Frankenstein (1931)

The mad doctor’s lab.

It amazes me that I lived on this Earth for 32 years before watching the classic horror film Frankenstein. Much like my belated viewing of the Star Wars trilogy, which I didn’t see until I was 30, what I knew of Frankenstein the film came from a Mel Brooks parody. Blasphemy? Perhaps. Thanks to Turner Classic Movies for their Frankenstein/Bride of Frankenstein double-feature I was able to remedy this problem.

I was, of course, familiar with the novel Frankenstein, so I knew at least on some level what I was in for. It’s been long enough since the last time I’ve read it though for me to forget what is true to the book and what’s Hollywood magic. Anyway, you probably know the story – Henry Frankenstein is a brilliant scientist obsessed with the idea of reanimating dead flesh. His work is too controversial for the university, so he holes up in a castle somewhere and robs graves and gallows with his gimpy assistant Fritz, sewing all the best body parts from one corpse to the winning limbs of others. His father, Baron Frankenstein, and his fiancée Elizabeth are worried about him and so head over to his castle with the intention of bringing him home.

Abby Normal!

Boy, do they have bad timing – they show up during an intense thunderstorm, which is the perfect time for Henry to inject some electricity (in the form of lightning) into his lifeless experiment. Puzzlingly, he lets them in and allows them to watch as he animates the monster. After the monster is brought to life, Henry realizes he’s made a mistake and enlists the help of his old professor, Dr. Waldman, to dissect the monster and ensure he’ll never move again. Henry then leaves with his family, assuming all will be well. Unfortunately, when you leave an old man with a giant monster, the monster is pretty likely to win. He escapes and wreaks havoc on the countryside, reappearing at Henry’s would-be wedding party.

Karloff as the monster.

I really liked this movie, despite the fact it is utterly unconcerned with the details and logic behind the story. I guess that’s another characteristic of older movies I’m just going to have to get used to; the how is much less important than the what. I guess there’s something to that, when the What is a terrifying monster who throws children into lakes! I really liked the way Boris Karloff played the monster: angry, confused, sad and lonely, just as it should be (and done even better and with more depth in the next film, Bride of Frankenstein!).


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