It’s alive Groovy Ghoulies! Those words, exclaimed by Dr. Henry Frankenstein marked the birth of a screen legend. The Frankenstein monster was born to movie fans in 1931. It’s based on the novel by Mary Shelly and also adapted from a play by Peggy Webling. And directed masterfully by James Whale. For the record, this is one of my favorites from the Universal cycle of monster movies, and I think it still holds up to today’s audiences.
Dr. Frankenstein played with perfection by Colin Clive and his assistant, Igor played by Dwight Frye are taking bodies from the cemetery and from the hanging post for a grand experiment. Igor is sent to steal a normal brain, but when scared by the lightning the normal brain shatters to the ground. He grabs the criminal, damaged brain and returns to the good Doctor. Soon, Henry’s fiance, his friend Victor, and Dr. Waldman head to Frankenstein’s lab to check on his well being. They find that he is on the verge of creating life! The experiment works and Boris Karloff stumbles onto the screen as one of the most recognized monsters ever. Igor is killed by the monster, and they decide it must be put down. Unfortunately or fortunately for us, the monster escapes. We soon have an angry mob looking for the monster, and the monster looking for his creator. Who will get revenge on whom first?
I love the sets in this film. Henry’s lab is a huge wood and stone windmill that almost looks like a fortress. The lab is impressive with coils, and electricity and all sorts of doohickeys. As a sidebar, one of the lightning pieces survived and resurfaced in KISS’ 1976 Destroyer tour but only made a few appearances before being dropped for budget reasons. The matte paintings used for the cemetery and forest still looks nice today. And I love the hills and trees when they are searching for the monster toward the end of the movie. Just a very nice horror/Halloween feel to them.
The cast carries over some faces from Tod Browning’s Dracula. Dwight Frye plays Igor, and where I thought his madness was controlled in Dracula; I enjoyed this character much more. He seemed to enjoy the role, and there was a meanness to the character that he portrayed well. Edward Van Sloan played Dr. Waldman and once again, I enjoyed this character more also. He didn’t seem as rigid as his Van Helsing. I think Director James Whale brought out the best in both of these actors. We almost had Bela Lugosi as the monster in this. He was in negotiations to play the role, and even had make-up tests to try various looks. They were never able to get it looking quite right, and Lugosi left the project. I had read somewhere that he didn’t want his face obscured by make-up. There is wonder that this decision may have changed his career forever. Time would tell whether he played the monster or not. Jack Pierce would go on to find a better fit for his make-up.
The role ended up going to Boris Karloff. He says so much in this role, without any lines. He conveys much with his eyes and gestures. My favorite is when Henry opens the hatch in the ceiling, and the sunlight streams into the lab. The monster reaches up, trying to grab it straining the whole time. When the hatch is closed, the monster looks to Henry. It gestures to bring it back and there is just a look of loss on the monster’s face. It wanted so little. He lumbers around like he is on new legs. He’s just so great in this.
It’s a great movie about tinkering with playing god, and living with the results afterwards. So glad I had a chance to sit down and watch it again.
Toy company Remco made one of my favorite toys in 1981. It was in a series of 9-inch figures, and the Frankenstein Monster and Dracula were the only ones in the set I got. He was a sickly white color that glowed in the dark, and had this cool monster grip thing. You pushed a button on his back, and his arms crossed to grab something. With its arms crossed, it looked like something out of a Scooby-Doo cartoon. We had some cool toys back then!
That’s all for now, Ghoulies! They’re calling me in for my lobotomy. Any thoughts, questions, comments, or last requests leave me a comment below or drop me a line at email@example.com. Look forward to the next time, and remember to watch the skies!