FRANKENSTEIN (OCTOBER 30TH)
YOU'VE GOT RED ON YOU TAKES PART IN THE 31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN CHALLENGE; WATCHING ONE HORROR MOVIE A DAY THROUGHOUT OCTOBER. SOME OF THEM OLD, SOME OF THEM NEW, SOME OF THEM HAVE JUST BEEN ON OUR SHELVES FOR YEARS GATHERING DUST, STILL IN CELLOPHANE...
Yeah I know. I haven't seen the original Frankenstein. I'm quite embarrassed by the fact that my experience of the universal classics is so limited, although the 31 days challenge has helped correct that. I've seen The Invisible Man (which I loved) and I've seen The Mummy (which I didn't) and I've seen Dracula and The Wolfman before so I've now got the big guns covered. The age of these films is something that isn't lost on me. And whilst I was a little bit hard with The Blood On Satan's Claw in my mini-review yesterday, this film was made forty years before that, and as such any review is always tempered with a little bit of understanding and appreciation of the technical limitations and just the sheer infancy of the genre itself at that moment in time. The source material is a lot older still. In fact, next year will mark 200 years since Mary Shelley's novel was published. I can't imagine Shelly would have ever believed just how influential and long-lasting her work would be. We've obviously had countless realisations and reiterations of the famous story about the mad scientist who pieces together bits of corpses and then brings the resultant body back to life. But James Whale's 1931 is still considered the best – it is one of those rare films that has a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Here most of the action is set in a watchtower in a German village, where the eccentric scientists Henry Frankenstein has - with the help of his hunchback assistant Fritz - pieced together various body parts from recently hung criminals and the recently deceased. Frankenstein wants to create human life through the sheer power of electricity. His fiancee, worried back at home, decides to visit her husband-to-be and brings along a friend (who clearly wants a bit). She also brings along Henry's old school Professor to see if he can help too. Of course, Frankenstein is a bit pissed when they turn up on his doorstep late one night but his hubris knows no bounds and he ends up showing them what he's been up to. They're obviously horrified but fear turns into shock when Frankenstein succeeds in his experiment and Frankenstein's monster is born. Cool huh?! Bringing the dead back to life! But it's a little bit risky when the brain that's been used is the brain of a criminal… Although made only two years before The Invisible Man, Frankenstein actually noticeably less polished and proficient than it's Universal cousin. That's not to say that it isn't deserving of it's title as a horror classic, because it is. But the characters, dialogue and action set pieces are all inferior and it all feels a bit more chaotic and sketchy. The editing and direction also feel a little uneven. Again, I must repeat that I am fully aware that comparing a film from 86 years ago to today's standards isn't fair. But the same Director was making superior pictures barely two years later, so it still shouldn't be immune from criticism. However, Frankenstein is not considered a classic for no reason at all. Colin Clive, who died tragically young (Aged 37) puts in a great turn as the ego-maniacal professor intent on playing God. Mae Clarke gives an understated yet impressive performance as his wife-to-be too. In fact, all the cast are rather good, although I did find Frederick Kerr (Baron Frankenstein) rather annoying the further the film went on. Again, like The Mummy and The Invisible Man, it has a strong clear message about the dangers of science and serves as a stark warning of the pitfalls of 'playing God'. Whilst modern slashers dealt with the moral judgement of misbehavin' teens, the themes dealt with in the Universal Classics are much bigger and far reaching. We also get two great and memorable scenes. Firstly, the famous 'It's alive' scene is every bit as good as you'd ever hope but the most powerful scene in the film for me was when the father of the girl that the monster has accidentally drowned, walks through a street party carrying his dead daughter. It's striking stuff.
Of course the biggest reason that Frankenstein is a success is the portrayal of the monster by Boris Karloff. Everyone has seen pictures of the great man playing one of the most famous characters in film history, but it's not until you actually see it on the screen that you fully understand what the fuss is about. The moment he first stumbles into the frame he is a force of nature, someone that evokes both terror and sympathy. Because although he is indeed a monster and does kill a couple of people, they are pretty much down to self defence/accidents. Because although he is called the monster, the real monster is his creator. And by the end I can't have been the only one who felt a tad hard done by that Frankenstein seemingly lives to fight another day, whilst his poor wretched creation doesn't.