Jon said. “And it was fun to work with all the people involved in creating those projects — people like mold maker MP Stehlik, of course master sculptor William Paquet and graphic artist Rich Hilliard — who were most involved at least early on. Of course Fritz as well, who was initially a great supporter of Monstrology and then by way of our friendship and similar artistic visions became a collaborator — he’s also a huge Lugosi fan and that’s a passion we both share.”
Many of the characters were monsters — rough, slouching beasts of demented or evil intent — yet they were so artistically created that they helped set the high standard against which all so-called “garage” kits would be measured from then on.
Monstrology shut down about a decade ago, and Jon, a medical doctor, kept very busy. The kits grew ever more collectible, commanding big prices on the rare occasions they were available.
“I had fallen out of touch with the hobby and sadly most of my friends involved with it,” Jon said. “By way of the Internet and AFM my interests were rekindled and I suppose you could say I was bitten by the garage kit bug again. I ended up getting back in touch with Fritz and we basically picked up where we left off — since he was still involved in the hobby we decided to bring some of the Monstrology line back to life and Fritz has just released Paquet’s legendary Edison Frankenstein kit. This never would have happened without Fritz’s hard work and dedication to the hobby.”
So now, Fritz said, “I am at the helm of Monstrology. Call me nostalgic. Call me proud. I want to give something back to Monstrology, to Jon Wang, for the good memories, the great sculptures; the enjoyment of sitting with a wonderful casting of Glenn Strange, John Barrymore, Charles Ogle, or Wilfred Walter. Of making a monster and saying ‘life is good!’ ”
EDISON’S FRANKENSTEIN THE FIRST TO RISE AGAIN
Dr. Frankenstein’s creation was brought to life on film in the early 20th century, in a silent movie written and directed by J. Searle Dawley and starring Charles Ogle as the Monster. Never seen it? It’s not quite 13 minutes long and you can watch it free online, check it out if you have a few minutes.
Thomas Edison’s “Frankenstein” can seem ridiculous to the modern eye, jaded by bloody excesses of modern horror, but viewers with some imagination will find much about it to appreciate. The scenes in which the Monster is brought to life in a smoking vat while the mad doctor watches is a wonderful early special effects sequence. It’s so easy to figure out how it was accomplished: Dawley — who reportedly directed 149 films between 1907 and 1926 — set a mannequin on fire and filmed it while its “flesh” burned off, revealing a skeleton underneath. Then he reversed the film for the movie. A skeletal arm was yanked up and down with a wire, adding to the effect.
Again, yes, if you watch that scene with the intent of scoffing at it, it’s funny. But consider that it was done a century ago, before anyone had attempted anything like it, and you’ll appreciate it more.[caption id="attachment_539" align="alignleft" width="410"] Bill Harrison of Monsterscene magazine painted this Monstrology Frankenstein Monster.[/caption]
William Paquet’s Edison Frankenstein model kit, one of the more collectible Monstrology figures, was the first Fritz Frising reintroduced to the market.
“It’s always nice to see interest in older projects,” Paquet wrote in an e-mail. “I’m often surprised at the degree of interest in my older work, because for me once the work is done it’s in the past. It’s cool, though, to see the legacy of what I have done and see people still appreciate some of it.”[caption id="attachment_545" align="alignright" width="135"] Charles Ogle’s Frankenstein Monster was the first celluloid version of the creature. Monstrology kit painted by Bill Harrison.[/caption]
William’s Monster, like so many of his works, is striking. The figure’s hair is wild, eyebrows painted on, his expression so over-the-top, and the clothing … let’s be honest, the creature’s costume is ridiculous! Or, it should be, anyway. I mean, he’s wearing what looks like a ragged shirt that hangs about as long as a miniskirt, with a rope wrapped around his shoulder and waist. Bandages wound up his legs look like nylons. The bandage on his head. It shouldn’t work.
But it does. It really, really does. Why? Is it the character’s posture? The way he’s holding his hands? The pathos showing through that crazy expression? Probably all that and more.
I asked William how he thinks his Monstrology sculptures compare with his more recent works.
“It’s impossible to be objective about this,” he said. “I can say truthfully that were I to sculpt these figures today, that the work would be a lot better, but that’s because more than a decade has passed since I sculpted them, and they were done very early in my career. However, even though I can look at them now and see where there are things I would do differently, they hold up better than I would expect them to after all this time.”
I first interviewed William for Resin the Barbarian in summer 2006, shortly after his Nosferatu bust became available from Tower of London. Another silent-era classic. Is he still interested in similar subject matter?
“Yes. The problem with any of this stuff is time. I would love to tackle much more from the era than I have, but I also have other subjects I like and other things to do. As well, Thomas Kuntz has done such a stellar job on the pieces he has rendered that it would be hard to top his efforts. I would like to tackle ‘The Man Who Laughs’ someday, but the bar is so high with Tom’s that it’s almost pointless.”[caption id="attachment_558" align="alignright" width="400"] John Barrymore as Mr. Hyde, a highly prized, newly reissued Monstrology kit sculpted by William Paquet. This is Rainer Engel’s buildup.[/caption]
MORE MONSTROLOGY FIGURES ON THE WAY, PLUS A NEW BASE[caption id="attachment_566" align="alignleft" width="175"] Black Cat Resin’s door base was sculpted by John Comito. It measures about 20 inches tall, 14 inches wide, 8 inches deep.[/caption]
Now that the Edison Frankenstein is reaching hobbyists, Fritz is rolling out the ape man from “The Wizard” and taking preorders for the Barrymore Hyde, with a new door base by Fritz’s “Brooklyn buddy” John Comito.
What comes next? Will Fritz be able to reissue the entire Monstrology series?
“Three of the old kits were sold to Vin Bordagna,” he said. “Zacherley, Prince Randian and Paquet’s zombie rising from the grave. These remain property of Vin’s company, Resin Crypt. I am speaking to Vin about getting Zacherley back into the fold. To me it is important that all Jon Wang’s classic horror sculptures are part of Monstrology.
“There were a few ideas that never saw fruition, and only time will tell if a 1:6 scale bust by Wang, or a full figure of one of our beloved iconic characters, will be added to the line.
“As far as a timeline, there is none. Those kits that have molds can be made available fairly easily. I am using the sales of these kits to fund the molds on the reissues.”
Fritz isn’t working on this alone; he has help from an old friend.
“I am involved with the hobby in a minor support role for Fritz in helping to bring back some of the Monstrology line,” said Jon, Monstrology’s founder. ‘I have started sculpting again, which has been satisfying, but have no firm plans to
release anything at the moment — time will tell.”
LET’S RECAP A FEW POINTS
Writing about the Monstrology kits is easy. All I had to do to focus myself was scribble a few bullet points. Why do I like the kits?[caption id="attachment_570" align="alignright" width="150"] The Ape Man, sculpted by Jon Wang and painted by Rainer Engel.[/caption]
— They’re extremely well sculpted, with terrific likenesses of people I know little about, and wonderfully posed.
— While I’m not always familiar with the specific subjects, I’m very familiar with many of the characters. It’s not Boris Karloff or Fredric March, but the images of Charles Ogle’s Monster and John Barrymore’s Jekyll/Hyde have been reflected in countless movies since.
— Until recently, the Monstrology kits have been scarce. And given that few garage kits ever reach really large runs, they’ll someday be scarce again.
— My favorite Monstrology kits speak of a simpler, purer form of creativity. There’s no CGI in these films, most aren’t even in color. The silent-movie characters in particular reflect an art form that existed for only a few years, and then was gone. Kind of like many garage kits.
Yep, it’s easy for a hobbyist like me to write about Monstrology. But Fritz Frising … he’s a challenge. Why? Because he’s much too interesting, and so it’s impossible to encapsulate all the interesting points in a hurry.[caption id="attachment_574" align="alignright" width="326"] Fritz and his son, Andi, in October 2006. “I had no idea just how much joy he would bring into my life,” Fritz says. “He has a great wit, charm, and he’s polite!”[/caption]
FRITZ FRISING, A.K.A. ‘THE HEADLESS HEARSEMAN’
Fritz is a 42-year-old resident of Suffolk County, Long Island. He’s divorced and has a 4-year-old son. In addition to “The Headless Hearseman”, he’s also known as “Boiling Mad” (one of the “Mad Geppettos”), “Fritz die Spinne” (mostly in music collecting circles) and some may still recall his earliest incarnation, “Vampir Unlimited”.
His day job is with S.E.T., distributing silicone, epoxies, resin and related items to electronics, artists, prototyping and modeling industries.
“Because of the hobby I secured a part-time job with my resin distributor a few years back,” he said. “It turned full time and has been a great learning experience. I’ve learned a lot from my customers, and have been able to turn a lot of that back into the hobby. I enjoy what I do there, and often get to see artwork, molds, castings, and an array of materials in use when I deliver to various studios.”[caption id="attachment_578" align="alignleft" width="150"] In real life, it’s unlikely you’d find an armadillo wandering a Transylvanian vampire’s castle.[/caption]
The Monstrology revival is his latest effort at producing garage kits, but it isn’t his first. He has, in fact, made quite a few things over the years and more is in the works. Check out his website for information about those. I get a particular kick out of a 1/6 scale armadillo he offers as a Dracula kit add-on, a nod to the armadillos seen lurking in the Lugosi Dracula’s castle in Tod Browning’s 1931 film.[caption id="attachment_580" align="alignright" width="176"] Fritz’s Janus Dracula was pictured on the cover of the Fall 1999 issue of Kitbuilders.[/caption]
Fritz is a big fan of Bela Lugosi, as evidenced by his article about Lugosi figures in the Fall 1999, No. 32, issue of Kitbuilders Magazine. Fritz’s buildup of Janus’s deluxe Dracula kit also graces that magazine’s cover, and he wrote an additional article about the history of Janus for that issue.
The Headless Hearseman has a great reputation for his name plates to fit a range of subjects. Anyone interested in a plate to fit a classic horror kit, or just about any other fantasy kit, should check Fritz’s site to see if he has one already. If he doesn’t, he might be willing to make one.
There’s so much more about him to know, so I’m going to try to let Fritz tell some of it himself:
Resin the Barbarian: Would you please summarize your experience as a kit hobbyist, then as a kit producer?
Fritz: Where to start? I guess I am an Aurora kid who got started on kits at age 5 with my older sister and my dad. The classic horror films such as “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” impressed my dad in their initial run in 1931; we watched all manner of classic films on rainy days when I was a lad.
By age 12, collecting WWI and WWII memorabilia from family and friends had helped lay monsters to rest, somewhat, and I am a music-obsessed punk rocker through most of my mid- to late teens, which diversified my interests somewhat.[caption id="attachment_582" align="alignright" width="591"] Faces of Fritz: These are some photos of himself that Fritz shares on his MySpace page. Fritz enjoys MySpace, he says, because he can share his love of music there.[/caption]
In 1992 I am reintroduced to model kits after seeing them displayed by a friend’s brother, a former Hollywood SFX artist. I watch German silent horror and Universal films in this period, in part because many of these images are used by gothic bands like Bauhaus and The Screaming Tribesmen. The move into the monster hobby and model kits is a natural move because of this. I tend to think of myself as the first true goth at the Chiller shows, before the mid-’90s flood of goth into mainstream youth culture.[caption id="attachment_606" align="alignleft" width="259"] Fritz’s Goth Fink, a self-portrait.[/caption]
My love of the silent horror and gothic themes, the early Janus Co., Resin from the Grave, Jeff Yagher, Necronomi, Artomic and other kits of the time paved my way for friendships with people like John Ulakovic, John Dennett, and Thomas Kuntz (I have No. 13 of some of his most notable horror figures like Vampira, Man Who Laughs, and others). I’ll presume most people can pair up a few kits to these names, or even their respective company names, so I won’t babble further.
I also became friends with a fellow who was producing garage kits of subjects that fit right in with Chiller Expo and the Artomic Creations kits I own. Jon Wang is a medical doctor with a passion for the classic actors, and his releases under the banner Monstrology Models really spoke to me. Jon was sculpting figures of really cool-looking horror characters I’d never heard about. He made me want to dig deeper into the unknown and ofttimes unnoticed characters from “Poverty Row” films. At this time even a VHS tape of many of these films is a hard-to-find commodity.
Around 1993 the Monstrology connection starts to unfold.
Early on I started painting for other collectors, and even companies like Janus. Sometimes I’d do a custom base if the kit did not come with one. I have some paint-ups in the Ron Chaney home; Sara Karloff and Bela Lugosi Jr. also have kits I painted. Some big collectors (I won’t bother with more name dropping) have anywhere from one to a dozen kits I’ve painted. A Hollywood writer and collector has dozens of Chaney and Karloff kits that I have built for him, as well as the early Artomic models and, once again, Monstrology.
When Jon did the Human Monster kit, he asked me to sculpt one of my custom bases to help give a setting for the blind henchman, Jake. That was my first involvement in doing something for a garage kit that would be produced and sold.
Soon after, I was making some bases for another friend’s company, Supporting Castings. Simple but effective renderings of floors, steps and the like. I guess I have tweaked a few of the sculptures produced by SC, which was a rigid fan-driven endeavor by collector Bob Wallets. This was all circa 1997-2000, commingling with some projects of my own.
RtB: You were not active as a kit producer for a while, perhaps a few years, although I don’t think you ever stopped making nameplates. Recently you’ve revived some of your old kits and have started working on some new originals, plus you’re reviving the beloved Monstrology line. What made you decide to jump back into production with such gusto?
Fritz: Well, first off I dabbled under what I now consider to be a poorly chosen name that first served me as a kit painter — Vampir Unlimited — with a set of Dracula diorama accessories (bats, an armadillo and name plate) and a couple of 1:4 scale busts circa 1998-1999.
By the early 2000s I had a scale doorway base reproduced in resin for 120mm figures. And I started doing some assorted nameplates just because I needed them for some stuff I had, and my local Brooklyn buddy John Comito would get me fired up to do a plate for his latest diorama. Eventually I just started offering more and more of these to model collectors. Plates sort of became “my thing” since 2004 or so… They were something I could design, have etched, and easily mold up.
I think the nameplates are great because they give folks a chance to tell more of a story if they wish. Make their model appear like a lobby card or poster. And best of all I get to contribute to some amazing work by my favorite sculptors just because a collector decides one of my nameplates would finish off a figure display that they make.[caption id="attachment_608" align="alignleft" width="380"] For Zacherley’s 90th birthday in 2008, “Mad Geppettos” Scott Whipple (“Mad One”) and Fritz Frising (“Boiling Mad”) presented Zach with a Mad Geppetto Creation. The figure was very well received, with Zach saying it is “the best figure” he has seen done of himself. He quite liked the coat and pants, complete with grave dirt. He looked forward to dressing in character and walking up and down his street with the figure, claiming it was his child. Photo from madgeppetto.com.[/caption]
RtB: Your creative endeavors have apparently put you in contact with many interesting people over the years. I found a photo of you with Zacherley on the Mad Geppetto site. Can you name some others?
Fritz: I could list guests of Chiller and other shows, amazing musicians few would know or care about. Perhaps the most influential there would be Deathrock icon Rozz Williams. But to me the most interesting people come from the hobby.
A short, favorite story involves one of my best friends — Nightmares In Plastic’s Rainer Engel. This is at a Chiller Expo with several of his traveling countrymen in the early 2000s. I was speaking with him in the lobby on Saturday night, surrounded by the likes of Robb Rotondi, David Grant, Mike and Danya Parks, Sean Nagle, Danny Sirocco, John Diaz — you get the idea. Rainer turns to his friends and me with some awe in his voice, says “Look at this — Ve are in the presence of American Garage Kit Royalty!” naming the names, and even including me in his praise.
The fact that I take all these folks for friends and my association for granted (in a good way) is what matters. Despite distance and lengthy silence at times, I count Thomas Kuntz a great friend, and John Dennett, who has been MIA in the hobby for some years. There are many others, but I feel the more I mention the more I will leave out…
[caption id="attachment_610" align="alignright" width="300"] Fritz in the Old Dutch Church Burying Ground. Sleepy Hollow, October 2004. Photo by Jörg Buttgereit, German filmmaker.[/caption]
RtB: What about places you’ve visited? The photo you seem to use most often was taken in Sleepy Hollow?
Fritz: Ah, my favorite area is along the Hudson River heading up higher into New York. One day I hope to live up that way, and maybe open a shop.
I guess I’ve lived and traveled a lot of Long Island up to about age 33, and spent almost six years living in Brooklyn. I’m back on Long Island after an unsuccessful relocation to Virginia that lasted 11 months, but am glad to put that chapter of my life behind me.
As a history buff, I find almost anyplace interesting. My job takes me around a lot of Brooklyn and Queens to art studios. As a 12- and 14-year-old my mom took me on a few trips to Europe, seeing parts of Hungary where her family hails from, as well as Romania, what was then Yugoslavia, Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands.
RtB: The character color guide from your old Vampir Unlimited site has been cited again and again as a valuable resource for painters trying to interpret black-and-white subjects in color. How long did it take you to put that together? What sources did you use?
Fritz: So much of my original notes on that are gone — I wish I’d kept them. Basically a few assorted fact-finding missions starting around 1993 when I got my Billiken Dracula and knew I’d seen his eye color in a questionnaire in an old Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. Made sense I should go the same route doing eyes on other characters, and much of what I have on my web page is just expanded upon five or six years of collected data.[caption id="attachment_616" align="alignleft" width="150"] Fritz produced this Elephant Man statue on behalf of a friend. The intention is to market it prepainted, but it is currently sold as a kit.[/caption]
I did get to talk to people who knew some of the actors, had color photos, or had seen some costumes. Actor bios and knowledge of costume helped flesh out more. There you have it.
RtB: From what I can tell through various sources, in addition to classic fantasy and horror, you are interested in WWI and WWII insignia, patches, movies in general and “Night of the Hunter” in particular, and of course music. I’m not sure if you’re a big reader, but I see that “Dracula” and “All Quiet on the Western Front” are your favorite books. Which of these interests would say occupies you most?[caption id="attachment_612" align="alignright" width="200"] Dracula’s Daughter, a bust produced by The Headless Hearseman.[/caption]
Fritz: Among my best friends are twins and their older brother — we are family. Our military collection was a common bond, and when I had to move into a small flat I merged my sizable collection with theirs. Like all friendships, diverse interests broadened horizons. To varying degrees among us we shared Rat Finks, vintage cars, movies, superhero kit conversions, home repair, new wave clubbing, record collecting, and all manner of fun that just played a big part in all our lives.
I haven’t the time to read what I’d like, but I have a sizable collection of bios and books about horror actors and films. I might not think to read much on WWII anymore, but if I see a book on Pete’s shelf and he says I’d like it, I’ll read it. If Tim and his wife are enjoying surf music, I’ll hunker down with some new sounds, and find some new surf music for them. And when I go by the family homestead, Charlie Sr. and Marjorie — my second parents — are yet another pair of grandparents to my son.
Boy, did that not answer your question! I guess I’m as interested in Rat Rods these days as I once loved to read about U.S. paratroops. Or a bio on silent film star Gloria Swanson as opposed to the latest “sequel” written to “Dracula”.
I guess at different times I have reread “Dracula” every year or two, and “All Quiet on the Western Front” has caught me four to five times since age 12. I have first German and American editions of it, and have been an avid book collector for years. I must have 60 editions of “Dracula”, mostly pre-1950 hardcovers, and some foreign editions. Oh yeah — I love horror photoplays and have nearly all the major Universal horror film book editions, “King Kong”, “Faust”, assorted Lugosi film tie-ins, and then some.
I don’t think I focus more on one hobby or collection than the next. Though I guess music is always a constant — it can be played almost anywhere and any time I want, and I am always learning about a great band that I missed 20 years ago! I have a few hundred LPs left at this point, and well over 4,000 CDs.
RtB: You have a 4-year-old son who is plainly very important to you. How do you share your interests with him? What interests has he shared with you?
Fritz: My Andi is amazing! I had no idea just how much joy he would bring into my life. He has a great wit, charm, and he’s polite!
“Please Plesiosaurus” he asks when he wants something — an avid dinosaur fan for over a year now. Here was my chance to introduce him to kits, which he loves. Reissues of the same kits I built with my dad. He even took a liking to a Frankenstein kit — he learned the main monster characters in a matter of days after asking just once looking at my autographs on the walls. He now points them out when he sees a similar kit or photo elsewhere.
I’ve put some of his drawings of Transformers and volcanoes over the scarier characters on my walls, but he seems more afraid of some “normal” stuff that he has seen on TV — including kid shows like “Dora”.
I won’t push my interest on him, but I’ll show him the way if he expresses interest. I’m just thrilled to be a father, and the fact that my son wants to do things that I did with my dad makes me endlessly happy.