Everyone knows the story of Frankenstein. It’s a book adaptation written by Mary Shelley in 1818! 1818 for CRYING OUT LOUD! The movie story is about a scientist named Henry Frankenstein that is obsessed with the re-animation of lifeless tissue. Assisted by his hunchback Fritz, he embarks on a horrific scientific endeavor to create a lifeless man. They accidentally use a murderers brain which makes the monster abnormal and fierce; an out of control power house ignortto destroy anything in it’s path.
This is the last Golden Age horror film that will be on the list this year. So thinking of which one to choose was very difficult. Last year we went through Dracula and this year we already did Bride of Frankenstein and The Wolf Man. I love the Creature From The Black Lagoon but would like to keep that for next year. But then I thought, why not just start with the one that really pushed Golden Age horror into the spotlight? I mean, it is my favorite of all of the collection. After doing Bride of Frankenstein on day ten I felt kind of bad. How can I honor that film and not this one? So yea, let’s honor 1931’s Frankenstein!
The Mold of Frankenstein
If someone ever mentions Frankenstein then you automatically think of the 1931 Frankenstein film. Directed by James Whale and starring Boris Karloff, Colin Clive and Mae Clarke. Karloff’s portrayal set the standard in what the monster looks like and over eighty five years later, it’s still a staple of monster imagery. Some might think that this movie was the first of what is known as the golden age of horror, but it wasn’t. That title belongs to 1931’s Dracula. Dracula (starring the legendary Bela Lugosi) performed so well in the theaters that Universal quickly rushed to push monster films. The result would give us the wide array of Golden Age horror films. Following with The Mummy (starring Karloff), The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man (starring Lon Chaney) and the very last Golden Age monster known as The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Countless sequels and even mashups of “monster meets monster” style movies would be made. They eventually became overused and ended up killing the genre for a short while. Making way for the Silver Age of atomic monsters. It wasn’t until the late 50’s when Hammer films would reignite our classic monsters once more.
Not many people know this but Bela Lugosi was the initial choice to play the monster. He turned the role down because it offered very little dialogue for the creature. Lugosi deemed himself a true thespian and thought the role was beneath him. So the role went to Boris Karloff which would launch Karloff into a legendary status. One in which some believe made Lugosi jealous and causing a feud between the two horror icons. It’s very ironic that the role Lugosi would deny would be the one that was the most memorable of the Universal series. Later, Lugosi would finally don the makeup and monster persona in 1943’s Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. But the reigning title of the Frankenstein’s monster will always and ever be Karloff.
Make Him Pretty
Karloff worked with the makeup artist Jack Pierce for weeks before shooting. The hard work paid off as the image of Frankenstein would became an iconic symbol lasting through the ages. The flat bulging top of the head, with the deep set eyes and bolts protruding from his neck. It set the standard as to how Frankenstein would always be portrayed. The interesting thing about the monster itself was the makeup. It was actually a pale green color. It seems it was green on purpose because in a black and white film; it gave the skin a more morbid pale whiteness. I wonder if that is how the cliche green Frankenstein skin comes from?
From this point on countless movies were made that used the same iconic imagery. Even a television show called The Munsters was created in the 1960’s. The monster known as Herman was married to Dracula’s daughter Lily. They had a little monster kid named Eddie and Herman was modeled exactly like the Karloff creature. But Herman has the same exact hulking build and dare I say, childish temperament that Karloff displayed.
Then in 1974 the great Mel Brooks directed Young Frankenstein which spoofs the first three Frankenstein films. Peter Boyle played the monster and his appearance was also derived from the 1931 film. Young Frankenstein is probably one of the best comedies ever made and plays on the convention that the 1931 film made. It’s like the image of the monster is one that works for all generations. 1987’s The Monster Squad, perfectly modeled to the Karloff look! That is the power of the Frankenstein film. If you watch the movie Van Helsing or I Frankenstein and see the monster; it will only piss you off because it was such a terrible portrayal.
Not only was the 1931 movie a success but so were the two sequels titled Bride of Frankenstein in 1935 and Son of Frankenstein in 1939. All of which are just as great as the first. I might say that Frankenstein was probably the very first trilogy ever.
It is a magnificent film, probably the best of it’s day after King Kong. The setting is eerie and I love the sounds of the movie. Even the intro with Edward Van Sloan has this creepy feel to it. I wish horror movies had these kinds of introductions today. All we get are “This movie is based on real events” or “The following depictions are true.” That’s not scary! It’s dumb. Anyways, I love the German inspired expressionism and odd slanting architecture of the castles seem like cathedrals of darkness. Worshiping the ego of man’s attempt to play God. Instead of stretching for the heaven’s the scenery makes us feel like it is stretching for doom. This and the soft audio of the film. helps create the picturesque gothic horror elements.
I love the acting of this film. Even though Karloff was given the most praise for this role as the monster, one can’t ignore the amazing skills of Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein. His is the first depiction of the mad scientist and his “It’s alive! It’s alive!” line is considered the top one hundred phrases in all movie history. So please watch this movie, love it for it’s history. Love it for Karloff. A genius and an amazing actor. Love it for the thrill of horror and how being scared can be a good thing for everyone. Especially during this time of year! That’s why 1931’s Frankenstein is chosen for day twenty eight for Horror Movie Marathon.