The man who made a monster!
Year of Release: 1931
Genre: Horror/Science Fiction
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 70 minutes (1:10)
Director: James Whale
Colin Clive ... Henry Frankenstein
Mae Clarke ... Elizabeth
John Boles ... Victor Moritz
Edward Van Sloan ... Doctor Waldman
Frederick Kerr ... Baron Frankenstein
Dwight Frye ... Fritz
Lionel Belmore ... The Burgomaster
Boris Karloff ... The Monster
Dr. Frankenstein dares to tamper with life and death by creating a human monster out of lifeless body parts. But the Doctor's dreams are shattered by his creation's violent rage as the monster wakes to a world in which it is unwelcome.
Frankenstein, remindin' us that some people just aren't cut out for parenthood. I mean, if you're gonna bring a new life into this world, you've gotta have understandin', compassion, an patience. It also helps to not have Dwight Frye hangin' around wavin' torches in the face of your creation while it bellows like a wildebeest in labor. Granted, we've all been there at one point or another. We've all THOUGHT about wrappin' an oily rag around a broom handle, lightin' it, an puttin' the fear of God into the little monsters when they interrupt women's beach volleyball live from Palm Springs on ESPN4, but you never actually do it. That kinda parentin' leads to Menendi, or worse still; Jacksons. An speakin' of people who've had their skin turned stark white, last Saturday was the openin' day of deer season, so Cleave Furguson an I made sure we got ourselves up an around by 3:30 in the AM to hit the Make Love Not Whargarbl sportin' goods sale at 4 to grab some .30-06 shells an get out to Sumac Ridge to beat the rush. Course, Skunky Hernandez'd anticipated our need for venison eviseraters, ambushed us, an made us agree to help set up his Sage Maze before Halloween again. Well, I mean, he couldn't really MAKE us agree to it, but when Skunky's naturally occurin' fragrance gets amplified by the heat from the wood stove, it sorta seeps into your brain an makes everything seem like a good idea... which prolly explains that pink holster I ended up with that I have no memory of buyin'. Anyway, the mornin' was pretty well off to a great stop by the time we'd gotten outta there, but it takes more'n the threat of a criminal negligence lawsuit to put a damper on openin' day, so we climbed back in Cleave's crummy an took off before Skunky could ask us to renovate the second story on his house. Made pretty good time, an it was lookin' like we were still gonna get to our usual spot before the pansies on four wheelers showed up to scare off everything within' two square miles, when suddenly, it happened.
Cleave took his eyes off the road just long enough to get the re-airin' of Coast to Coast AM on the radio, when we came around a bend to find a 4-point buck standin' in the middle of the road dribblin' applesauce from an old fruit tree's droppins outta the corners of his mouth, an of course, froze to the spot like a lactatin' nipple to a chain mail bikini. I was checkin' the receipt from the shells (Clovis Skidman'd charged me $14.99 for a box instead of the $14.95 sale price) so neither of us saw it in time, an pretty quick four of the eight points on that booger'd sunk straight into Cleave's radiator an snapped its neck like a redneck's toothpick when Rush Limbaugh gets preempted. Pretty well drained out all the coolant an made drivin' a real bad idea, but that was only part of the problem, cause the horns'd gone clean through the back side an bent inward after gettin' stopped by the engine block. Naturally, Billy Hilliard'd wussed out on us an stayed home to wait for the postman cause he was expectin' his Best of Charlie's Angels DVD in the mail, otherwise he coulda pulled the beast from its twisted metal tomb no sweat. The other problem was that Cleave wasn't about to just saw off the horns, cause he's got a deal worked out with Saul an Blaine Schwartzberg where he pays a consignment fee to hang mounts on the wall of The Rural Mural an sell 'em to wimps who wanna impress their friends back in Salem, so we ended up guttin' it in the middle of the road an just sawed its head off at the shoulder. Unfortunately, the heat from the engine pretty well cooked its nose by the time we made it back to town, an in a terrible stroke of bad luck, we broke down right as we pulled into the Gas, Grass, or Cash 24-hour Fuel, Lawn Care, and ATM Station. That was right about the time we noticed the bus fulla animal rights activists from Seattle gassin' up on their way to the monthly hog sale over in Hoochstonk County (I guess there've been allegations of the bacon wranglers hittin' pigs with flyswatters to herd 'em into the auction arena), an it would seem that they felt our hood ornament was in poor taste, cause by the time they were done with Cleave's Bronco it looked like a Shetland Pony that was forced to haul Kathy Kinney up the burro trail at the Grand Canyon. Joke's on them though, cause I filled their second tank up with diesel while they were choppin' an moldin' the frame of the crummy, an there's no way anybody's stoppin' to help a rig with a "You wouldn't eat a fetus, so don't eat an egg" bumper sticker in that area, so I hope they all packed their Game Boys.
I sure hope Reverend Dollarhide never lifts the boycott on the website, otherwise people're gonna get the idea that I'm a big gossip. But why're we talkin' about hippies gettin' stranded when it's October an I've instituted a no stinker clause until Halloween passes? We got Frankenstein monsters to talk about here, decent Frankenstein monsters even. Not that Dracula vs. Frankenstein or Frankenstein Conquers the World nonsense, but the real deal Frankenstein from 1931 where Colin Clive crochets Boris Karloff together an melts into a puddle of babblin' goo after bringin' 'im to life. So in appreciation of Universal Pictures' willin'ness to take a chance on the horror genre, I've picked out a few eye openin' epiphanies from the classic era to instill in a modern audience. First, in the olden days, church bells rang all day long when somebody died. Which kinda made livin' next to one the historical equivalent of livin' next door to an airport. Also explains why Quasimodo's back was in such bad shape. Second, stone windmills are truly the classiest of windmills, as they allow space for a science lab, a dungeon, a study, an all the modern amenities necessary for a scientist of unimpeachable credentials to live luxuriously. An third, carryin' a dead six-year-old through the middle of a city wide celebration kinda brings down the party. But the thing I like best about Frankenstein is how it so succinctly summarizes why all these regulations we got on "proper labeling procedure" don't mean diddly squat. You know what I'm talkin' about, the scene where Fritz fumbles the normal brain like Michael J. Fox shakin' a magic 8-ball an ends up havin' to take Frank the abnormal brain? Seriously, the jar's clearly labeled; "abnormal brain, use for reanimation purposes at your own risk," yet, this apparently brilliant scientist doesn't even bother to check to see what he's got before he sutures that baby up inside Boris Karloff's overhead compartment. So if a neurosurgeon can't handle readin' a label, what hope is there for the rest of us? I think the only way to go is to use pictures. Ya know, like that sticker people put on their cleanin' products that has the real sour face with the Gene Simmons tongue stickin' out an looks like it just took a big bite of a haggis hoagie that didn't quite get all the intestinal content flushed out? As humans, we're pretty good with pictures, it's those dang WORDS that we can't really be bothered with. So I say we quit attachin' those "do not eat" labels on Ginsu knife sets an either start usin' little stick figures that're doubled over in terrible pain with blood spurtin' out from every orifice, or just stop gettin' in the way of the small business man. The free market an Charles Darwin can sort this situation out in no time if we'll just let 'em.
The movie begins with this graveside service for some poor schmuck who musta died from bubonic plague or eatin' British cuisine or somethin', while the grave digger kinda stands around tappin' his foot an checkin' his watch on account of 'im havin' a pretty busy schedule cause of the recent mad cow outbreak. So eventually the service ends an the gravedigger fills in the rot hole, an heads home to turn his socks inside-out to get all the night crawlers shook out before headin' off to his next job. Cept once he's gone, the Franken-man an his humpback male (Fritz) peek up from behind a nearby hill an start shoppin' for parts. Unfortunately, the guy they dug up graduated at the bottom of his remedial kindergarten class, so, much like a wealthy middle-aged dragon lady, they only want 'im for his body, an still need a scholarly brain to slap inside their monster's skull. That's okay though, cause Frank's all over this problem like an evangelical preacher on a transvestite hooker, an he sends Fritz into the local med school to bring back the brain of somebody with name recognition that they can use to get some decent grant money for a change. Unfortunately, Fritz fumbles the "normal brain" like a gold fish bowl that's just been Turtle Waxed an hasta take the "abnormal brain," even though it once belonged to Aleister Crowley an may cause its recipient to try sleepin' with anything that moves. Elsewhere, Frank's fiancee (Liz) gets a letter from 'im after four months of nothin' but carriages full of his dirty laundry that explains how he greatly appreciates the fact that she has virtually no self esteem an allows 'im to carry on his experiments in solitude with minimal naggin'. Course, Liz's gettin' just a tad bit P.O.'d about havin' to get 'er needs satisfied by objects from the produce aisle, so she gets 'er friend (Victor) to help 'er convince Frank's old professor (Waldman) to help 'em lure Frank back to civilization with promises of German chocolate an French prostitutes. Waldman figures he's prolly about the last guy Frank wants to see, bein' that Frank dropped outta med school due to the unavailability of upper-class cadavers an havin' been hung from the goal posts in his underwear by the varsity football squad, but he's kinda interested to see if Frank's resorted to collectin' jars of urine an wearin' Kleenex boxes on his feet yet, so he agrees to tag along. Meanwhile, Frank's out doin' science stuff in his super secret eco friendly wind powered headquarters, til Liz, Vic, an Waldman all show up an start scuffin' up his front door like Gandalf, an Fritz hasta yell at 'em to keep their knickers on an cut 'im some slack cause his hunch is givin' 'im a bad time today. So Fritz opens up the peep hatch an tells 'em not to come around here no more like Tom Petty, cept Frank can hear Liz's nasally whine from a coupla stories up an decides to let 'em all in before they die of pneumonia since that might prevent 'im from rubbin' their noses in his success.
Then he shows 'em his lab an puts the world on notice that God's more'n welcome to take a break, cause he's discovered the secrets to creatin' life AND a cross stitchin' method strong enough to hold rotten flesh together. They all think he's licked one hallucinogenic toad too many, but Frank's cool, he's confident, maybe even a little cocky, an once he an Fritz flick all the switches like they've got about eight invisible men strapped to electric chairs, they raise their anatomical cross section up to the sunroof an wait for a lightnin' bolt to give 'em the 1.21 gigawatts of electricity necessary to see if the bowels they burgled were empty or not. Then they lower it back down an notice the hand tryin' to relieve itself of the itchin' caused by all the chiggers rootin' around inside its body cavity, an pretty quick so much success goes to Frank's head that there's no room for any oxygen in there, an he ends up meltin' into a giddy puddle of raving egotism. The next day, Liz an Vic're over at Frank's Dad's place tryin' to convince 'im not to ground 'im for life, when the burgomaster shows up an demands to know when Frank's weddin's supposed to happen. The burgerman's P.O.'d cause he's got about 800 Mormons outside tryin' to get their group sex licenses, an Frank's procrastination's got 'im more backed up than Billy Barty after eatin' an entire block of Gorgonzola. Baron Dad tells the Burger King to bugger off, an his royal highness stamps his feet, flips his scarf over the opposin' shoulder, an tells 'im to have it his way. Elsewhere, Waldman's out at Frank's place gettin' a sunburn from Frank's afterglow an tryin' to convince 'im that havin' his grody toadie steal the abnormal brain from his classroom might not've been the best way to endear people to his creation, but Frank ain't sweatin' the small stuff. Then Frank decides to let the monster (we'll call him Boris) out of his kennel for awhile so he can try teachin' 'im some really lame tricks an take 'im on Letterman. Things're goin' pretty good, til Fritz walks in with a torch an gets Boris more rattled than a rat in a coffee can, an pretty quick the three of 'em hafta hogtie 'im an put 'im back in solitary. Cept then Fritz gets stupid an goes down to Boris' cell to make his displeasure at not bein' the only monstrosity in the house known, an when Fritz starts tryin' to light up Boris' life with the torch again, Boris gets P.O.'d an hangs 'im with his own bull whip. So havin' just lost the only lab assistant he could find that'd work for rat droppings, Frank concedes that maybe usin' the brain of Gilles de Rais wasn't the best possible option, an concocts a plan with Waldman to put Boris down an try creatin' somethin' a little less sacrilegious, like a nice craft beer, or a swing album.
Unfortunately, when they try givin' Boris his booster shot, he beats the crap outta Waldman an wrings Frank's neck like a wounded pheasant til the injection starts coursin' an Boris collapses like a lung at Vlad the Impaler's Dinner Theatre. Unfortunately, the timing is real inconvenient, cause about then Vic shows up at the door to tell 'em that Liz an Baron Dad're headed up the driveway, an the three of 'em hafta haul Boris' prone 400lb carcass back to his cell an hope he don't wake up. Which is damn difficult, but still easier than tryin' to pull off a Weekend at Bernie's skit with somethin' that heavy. Baron Dad's P.O.'d, an when he sees that Frank's digs're so pitiful that there ain't even a place to hang his hat or wash his monocle he orders Frank to come home so he can send 'im to his room. So now, Waldman's free to prep Boris for his deactivation surgery, only Boris wakes up before it gets goin', realizes he hasn't even gotten started on his bucket list, an puts the Vulcan neck pinch on Waldman's jugular til he starts makin' gurglin' noises like a backed up sink. Boris's had it with this place, an he decides to shake off the must of this no horse town an get busy livin' before anybody else tries to help 'im get busy dyin'. Some time later, on Frank an Liz' weddin' day, Boris is out sniffin' the daisies an generally makin' the most of his afterlife, when he runs into this little girl next to a lake who won't take "no" for an answer an gets stuck playin' House with 'er. Fortunately, due to the distinct lack of torches bein' thrust into his face, Boris finally starts to loosen up a little bit, only before too long the mortgage on their pretend house an the little girl both end up under water an... well, she swims about like a cinder block. Then Boris hasta fight his way through a buncha drunks who're celebratin' Frank's impendin' marriage, an once he makes it to Frank's place he pretty well crashes the party an mosta the valuables in Liz's room, before playin' 'er neck like an accordion an makin' a run for it when he's horrified to discover that not all women of the era simply faint when their lives're threatened. But back in the center of town we got bigger problems when the father of the drowned girl comes walkin' into town carryin' 'er bloated corpse, an the next thing you know he's standin' on the Burger Minister's porch demandin' the city ban water before anybody else dies needlessly. So the Burger Mensch comes out on the porch to find out who's got the cajones to interrupt his merger meetin' with the Wendy's girl, an when he figures out what's happened he gets P.O.'d an starts shoutin' "who's ready for some justice?!" til the townsfolk get fired up an armed for pitchforkery. Gonna cut it off here since there're so many people that claim to have seen it, but who've actually only watched the scene with the little girl an the "it's alive!" sequence. Cause who knows, they might wanna check out the whole Megillah someday.
Alrighty, well, of all the classic Universal monster flicks, this one seems like it should have the best possible premise for somebody that doesn't particularly enjoy the classics. But even on a subsequent watch, I still prefer Dracula, The Wolf Man, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon, if we're indeed considering that last one to be one of the classics. I think the reason I find it inferior is that Frankenstein's Monster, to me, comes off a bit wishy washy. Originally, it was supposed to be pretty cut and dry that the monster was evil and had to be dealt with in as harsh a manner as possible (this is obvious due to the fact that to start with, they'd cut out the scene of the Monster tossing the little girl into the lake, due to the him not understanding that she may not float quite like the flowers they'd previously been tossing). But then they restored the footage, thus making the Monster more sympathetic due it it being clear that the child's death was an accident. Even so, if we're to believe the phrenological diagnosis from Edward Van Sloan that the criminal brain has doomed the monster to evil, then there's really nothing that's going to change that, right? That's even beside the fact that he strangles Mae Clarke for absolutely no reason after breaking into her room (the other strangulations you could easily argue as being self defense) so, for me, that's a bit of a problem. I'm not saying it's problematic for a movie villain to be complex, like say Jigsaw from the Saw series, but when you've only got 70 minutes to tell your story, it's really a better idea to pick an angle and go with it. Dracula is evil, the Wolf Man is sympathetic, the Creature from the Black Lagoon is sympathetic, but Frankenstein's Monster is some unrealized combination of the two, and I think it hurts the movie. That's just me though, and I know that most people are able to overlook the Monster's transgressions and still consider him to be sympathetic, because there are moments where he absolutely is. Then there're other moments where he's not, and it kinda flushes his cred down the ole toilet. Interestingly though, after the success of Dracula, Bela Lugosi was originally contacted to play the Monster, having even participated in some early screen tests with the monster makeup. But Lugosi ultimately declined on the grounds that the monster never spoke, having apparently felt that playing a monster with no dialog wouldn't do much for his resume. Of course, that turned out to be a huge mistake, but despite the fact that I believe Lugosi was undoubtedly the better actor, I can't see anybody but Boris Karloff in this role, and I don't think it would have been as good as it is had they cast Lugosi. Really though, what I think of it isn't all that important, because the historical significance is through the roof on this one, and everybody should see it at least once regardless.
Okay then, let's get all the bits and pieces stitched together and see if we've got something masterful, or nothin' but a pan of leftover casserole. The plot is a classic, having obviously been adapted from Mary Shelley's novel of the same name. I think it's especially important to consider exactly how long ago the story was originally written, and remember just how little there was in the way of horror literature at that time when considering the worth of the movie's plot, because in doing so you'd have to concede that it was nothing short of groundbreaking. Of course, today it's been parodied and remade time and again, but that doesn't diminish the contribution it made to the genre, or negate just how gruesome a story like this would have been back in 1818. Heck, Edgar Allen Poe was only 9 years old when this thing was published, so I think a whole lot of credit is in order for Mary Shelley. The acting is not up to the high standard of Dracula, but Colin Clive and Dwight Frye are still very good. I think Frye is the better performer when given the chance, but given this particular script, it's Clive that receives the best opportunity to go completely scooters, and definitely makes the most of it. Karloff is adequate as the monster, but in all honesty, his only chance to shine is with physical acting, and there isn't much for him to do until the climax. The rest of the cast is fairly forgetable, but they at least let Mae Clarke scream a little bit, rather than instructing her to be silently strangled by the Monster like so many other movies of that era would have.
Here's who matters and why (less Boris Karloff): Colin Clive (Bride of Frankenstein, Mad Love), Mae Clarke (King of the Rocket Men), Edward Van Sloan (Dracula, Dracula's Daughter, The Mummy 1932, The Mask of Diijon, The Masked Marvel, The Monster and the Girl, The Phantom Creeps, The Black Room 1935), Dwight Frye (Dracula, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Dead Men Walk, The Ghost of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Vampire Bat), Lionel Belmore (The Ghost of Frankenstein, The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1939, The Vampire Bat, Son of Frankenstein), Marilyn Harris (Bride of Frankenstein), Ted Billings (Bride of Frankenstein, Tarzan and the Leopard Woman, The Body Snatcher, The Invisible Man's Revenge, Horror Island, The Invisible Ray, Condemned to Live, Murders in the Rue Morgue), Mae Bruce (Bride of Frankenstein, The Lodger), Jack Curtis (Son of Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein), Seessel Ann Johnson (Dante's Inferno 1924), Margaret Mann (Mystery of the Wax Museum), Michael Mark (The Wasp Woman, Son of Frankenstein, Return of the Fly, Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, Attack of the Puppet People, Phantom from Space, House of Frankenstein, The Ghost of Frankenstein, The Mummy's Hand, The Black Room 1935, The Black Cat), Inez Palange (One Million B.C., Monster from the Ocean Floor), Paul Panzer (The Return of Doctor X, The Walking Dead, The Black Cat, The Vampire Bat), Rose Plumer (Dead Men Walk), Ellinor Vanderveer (The Strange Door, The Beast with Five Fingers). So, a pretty good genre cast for the time, with only that rascally Francis Ford sneakin' out late at night to film "A" pictures with the likes of John Wayne when he portrayed Dan Tobin in The Quiet Man.
The special effects, well, it was 1931. Still, we've got the Frankenstein Monster, which for the time must have been amazing, and still comes across as well as you could expect for a black and white film. And actually, the black and white helps this flick a lot in terms of the aging process, because the Monster's makeup was a bit on the green side, and if that's how it was being shown today, people would laugh. So the monster still looks alright some 84 years after the fact. Other than the monster, you've really only got the jarred brains in the medical school lab, and some miniature work that doesn't make its appearance til the end of the movie. The brains aren't too bad either, and for 1931, the miniatures would have been spectacular. A little dated now, but I've seen movies that were made as late as the 1980s with worse miniatures than the ones used here, so there's absolutely nothing for anyone to be ashamed of in that regard. The shooting locations are mostly effective. The lab is fantastic, and has all kinda electronic gizmos, chemical beakers, and machinery that we can't possibly understand, and don't really care to, since the sole motivation is for it to look cool. The exterior shots of the village (as well as the cemetery in the opening sequence) are pretty good too, having been constructed on the Universal lot a few years prior for an unrelated movie. Sets were where Universal really distinguished themselves from other studios back then, because their sets were without exception fantastic. Unfortunately (despite the black and white photography helping a bit), the backdrops used for the opening and the climax are pretty bad, even if the sets in front of them weren't. The interiors aren't particularly interesting either, but then that's gonna happen when they're not really the focus of a scene. As for the soundtrack, well, 1931. The only bit of music is the extremely dated track that plays over the opening credits, which was basically a staple of horror flicks from that era. It's alright, but not nearly as fitting as the piece from Swan Lake that was used in Dracula. Really though, for horror movies of the 1930s, it's the sound effects that sorta take the place of a musical soundtrack in terms of generating atmosphere, and Frankenstein has some fairly good ones. We've got the thunder claps (one of the cardinal rules of horror is that the weather must always cooperate with the villain), the ominous church bells, and a whole lot of electronic whirring and sparking goin' on in the laboratory, all of which help out a great deal in the atmosphere department. Overall, I think the biggest reason why the later adaptations of Frankenstein were better than the original (you can count the one from 1910 as the original if you want, but I'm not) is that it was just way ahead of its time, due to the gross out factor involved. Overall, not my favorite among the Universal classics, but still exceptional for its day, and a must see even if only for the historical significance.