31 Weeks to Halloween: The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
The King of all Monsters strikes again! No chains can hold him! No tomb can seal him in!
It's always a good weekend here at Soulless Cult when the Universal Monster movie we're covering this week in our 31 Weeks to Halloween countdown is a Frankenstein one! The Frankenstein series is arguably the strongest series in the whole Universal classic horror franchise, with great storytelling in all the films, one after another. The case is no different with 192's The Ghost of Frankenstein, the follow-up film to Son of Frankenstein and the first film to star Lon Chaney Jr. (who just a year before played The Wolf Man) as the Monster - alongside Bela Lugosi as Ygor (who also appeared in The Wolf Man!). Having Chaney and Lugosi on screen together again is the best gift Universal could have given fans, even if Chaney is donning the Monster get-up this time around. The film has a direct link to stories from the previous films which is awesome, and it makes for a really great (and probably best) sequel in the Frankenstein series so far in the countdown. It's super creative with some fun twists, new faces, old faces, plenty of Monster on-screen time, and of course, a good old fashioned mob (is it a Frankenstein movie without one?!). I feel like The Ghost of Frankenstein probably doesn't get the recognition it deserves when people are discussing the Universal Monster films, which is a shame since - like I said - it's gotta be one of the best sequels in the classic horror series. Chaney obviously steals the show as the Monster, which is what everyone wants to see - but honestly, Lugosi as his sidekick Ygor and Cedric Hardwicke as Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein work together to create this pretty dark and twisted tale that proves yet again that the Frankenstein curse lives to haunt another of its kind.
As with most of these Universal Monster films, the plot is relatively basic and to the point, but awesomely told: following the events of Son of Frankenstein, Ygor lives! And so does the Monster! The bad news for them is they are chased out of the village by a mob who despises the Frankenstein name and demand they die. Ygor and the Monster manage to escape the beautiful Castle Frankenstein and journey to the village of Visaria after the Monster gets struck by lightning, which helps give him life, much like it did in the classic film. Ygor takes him to Visaria to see a new member of the family we haven't seen before: Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein. Ygor hopes that the doctor would breathe new life into his friend, but unfortunately, the Monster takes the life of a fellow doctor and tempted by his family's legacy after reading their diaries, Dr. Frankenstein decides that instead of dismembering the Monster, he's going to operate on him! Frankenstein's plan is to remove the criminal brain that was given to the Monster in the original film, and put in him the brain of the fallen doctor. Little does Frankenstein know, his partner is tempted by Ygor's promise of power and fame when he suggests that instead of the plan, they implant Ygor's brain into the Monster, joining the two forever and making Ygor immortal. Is the new Monster everything one could hope for, or does the Frankenstein curse live to destroy another of the bloodline?! Find out in... THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN!
Sequels are always hard to do correctly without feeling like a cash grab or an attempt to revive a story that should have stayed told. But writer Eric Taylor and director Erle Kenton clearly knew that if they were going to do this film right, they needed it to look and feel true to the films that came before it, and with that, they knocked it out of the park. Even though this movie debuted twelve years after the classic film, it still holds the same energy and appearance of its predecessor and that's half the greatness right there. There's moments you'll see Castle Frankenstein, you'll see the Monster getting lit up by lightning, you'll see the Monster acting much like he did in the initial film with the little girl; all of these elements come together to craft this really authentic feeling sequel alongside a fantastically written story. The film relies on Ygor surviving the events of the previous film, and his presence in this one alongside his only friend the Monster is truly magical. Lugosi really shines in this film, and even though he's obviously best known for Count Dracula, his role as Ygor has to be his next best work. He's creepy yet funny, mad yet brilliant - even with his broken body in this film.
I also think the introduction of Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein was done pretty nicely. Even though the previous films have no mention of him, his presence in the story is welcomed and his initial desire to not engage the Monster is admirable. But when the doctor delves into the diaries of his family and sees the sheer genius in their work, he knows what he must do to honor his legacy. The Monster is his legacy, and in my mind, almost like his step-brother! Little did Frankenstein know that his partner would deceive him; so when they removed the brain of the criminal, they implanted the brain of a madman!!! Thus, the curse lives on for the Frankenstein family as he village turns their back on their neighbor and seeks utter destruction of the beast. Man, what a great story. This movie kept me engaged literally from beginning to end; there's no lulls in the film or wasted time: everything is there for a reason, and it all serves a purpose leading up to the epic conclusion of the film. I cannot recommend this one enough, it might just be the best sequel to the classic film, and it's definitely one of the best sequels in the whole Universal Monsters series! Check it out!!!