Saturday, October 29, 2016

Movie Talk - Universal Studios' Frankenstein Movies

Dude, calm down! He just had a hangover from being dead! That's all.

Since we’re coming upon All Hallow’s Eve, I wanted to get to these movies. I’ve rarely talked about any movies from this era on here, so I might as well do it with these. Today, I’ll be talking about Universal’s Frankenstein movies. I’m only looking at the main movies that involved the Monster. The others involving the Wolf Man and others will have to wait.

I more or less went into my history with the monsters before, but a little refresher on Frankenstein isn’t bad. I first saw Frankenstein when I was probably in third or fourth grade. I was also able to see Son of Frankenstein since it was also at Movie Gallery. I didn’t see Ghost of Frankenstein until sometime later on TV. I did read a book about it earlier. I actually didn’t see Bride of Frankenstein until last year. It was on Netflix and I hadn’t seen it yet. Since it’s the season for scary movies, I did a refresher on these four movies.

Frankenstein was released in 1931. It was one of the first monster movies from Universal to be released. It’s also loosely based on the Mary Shelly novel. It actually took a lot of inspiration from stage plays that were adapted from the book. In the movie, Dr. Henry Frankenstein creates life by combining different body parts and using the power of technology. Unfortunately, his creation (the Monster) becomes a big problem for Frankenstein, his family, and the village they live in. The Monster causes a rampage and it is ultimately hunted down. It all ends for the Monster in a windmill.
"What it is, pop?"

It was nice seeing this one again after so long. This was pretty good. It is the now-typical “Science Gone Wrong” story and it’s handled well for the most part. Frankenstein himself was like a man possessed in some scenes when creating the Monster. Colin Clive (Frankenstein) played that part well. The big plus to the movie is Boris Karloff as the Monster. Karloff made the Monster look and act terrifying. He also added some innocence to the Monster. The Monster didn’t understand a lot of the actions he took. The scene with the girl is one big, horrifying example.

The movie is score-less since things were moving from the silent era to the sound era and that made the movie a little unique.  The look of everything was pretty cool. Frankenstein’s castle and the machinery he used looked nice. The Monster himself looked awesome. It’s what people think of when Frankenstein is brought up. Even though it’s some lumbering, pale dude wearing stacks, there’s a bit of a menacing feel to it. The only negatives I have for the movie is some things in the story don’t make too much sense. How the Monster able to threaten Frankenstein’s wife even though he never met her was one thing. Other than those things, this was a good one.

Bride of Frankenstein
Bride of Frankenstein was released in 1935. It actually takes place a few days after the events of the first movie. After we see what happened right after the windmill burned down, we get thrown into the new story. While the Monster is being hunted down by the villagers, Dr. Pretorius, Frankenstein’s teacher, heard about Frankenstein’s experiment. Pretorius forces Frankenstein into helping him create a female for the Monster. When the Monster hears about it, he’s a bit happy. Of course, things don’t work out too much and another castle is destroyed with the Monster, Pretorius, and the Bride being supposedly dead.
This makes the movie worth it.

This was another good one. In some ways, it’s better than the first movie. The story for Frankenstein and the Monster is continued in an interesting way. This has the Monster at his most sympathetic. He’s being chased and all really wants is a friend and some sense of belonging. He even talks here which was something Boris Karloff didn’t want to happen. If you wonder why the Monster isn’t speaking in the next movie, now you know. We also see how everything that happened in the previous movie has affected Frankenstein himself. It puts the next two movies in a better context.
Dude, I know that look. You're moving too fast!

We have a literal mad scientist who wants to recreate the experiment Frankenstein did. In that respect, Dr. Pretorius was a good, campy villain. The movie itself has a bit of a campy feel to it. We got that loud old maid running around at points and even the Monster gets to act silly at points too. As for the Bride herself, she looked good. She has a memorable look and feel to her even though she really does little. The look of the movie is even cooler and more built up. Some things have been spruced up a bit. The music is also good. 

There isn’t a lot to dislike about the film. While I did enjoy the campy moments, that loud maid did get on my nerves at times. The actress also shows up in The Invisible Man which had the same tone to this movie. Continuity is also a bit of a problem here with a couple of story elements and even some sets. Also, the Bride her self is not in the movie much. It’s like they made her and didn’t know what to do with her. All she does is yell, act like a swan (the actress based her movements on a swan), and die. All of that happens in the last few minutes of the movie. The movie also ends a little abruptly. Even though it had a couple of issues, this one was pretty good.

Son of Frankenstein
Son of Frankenstein was released in 1939. It takes place years after Bride of Frankenstein but it doesn’t say how long. I’ll guess it’s between 30-40 years later. While we have Boris Karloff coming back as the Monster for the final time, it also stars Basil Rathbone as Wolf von Frankenstein and Bela Lugosi as Ygor, the hunchback. In the movie, Wolf and his family move to the village where the Frankenstein estate is located. He wants to rebuild the reputation of the family since his father messed that up. The villagers themselves don’t help much. Things go for a turn when he finds out that the Monster is still alive after all those years and is hold up in his father’s old laboratory with Ygor, a hunchback. Wolf nurses the Monster back to health and tries to restore honor to the Frankenstein name, but Ygor has his own plans of using the Monster for evil.
We got Sherlock Holmes, The Frankenstein Monster, and Dracula in one movie. I doubt I could get a Benedict Cumberbatch reference out of this.

I think it’s safe to say that this is pretty good as well. This one goes down a different road from the previous movie. We get a son who’s a lot like his father, a hunchback bent on revenge, and a cute little boy who makes me chuckle. Wolf’s son was hilarious. Anyway, I liked a lot of the characters. Basil Rathbone as Wolf Frankenstein was pretty cool, Bela Lugosi’s Ygor was funny and pretty creepy at the same time, and Inspector Krough was actually pretty cool and memorable with that wooden arm of his. The Monster isn’t featured as much here but that’s okay. This is when he started to become less sympathetic and more of a pawn for the villain of the piece.

Castle Frankenstein and the laboratory got a major upgrade in the movie. The house especially looks cool and pretty creepy at times. The Monster’s look was different but cool. The music did sound like it came from another monster movie (probably one of the Mummy movies) but it was nice too. There isn’t much bad to say about the film. Some things don’t get brought over well into this movie but I can forgive a little bit. It’s a problem with these sequels. Other than that and a couple of small things, this was really good.

Ghost of Frankenstein
Ghost of Frankenstein was released in 1942. It takes place some time after Son of Frankenstein. In place of Boris Karloff, we have Lon Chaney Jr. as the Monster this time. Bela Lugosi also returns as Ygor. The villagers decide to destroy Castle (and I mean Castle) Frankenstein to more or less remove its curse. This wakes up the Monster who was trapped in the laboratory’s Sulphur pits. Ygor takes the Monster to another village where Ludwig von Frankenstein, another son of Henry Frankenstein, resides with his daughter. When he’s able to subdue the Monster, Ludwig takes it upon himself to use the Monster to right the wrongs his family’s done and give the Monster a new, better brain. Unfortunately, Ygor has other plans and get his brain put in. the movie ends in an explosion with Ludwig and the Monster supposedly dying.
"He was about this tall and did what I'm doing now!"

Out of all of the four Frankenstein movies, this is probably my least favorite.  That doesn’t mean that it isn’t enjoyable though. Even though Ygor came back with no explanation, it was cool to see him again. Lon Chaney Jr. also put in a nice performance as the Monster. With his size, he seemed like a better fit physically for the role than Karloff did. I also like that the idea of replacing the Monster’s brain was a plot point. Even though it’s really out there, it was at least something new for the Frankenstein movies. The guy who played Ludwig Frankenstein was okay at best. When compared to Wolf and Henry, he was pretty tame.

As for the cons, this movie felt like a carbon copy of the previous movie. A lot of the familiar beats are there. The look of the movie also felt a bit cheaper too. Continuity is also an issue here. Not only is Ygor somehow back from the dead, but two other characters who were killed in the previous movie are somehow back for no reason. That and the fact that Frankenstein Castle changes again was pretty weird. The music was pretty much music re-used from The Wolf Man. It wasn’t bad but it did feel out of place. Overall, it’s the least of these four, but I would watch it over some of the other Universal movies.


In the end, I feel like the Frankenstein movies held together better than most of the other movies. There’s really only one subpar movie in the bunch. At least that one is better than most of the later Mummy movies. If I had to pick a favorite, it’ll probably either be Bride of Frankenstein or Son of Frankenstein.  That’s all I got for now. I’ll try to get the Wolf Man movies and the team-up movies soon. Until then, Peace, God Bless, and make sure to have backup plans for your weird creations. Show business could work. If you need proof, look at most reality shows.

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