Universal Studios/1931/Directed by James Whale
Available on DVD/Blu-Ray
There are many reasons why James Whale’s Frankenstein, released by Universal Studios in 1931, remains an undisputed classic of the horror genre. The script, the creepy atmosphere of the set design, the make-up and costume choices, and clever directing and editing all contribute to make Frankenstein the Big daddy of all monster movies. Possibly the biggest factor for its success, though, comes from the film’s star- the Monster himself, played to perfection by the late, great Boris Karloff.
There have been many adaptations of Mary Shelley’s novel over the years, but this stands out head and shoulders above the rest. Karloff’s Monster, who speaks no actual lines of dialogue in the film, is a sympathetic creature who reaches out through the screen and touches the outsider in all of us. It’s a performance that still resonates strongly with audiences today, and it is Karloff’s Monster that has embedded itself in the popular consciousness as the Frankenstein. As much as Karloff brought life to the role, however, it was make-up artist Jack Pierce who designed and applied the iconic Monster’s frightful features, and much credit must be given to him, as well.
1931’s Dracula may have kicked off the initial run of Universal Studios’ classic monster movies, but Frankenstein was the first to spin off into a franchise, spawning The Bride Of Frankenstein (1935), Son Of Frankenstein (1939), Ghost Of Frankenstein (1942), and House Of Frankenstein (1944). All of these films became classics, with the best-regarded of the sequels being The Bride Of Frankenstein, but Boris Karloff was at his beastly best with the original film. Other notable Universal players were on hand to round out the cast- Colin Clive (as the Monster’s creator- Dr. Henry Frankenstein), Mae Clarke, and fan favorites Edward Van Sloan and Dwight Frye (both of whom also had parts in Dracula).
While Frankenstein certainly has a chilling tone and quite macabre subject matter, it is by no means scary by today’s standards- creepy and atmospheric, sure, but light on the scares. Some scenes may be too intense for really young audiences, but older children and adults should be able to enjoy this film without having their dreams filled with lumbering monsters stitched together with pieces of the dead.As a morality play, the plot of Frankenstein is known to most of the general movie-going public, even if they’ve never seen the film, so I won’t spend a lot of time explaining the movie to you. If you have never seen it, then you must (how can you claim to be a horror fan without having seen the groundbreaking classics of the genre?). If you have seen it, then what better way to kick off your Halloween season than to revisit possibly one of the best films, not just monster movies, of all time