Logline: A scientist creates a living being out of corpses.
Review: James Whale’s Frankenstein is the original and in my opinion, best version of Mary Shelley’s classic monster story. Universal produced many classic monster movies in the 1930s and 40s that were very much influenced by the German Expressionist films of the 1920s with their dark visual and thematic style. The influence of German Expressionism is evident in the dark lighting and distorted settings. Frankenstein is among my favorites from Universal’s classic horror cannon along with The Invisible Man (1933) and The Wolf Man (1941).
Even though Frankenstein may seem tame by today’s genre standards, the film was shocking for audiences when it was released in 1931 and established many horror conventions. The film has transcended time and still remains an undisputed classic due to the care that was invested by the film’s meticulous director, James Whale who would go on to direct the sequel, Bride of Frankenstein (1935).
In addition, Boris Karloff delivers a timeless performance as the Monster. Karloff’s Monster is a sympathetic character, who is brought into the world only to be mistreated and misunderstood, leading him to do terrible acts. The Monster’s sensitivity is particularly evident in a great scene with a young girl, who interestingly, is the only character that wholeheartedly accepts and embraces the Monster. Colin Clive’s Dr. Frankenstein is also a sympathetic character and by no means the cliche mad scientist that later horror films would depict. The lynch mob and Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant, Fritz are more menacing forces than the Monster, making the film more compelling as a result.
Credit must be given to Jack Pierce, the iconic makeup artist who created the makeup for many of Universal’s classic monsters, including the Monster in Frankenstein. Pierce’s masterful work is evident in all of his monster creations.
In conclusion, Frankenstein is a timeless film that has many of the characteristics from Universal’s best monster movies, such as a moody atmosphere, great lighting, excellent performances, and incredible makeup effects. The film grapples with themes of power and man’s quest to be god-like. To put it plainly, Frankenstein is a classic of the genre that does not disappoint.
Rating (out of four stars): ****