Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on November 21, 1931
Directed by James Whale
Written by Garrett Fort and Francis Edward Faragoh, from a play by Peggy Webling
Cast: Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, Boris Karloff, Dwight Frye, John Boles, Edward Van Sloan, Frederick Kerr, Lionel Belmore, Michael Mark, Marilyn Harris, Arletta Duncan, William Dyer, Mae Bruce
Herr Frankenstein was interested in human life: first to destroy it, then to create it. There you have his mad dream. And there you have the Universal horror thriller Frankenstein in a nutshell. So much has been said, written, imitated, and spoofed about this early cinematic look at the re-animation of human beings, it came as almost a shock to actually watch the original and realize what a wonderfully chilling and atmospheric bit of work it was.
It also made me wonder how unsuspecting audiences in 1931 might have reacted to the film, and to director James Whale’s opening salvo, which was quite a stunner: a man and his hunchbacked assistant first rob a fresh grave of its casket, then find a hanged man whom they immediately cut down…but are disappointed to discover that his neck is broken, and his brain is worthless to them!
In a way, this could be considered one of the first zombie movies, as the body of a deceased human (basically a corpse pieced together with spare parts) was brought back to life, only to wreak havoc on the terrified populace. The film was a mix of horror and science, with a theme of ‘man as God’ running rampant throughout, and which Whale enhanced with a sense of cold foreboding, disturbing images, and noir-like shadows and darkness.
Colin Clive played the scientist Frankenstein, Dwight Frye was his assistant, and Boris Karloff was the monster creation, and all three excelled in their roles. Of the many memorable and iconic scenes—including Clive’s energetic “It’s alive!” moment in the laboratory, the unsettling first appearance of the newly-awakened monster standing in a doorway, and the little girl with the flowers at the lake—I’d say the concluding sequence at the burning windmill was my favorite.
There, atop the creaky old mill, the monster had reached the apex of his existence: he was lost and confused, hunted down as if he were an animal, and was soon set-upon by the revenge-crazed villagers…a fiery nightmare scenario that, in the end, actually had you feeling sorry for the misunderstood lug. A true horror classic, with quite a few decent jolts, that still holds up remarkably well today. (8/10)