Starring: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, Dwight Frye
Directed by: James Whale
Released by: Universal Pictures
Synopsis: Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive), an ardent young scientist, and his devoted assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye), a hunchback, piece together a human body, the parts of which have been secretly collected from various sources. Frankenstein's consuming desire is to create human life through various electrical devices which he has perfected.
Review: If you guys read my Dracula review then you know that I was very underwhelmed by the horror classic. The performance by Bela Lugosi is fantastic and the atmosphere is chilling, but everything else falls flat and at times its boring. Afterwards, I approached every classic monster film with caution, expecting something bad instead of classic. This was a big mistake as Frankenstein is not only a great horror film ,it fixes all of the mistakes done by Dracula.
Based on the classic horror book by Mary Shelley, Frankenstein greatly succeeds in suspense and pace. Every event in the story flows smoothly, nary a scene feeling superfluous to the narrative. Also differently from Dracula is the amount of drama the plot has. There are some scenes that deal deeply with some human concepts, such as the frailty of life and the acceptance of those different from us. There is even a death that while unintentional leaves a very deep impression in the viewer. The reaction afterwards is nothing short of heartbreaking. It creates an unique type of horror film where there is a lot of horror to experience but also you get to see inside the psyche of the characters, a rarity in this kind of film.
This is greatly aided by some great performances from the actors. Colin Clive as Victor Frankenstein is magnificent, evoking both the ambition and madness that made the doctor one of the most amazing characters in fiction yet. He is both a hero and a villain, and ultimately becomes the victim of his own desires.
Frankenstein the monster, played by Boris Karloff, is an interesting enigma. Unlike Dracula where he possessed the smarts and charisma to create a well rounded character, Frankenstein is a juggernaut of a monster, moving left and right without any clear direction and knowledge of his existence. And yet, for such a one dimensional character you can't help but feel bad towards him when he creates dangers by mistakes. Like the doctor he too is a victim of circumstance. He wasn't asked to be an experiment nor defy the laws of life. He was set loose on a world that is terrified by him. It's rare for a monster to be this sympathetic, but Frankenstein does it.
One fascinating piece of trivia is that when the film was first released, Boris Karloff was not credited as the monster. Instead in the opening credits when the cast was shown, the monster always had an interrogation mark. Eventually, everyone learned who was the actor behind the make-up, but it's interesting that they wanted to create a monster so fascinating that they would hide the identity of its performer for years just to make sure that the effect was convincing and thus more haunting.
The technical merits are impressive for its time. It deals away with the haunting imagery of Dracula to scenes that are intense and filled with danger. Everything from the scenes in which Fritz is looking for human parts to when the villagers rally against the monster is filled with tension that adds greatly to the drama. The special effects in particular are great, giving us grand thunder storms that resonate with the madness brewing inside the character's heart.
The make-up effects are also worth noting. While the art of make-up effects has evolved in a way that monsters and otherworldly creatures can easily be made a reality, Frankenstein does really well with in this department. Boris Karloff evokes both fear and presence thanks to how he looks, and even if it looks a little primitive it all works to great results.
Overall, Frankenstein washes away the sour taste left by Dracula's slow narrative. The story is deep but never forgets to be thrilling and chilling. The movie monster is terrifying but we the audience learn to accept him as a victim of his master's misguided ambitions, and best of all it all flows very well, creating an enjoyable escapist evening at the movies. Best of all, the sequel is much, much better.
Rating: 4 filmstrips out of 5