In 19th century Switzerland, Baron Victor Frankenstein is awaiting execution for the murder of his maid Justine. He tells the story of his life to a visiting priest.
At age 15, the death of Victor's mother leaves him in sole control of the Frankenstein estate. He agrees to continue to pay a monthly allowance to his impoverished aunt Sophia and his young cousin Elizabeth. Soon afterwards, he engages scientist Paul Krempe to tutor him. After two years of intense study, Victor and Paul begin collaborating on scientific experiments. One night, after a successful experiment in which they bring a dead puppy back to life, Victor suggests that they create a perfect human being from body parts. Paul assists Victor at first but eventually withdraws, unable to tolerate the continued scavenging of human remains, particularly after Victor's fiancée—his now grown-up cousin Elizabeth—comes to live with them.
Victor assembles his creation with a robber's corpse found on a gibbet and both hands and eyes purchased from charnelhouse-workers. For the brain, Victor seeks out an ageing and distinguished professor, so that the creature can have a sharp mind and the accumulation of a lifetime of knowledge. He invites the professor to his house in the guise of a friendly visit, but pushes him over the stair banister and kills him, making it look like an accident. After the professor is buried, Victor proceeds to the vault and removes his brain. Paul attempts to stop him, and the brain is damaged in the ensuing scuffle. Paul also tries to persuade Elizabeth to leave the house, as he has before, but she refuses.
With all of the parts assembled, Victor brings the creature to life. Unfortunately, the creature's damaged brain leaves it violent and psychotic, without the professor's intelligence. Victor locks up the creature, but it escapes and kills an old blind man that it encounters in the woods. After Paul shoots the creature in the eye, he and Victor bury it in the woods. However, after Paul leaves town, Victor digs up the creature and brings it back to life. Justine, with whom Victor has been having an affair, claims that she is pregnant by him and threatens to tell the authorities about his strange experiments if he refuses to marry her. He has her killed by the monster.
Paul returns to the house at Elizabeth's invitation the evening before she and Victor are to be married. Victor shows him the revived creature, and Paul threatens to report him to the authorities. The monster escapes up on to the roof where it threatens Elizabeth, but Victor arrives and throws an oil lamp at it, causing it to fall through the roof-light and into a vat of acid, destroying all evidence that it existed.
The priest does not believe Victor's story. When Paul visits him, Victor begs Paul to testify that it was the creature who killed Justine, but he refuses and denies all knowledge of the mad experiment. Paul joins Elizabeth, who is waiting outside, and tells her there is nothing they can do for Victor. After they leave, Victor is led away to the guillotine.
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