Tuesday, January 24, 2012
(November 1931, U.S.)
In 1931, Frank Whale's film version of Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN was indeed the horror show of the ages. The film begins with actor Edward Van Sloan stepping from behind a curtain and delivering a "friendly warning" before the opening credits:
"How do you do. We are about to unfold the story of Frankenstein, a man of science who sought to create a man after his own image without reckoning upon God. It is one of the strangest tales ever told. It deals with the two great mysteries of creation – life and death. I think it will thrill you. It may shock you. It might even – horrify you. So if any of you feel that you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now's your chance to – uh, well, we warned you."
Imagine sitting in the movie theater in 1931 and hearing those piercing words and wondering in frightening anticipation what was to come on the screen. Imagine sitting there and seeing Boris Karloff in that scary makeup and flat head staring you in the face for the first time and feeling the shivers travel up and down your spine. It's probably difficult to do given the extremes that horror films have gone to over the decades, but on the other hand, if you're sitting in a dark living room and watching a real sharp DVD copy of FRANKENSTEIN, you just might feel an ounce of those shivers I was talking about, even in this modern day and age.
The use of one's open mind and imagination is key not only in the horror of Karloff's appearance, but also in the premise of an eccentric scientist taking the laws of life, death man and God into his own hands as he attempts to create his own human being in his own image by stealing dead body parts from frest graves and brains from medical college classrooms. It's inevitable that the creation will ultimately turn on his creator, as well as surrounding society itself. Many film scholars will note that the creature is supposed to be a sympathetic character, but I've always found that a difficult premise to accept when witnessing the horror and havoc the monster causes throught the village. Even when he's being hunted by the villagers and it appears that he will burn to death in the windmill inferno, his ear-piercing harsh screams are still frightening and one can't help but feel that the creature MUST die.
If you're not already aware of this, the film has an interesting history of censorship issues regarding the scene in which the monster throws the little girl into the lake and accidentaly drowns her. Upon it original 1931 release, the second part of this scene was cut by state censorship boards in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New York. Those states also objected to a line they considere blasphemous, during Dr. Henry Frankenstein's exuberance when he first leans that his creature is alive and openly declares himself on par with the likes and powers of God himself. Those sequences were tragically cut from the film over the years but thankfully, over additional time, those points of controversay have been restored to the film's original intent, as they should be.
FRANKENSTEIN may not have been the very first of the legendary Universal Studios monster movies (DRACULA was), but it is, by far, the best of all that have ever been made, in my opinion. It's a trademark of true classic horror and a remainder to my own personal memories of all those late night horror movie TV presentations like "Fright Night" and "Chiller Theater". And by the way, when exactly did the name lf "Frankenstein" eventually pertain to the monster himself when its original intention was for that of the doctor himself? When did that happen?
Favorite line or dialogue:
Henry Frankenstein: "Look! It's moving. It's alive. It's alive...it's alive, it's moving, it's alive, it's alive, it's alive, it's alive, IT'S ALIVE!"
Victor Moritz: "Henry, in the name of God!"
Henry: "Oh, in the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to be God!"