Posts Tagged ‘James Whale


The Invisible Man (1933)

invisiblemanposterWhile I would undoubtedly call myself a fan of horror films, I am by no means an expert. There are many, many holes in my horror knowledge, in part because I got started late, and in part because there is just so much stuff out there. The good news is, every year has an October, and October is just the perfect time to fill in some of those holes. When thinking about which movies to pick for 31 Days of Horror this year, James Whale’s The Invisible Man was one of the first to spring to mind.

Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) is a dedicated scientist working under Dr. Cranley’s tutelage. He and his colleague Dr. Arthur Kemp both have taken a shine to Cranley’s daughter, Flora. It seems as though Flora and Griffin have a thing going on, but even so, he can’t help but feel inadequate. Compared to Kemp, he is poor, and worries that he won’t be able to adequately provide for Flora should they ever marry. This is probably only part of Griffin’s motivation for perfecting a serum that turns him invisible, thereby giving him incredible power and the ability to take over the world!

Well, it's tough to eat through all those bandages.

Well, it’s tough to eat through all those bandages.

The only trouble with the serum? He can’t perfect the antidote. So he moseys on over to an inn during a snowstorm and demands a room. The crowd there is a little taken aback, and Jenny Hall (Una O’Connor) the lady of the establishment doesn’t quite know how to deal with his temper, or the fact that he’s covered in bandages. But they leave the man to his work for a few days. But he is soon behind on rent and still hasn’t figured out the antidote situation. Here, Griffin’s anger gets the best of him, and he storms out of the place leaving a few poor, injured souls behind.

So, he goes to the only place he can think of for help: Kemp’s home. But rather than being apologetic and asking for help, Griffin threatens Kemp if he doesn’t do as he says. Kemp tries his best to get Cranley and the police involved, but they are no match for a crazed, arrogant invisible man. Or are they?

Una O'Connor has no idea what to do with this invisible man!

Una O’Connor has no idea what to do with this invisible man!

This movie is so much fun. I should have known; everything else I’ve watched by Whale has had both a darkness and a sense of humor about it, and this film is no exception. Dr. Jack Griffin is only slightly sympathetic; only in the scenes with Flora where we see his vulnerability to we feel anything like pity towards the guy. The rest of the time he is incredibly bombastic and pompous, which leads to a lot of hilarious moments, frankly. But the best and funniest moments are those with Una O’Connor, who also delighted me in Bride of Frankenstein. While I guess you could call her performance a bit over-the-top, I think it definitely adds to the air of incredulity that’s already present in this film. I mean, how would you react if there was an invisible man running about?

But aside from all that stuff, what’s really impressive to me here is of course the special effects. Sure, you can see a wire here and there, but that’s not the point. Nor does it detract from the ultimate effect: it really looks like that bike is riding itself, for instance. I’m no expert in the evolution of movie effects, but I know that what these guys did here was really damn impressive for 1933. Hell, it’s impressive to me even

The Invisible Man taunts his victims!

The Invisible Man taunts his victims!

today. I could take a million stills from this movie that made me say “wow, that looks so cool!” Just knowing how hard the effects crew must have worked to make the film look this way leaves me super impressed with the final output.

So, yeah, The Invisible Man is funny, impressive and also quite scary, when you think about its implications. As I’m sure I’ve said before, sometimes old-timey flicks are a hard sell for me. I typically have difficulty getting into the brains of characters from older movies, especially the female characters. Sure enough, Flora the love interest is just about as damsel-in-distressy as you’d expect from a 1933 flick. Even so, the insertion of humor in this movie really helps alleviate some of those issues for me. The lightened tone is a good reminder that not everything is so darn serious, and doesn’t have to be read that way. If you’re a horror fan, I definitely recommend this. A great watch!


The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

The Bride

Much as Shelley Long famously pondered in Troop Beverly Hills: “What goes better with Hobos than wine?” I wondered: what goes better with Frankenstein than Bride of Frankenstein? The answer? Well, nothing!

I love Halloween for many reasons, but my favorite aspect is the privilege of seeing old horror movies in the theater. As with the original classic Frankenstein, I’ve never seen its sequel Bride of Frankenstein. The film pretty much picks up where the last one left off: we’re made to believe the monster has died in a fire, but we find out pretty quickly that’s not the case – it’s alive and even angrier than before.

Henry Frankenstein vows to destroy his abomination, until the strange Dr. Pretorius arrives on his doorstep insisting they not only foster the education of the monster, but create a mate for him! Henry can’t fathom the idea, but the strange doctor convinces him to come to his laboratory, where he shows him his very own creations. Pretorius believes the two scientists would make an unstoppable pair, but Frankenstein is clearly going to need more convincing.

Doctor Pretorius has a whole different set of experiments going on.

Meanwhile in the Burg, we get to see a more tender side of Frankenstein’s monster. Everywhere he goes, villagers run away frightened or shoot at him, until he encounters a blind hermit who obviously cannot judge him on his looks. The scene shows us that the monster not only understands the words people speak, but also the emotions they feel, and indeed feels them himself, as he sheds a tear as the blind hermit philosophizes about friendship.

It is worth mentioning that the interview with Sara Karloff (Boris Karloff’s daughter) that preceded the Frankenstein/Bride of Frankenstein double-feature, while mostly throw-away, did mention that Karloff did not like the idea of the Monster speaking in the sequel. Sara Karloff disagreed, and thought speech leant a new dimension to the Monster. I’m going to have to agree with her. While I liked the first Frankenstein quite well, Bride was at least a whole star better, in no small part because of the Monster’s more prominent personality. Also, the Bride looks badass.

The Monster’s ability to speak was not the only new dimension added in the sequel – another was humor. While it was present in the first (mostly with Henry’s father The Baron) it plays an integral part in the second. As a result the film manages to be lighter and heavier at the same time, Lighter because it isn’t taking itself nearly as seriously as the first, but heavier because it manages to tackle the Monster’s loneliness at new depths not reached in the first. While I think both are worth seeing, Bride was definitely my favorite of the two.


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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