The Films of Frankenstein

The Frankenstein films have always been an overlooked part of my childhood. I’d remember catching glimpses of them on television or snippets in other media, but until recently, it hadn’t occurred to me to actually watch any of them. For its time, Universal pictures put out monster movies at the same alarming rate we see superhero movies now. And much like today, they even got into the trend of performing cross-overs in their “monster rally” films (just the like “The Avengers”, but with more strangling). So for October, I’ve chosen to review ye olde Frankenstein movies. There have been dozens of them, so I’ll only cover the more well-known ones from Universal Pictures.

Frankenstein (1931)
This is the one we’re familiar with to some extent. Black and white, Igor, lightning, castle, villagers with torches + Boris Karloff = “It’s alive!” Almost every part of this movie is scattered throughout pop culture, and if you’ve ever seen Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein”, it’s really not too different (just replace all the comedy with strangling.) As far as the films go, it’s really the most “essential” of the bunch and you can easily ignore its sequels if you’re refreshing yourself on classic movies. Although the sequel did hold some surprises.

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
At this point, I was ready to accept that the rest of the films were going to be bad knock-offs from this point on, but “Bride of Frankenstein” is one of those rare “better than the original” sequels. Naturally, the monster survives the first movie, so the second one sees him going on a soul-searching journey as he tries to figure out where he belongs in this world. I rather like this one because it reveals the monster as human, and that we ourselves create the monster by treating him like one. You can only push a nice guy so far before he starts strangling again. This movie also shares a lot of common elements with the original novel, so it’s a good supplement to the first film.

Son of Frankenstein (1939)
This is a good time to bring up the monster’s name since this is the first film that acknowledges it: the monster’s name IS Frankenstein. We’ve all heard ourselves correct each other that Frankenstein is the doctor’s name, but guess what? The doctor’s name is also VICTOR. Frankenstein is a surname he got from his father, and the villagers in this third movie make the same association with the monster. So as of the third movie, the monster is technically Frankenstein. As far as the movie goes, somehow Victor’s son shows up and decided to carry on his father’s work and bring it back to life. Meanwhile, Igor starts being an evil mastermind. We don’t even see the monster until the end – and then it falls into molten sulfur. But he’ll be back.

The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
This one was kind of amusing. The villagers get fed up with this crap and actually blow up the castle. But then Frankenstein crawls out of the dried-up sulfur pit, joins Igor and they go pester another town instead. Once again, Franky’s treated like crap and starts strangling again. Meanwhile, Igor finds Victor’s relative Ludwig and convinces him to swap out the monster’s brain with someone else’s (there’s a lot of brain surgeons in this family.) Long story short: torches and pitchforks.

Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man (1943)
That last one ended all continuity with the films. Here, the monster rallies began, and what a disappointment they were. If I were a kid in the forties, I’d be psyched to see Frankenstein battle the Wolf Man. And yet these two titans never meet until the very last minute of the movie – and then they both die. The rest was all villagers with pitchforks complaining about how mad scientists (or men with werewolf curses) shouldn’t bring back the dead.

House of Frankenstein (1944)
“So here’s my pitch: Frankenstein, Dracula, AND the Wolf Man – all in the same movie! People are going to love it! But then we throw in a twist: none of these monsters ever meet or fight each other! We kill off Dracula halfway through the film, kill off the Wolf Man before Frankenstein wakes up, and then kill off Frankenstein! And none of it happens in Frankenstein’s house! Frankenstein doesn’t even have a house!”

Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein (1948)
Not gonna lie: turns out this is the best movie of the bunch. This continues the trend of the monster rallies where Frankenstein, Dracula, and Wolf Man come together, but unlike the last two films, people actually got their money’s worth with this one. Abbott and Costello play two baggage-clerks who find out that Dracula is smuggling a monster into the country and the Wolf Man is trying to stop him. The rest is pretty much the precursor to “Scooby Doo”. Monsters come, we scream, Abbott and Costello run, we laugh. And I repeat that: they run. In all these Frankenstein movies, nobody has ever run from the monster. He just slowly shambles up to people and starts strangling them. So in a franchise about brain surgery, the most intelligent people thus far have been these two guys. I’d even say this movie inspired “Van Helsing” since this is the first instance of Frankenstein working for Dracula and the Wolf Man being Dracula’s enemy. The monsters actually get into some decent fights this time around. Overall, I think it’s a great monster-comedy with a lot of good laughs.

Let’s end this off with the trailer for the film which stars “a couple of luscious females” (1940’s sexism never fails to amuse me.)

October 14 2012 12:02 am | Movies

3 Responses to “The Films of Frankenstein”

  1. Murray on 14 Oct 2012 at 1:37 am #

    The Films of Adam

  2. Frederik Olsen on 15 Oct 2012 at 1:40 am #

    I love the two first Universal films, but then I just thought the series degenerated into bad “how many monsters can we cram in here”-flicks. “Son of Frankenstein” is decent, were it not for Basil Rathbone overplaying (“I KILLED him! With my GUN! What are you going to do about it?!”) and the kid playing his son. “Well, HEEEEEELLOOOO!” I hate that fecking little brat.

    Have you ever watched any of the Hammer Frankenstein films from the 50-70’s? Peter Cushing is possibly THE best Dr. Frankenstein of all time.

  3. Chris on 15 Oct 2012 at 2:06 am #

    Another Adam supporter? I surprised how many people have actually read that book. I’ve only got that one and “Dr. Jekyll” in my classic lit collection. Still, the monster never actually named himself Adam. The Frankenstein’d monster on “Buffy” jumped on that one instead.

    I was going to review a couple of the Hammer films as well (I watched “Curse” and “Revenge”), but they seemed to be a completely different animal from any of the classic Universal films.

    What I liked about the Hammer films was the angle they took on Dr. Frankenstein’s character, where he’s more of a villain than the monster itself. There must have been a “dark, gritty reboot” phase going on during the 60’s.

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