31 Weeks to Halloween: Frankenstein (1931)
"Millions have been thrilled... millions are waiting to be thrilled... by the greatest HORROR the screen has ever known!"
When I think monster, one name stands out above the rest: FRANKENSTEIN! The second of the Universal Monsters films was also released in 1931 - just nine months after the iconic Dracula film - and features the legendary Boris Karloff as the Monster. The iconic face of horror - the hideous creation of Doctor Frankenstein - features glares, screams, fear, and happiness all in the films short hour and ten minute run time; but at the same time, there's so much to this fantastic and universally loved film. Much like Dracula, the film was based off a novel - Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus - by Mary Shelley in 1818. So 113 years after the release of the novel, the story was brought to life by director James Whale and released by Universal Pictures, but to this day, the face of the Monster still terrorizes audiences every Halloween. The movie touted itself as "the original horror show," and for good reason: from the moment life is given to the Monster, he is truly horrifying, both in size and appearance. That's not to say he's intentionally evil the way the story unfolds, but as far as looks go, the Monster is one of the most intimidating of all the monsters Universal created. But before we get ahead of ourselves...
If you somehow don't know the story of Frankenstein (which I don't know how, the film alone is 89 years old!): Henry Frankenstein is joined by his assistant Fritz as they dig up the dead and free criminals from the gallows to harvest body parts from them so that the doctor could conduct the greatest experiment of all time: create life from death! Frankenstein holds the belief that he has discovered a new form of energy that has the potential to generate new life from the dead, and the product of his experiment is the Monster, or what's become known as Frankenstein's Monster or even just Frankenstein! What Doctor Frankenstein doesn't know until after his creature comes to life is that the brain that Fritz stole from the medical college wasn't a "normal" brain, but an "abnormal brain" taken from a criminal! And once the Monster rises, his innocent demeanor quickly changes to chaos as the beast commits murder, drowns the adorable young Maria, and hunts down Doctor Frankenstein on his wedding day. Upon bearing witness to the lifeless Maria, the townsfolk turn into a mob to hunt down the Monster and put an end to his reign of terror - while at the same time, Frankenstein rejects his experiment and regrets messing with the natural order of life. Will the townsfolk be able to stop the Monster from his path of destruction, or will the creature wreck havoc over the mountain forever?!
I love that this movie essentially plays out in three chapters: the first is the looting of the bodies of which Frankenstein crafts the Monster, the second is the actual resurrection of the Monster and his outburst on the people present, and the third is the drowning of Maria and the mob uprising as a result. All three chapters play out very different from each other; the first is kinda lighthearted horror where you see the Doctor and Fritz hunting for bodies, then you get the in-your-face horror as the Monster rises and attacks the Doctor and his friends, and finally you get the psychological horror as the Monster innocently plays with Maria and doesn't understand that throwing her in the water will result in her death. It's a very subtly dark twist to the story that, honestly, after all these years is still a pretty wicked twist. I feel like audiences in theaters during the movies released were probably appalled, it must've been a great movie to see on the silver screen! Mix the amazing, dark story with the unforgettable face of Boris Karloff as The Monster and the original Frankenstein film was just destined to be a classic. Of course, Doctor Frankenstein and his father Baron Frankenstein are very memorable characters for their action on screen (we can throw Fritz in there too, why not) but let's be real: whenever the Monster is not on screen, you're just waiting for him to be on screen. I personally love Baron Frankenstein for his enthusiasm in every scene he's in, he's such a lovable character even though his presence in the film isn't exactly necessary - he just loves his son and wants to see him secure a future with his soon to be wife! Gotta love it.
Frankenstein still holds up as one of the best Universal Monster movies, and it's crazy that there's not even any cheese to the film that makes it great; the movie is just genuinely amazing. From the location of Henry Frankenstein's lab in the windmill to the inside of the lab, and from the heart wrenching pond scene to the townsfolk mobbing up to kill the Monster, this film was destined to be a classic for the story it tells and the way it tells it. The makeup team did a phenomenal job making the face of the Monster look as naturally horrifying as possible, and when you pair that with Karloff's iconic facial expressions, screams and cries, Frankenstein holds up as one of the best early horror productions ever. The grim, misunderstood Monster shocks and spooks, but at the end of it all, it really is a sad tale, and one that continues to be an autumn necessity for me.