Sunday, January 2, 2011

No. 87: Frankenstein

Frankenstein (1931)

Starring: Colin Clive, Boris Karloff, Mae Clarke

Directed by: James Whale

Awards won: …none? [That’s ridiculous.]

When I walk through a video store, I get sidetracked looking at garish horror movies: blood splatters, dead bodies, vampires and zombies. But those aren’t the horror movies I like. I prefer the older horror flicks of the 30’s and 40’s, like the original Dracula (1931).

With this in mind, I was excited to watch Frankenstein again. I love the Mary Shelley book (1818), and this movie adaptation is always fun to watch. Read on!

Most people know the story of Frankenstein. Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Clive) ditches his fiancé (Clarke) to work on his grand experiment: creating a man from parts of exhumed corpses. He reanimates his man-creation (Karloff), and he quickly turns into a violent monster. The monster escapes, roaming and wreaking havoc on the countryside. Eventually Dr. Frankenstein and an angry mob trap the monster in a windmill tower, and burn the building down, destroying the “Frankenstein” monster.

After the movie, I thought “Wow. I’m going to have problems thinking of negative points to write about.” That doesn’t happen too often. Seriously - I loved almost everything about Frankenstein. It might not scare the same way modern horror movies do, but it still has goosebump-raising elements of shock and suspense. Every scene is rich in detail, which was rare for an early horror movie – it could have easily been complete camp. Boris Karloff’s performance is fantastic. The creepy way he smiles as he tosses a child into a lake, how he swings his arms as he slowly climbs the stairs, the way his fearful eyes react to a lighted torch – it’s really a timeless performance.

I can only think of a few minor negative points. Some parts of the movie are unintentionally funny; the monster’s incessant groaning made me laugh, but you know what? It didn’t make the movie any less enjoyable. Some of the dialogue was a little cringe-worthy (“My god, the monster is upstairs!”), but you know what? I still enjoyed the movie.

So, if you like:

* Incredible sets and atmospheric lighting, from laboratory to countryside

* Beautifully staged black and white cinematography, ahead of its time

* Mad-scientist crazies at their best

* A body re-animation scene that would inspire countless re-animations, from The Rocky Horror Picture Show to Star Wars

* A good supporting cast. Though the story is vaguely set in Germany, their accents run from British to German to American

..then you’ll love Frankenstein.

Next up, No. 86: Mutiny On The Bounty (1935), starring Charles Laughton and Clark Gable. This is a good one – and a very dramatic one. Stick around and read about it!


  1. I love your appreciation for classic films, Josie. I've never seen "Frankenstein" all the way through, but will have to now, thanks to your recommendation. Do you know the fun trivia about Mae Clarke? She was the actress who got a grapefruit in the face, courtesy of James Cagney in "The Public Enemy" (which I assume is also on the 100 list). Excellent job you're doing!

  2. I know we agreed that it doesn't have Hitchcock's thriller timing or the shock of today's special effects, but this movie still scares the bejeezus out of me. I was about four, and up late watching "Creature Feature" when I first saw Frankenstein's monster screaming in the fire - it was as sad and disturbing a sight then as it is today. Great review, you!

  3. I'm glad that you thought this movie was quality, there are odd memories of this for me, when i was a kid, i was way into horror movies, and this one stood out as the truly terrifying gem in a pig sty. It was so perfectly dramatic, it was terrifying in a way no amount of severed limbs could ever equal. I'm excited for Mutiny on the Bounty, an extremely interesting story.

  4. Now I really want to see this movie even more...