Friday, October 30, 2020

The Monster Mashes (1943 to 48)



Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man

4 years after his death, Larry Talbot's rest is disturbed after some careless graverobbers break in and  moonlight floods his tomb, returning the melancholic monster to life. After making short work of the crooks, Larry tries turning himself in, but the authorities don't believe in his condition, so he goes on the run to take care of it himself, hoping that faraway Dr. Frankenstein can help him...


With the inception of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, a new chapter was born in the Universal saga. Before this point, each series had been self contained, but from this point on, the sky was the limit.

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man overestimates our patience. Most of the movie is just people sitting around talking. There's precious little werewolf action, and even less of Frankenstein's Monster. The only time the duo even fight is the very end of the film, by which it's too little too late.


The movie is paced pretty well to begin with. The whole first act is interesting, and sets up the plot well, in a friendly way to new viewers.

A highlight for me (though not for others) is the Faro-la Faro-li musical number, which acts both as some local colour, and has a great counterbalance with Larry's struggle, even causing him to freak out.

More disappointing is the climax, which only seems to happen because it had to. The writers must have been in a pickle how to begin the spectacle, so they just decided to randomly blow things up and have a scrap, the monsters get swept up, then the movie just ends, with no real resolution. It's extremely disappointing!


As for its status as a sequel, this is far more of a Wolf Man follow-up than to Frankenstein. Its connection to the first movie are little though. It's years after, Larry's father's since died, and his love interest has presumably married her other fella. Also his hometown has somehow shifted to Wales, yet everyone still speaks with a British accent.

As for its ties to the Frankenstein series, it's a little spotty. The story's set in the same town that Ghost was, though that plays no role. There's also an Elsa, but it was a little unclear if she's the same Elsa from Ghost, or a different one, and whether or not she's the daughter of the original Frankenstein. There is also nothing made of Ygor being the new monster, despite being played by Lugosi this time (in what seems like a natural casting choice, since Lon Chaney obviously couldn't play the monster this time round). I am curious how he ended up frozen though, considering he was last seen in a burning building.


The film is set in the same town from Ghost, and everyone is pissed off at Ludwig as if he created the monster. He didn't, he just had it forced upon him, then two days later he died, I would hardly say that makes him culpable for every horror the Frankenstein name ever caused. "What does Mannering need machines for? Remember Dr. Frankenstein? He ordered machines too!". Geez, what are they gonna do next, burn the M.D. at the stake for being a witch? The worst is the moustached Vazek, who openly advocates blowing up a dam and drowning everyone in the castle.


The characters here are decent, and frankly they'd better be considering they take up most of the screentime. The main hero is of course the Wolf Man, and he is in desperate need of a hug. Poor Larry Talbot can't ever catch a break! Maleva the gypsy woman appears again, and acts as a sympathetic presence, very much the heart of the film alongside Larry. She vanishes at a couple of points though, including the ending, so we never really find out what becomes of her.


The other protagonist is scientist Dr. Mannering. It's interesting how he goes from being a skeptic at the beginning, then the next time we meet him he's been tracking Larry, and not only believes he's a werewolf, but has witnessed the death left in his wake, and is pissed! It's refreshing to see the skeptic find evidence and instantly believe his eyes, rather than spend an hour doubting constantly. He's also able to answer a telephone without expositing to the audience too, which I appreciate, even if it isn't nearly as funny.


The cast do a fine job here, with Lon Chaney Jr. once again doing a good job as Larry Talbot.

Poor Bela Lugosi got the short end of the stick with this film. It's bad enough that the monster barely appears, but he's reduced to stumbling around and waving his arms like an idiot. This was because the monster was originally meant to be blind, but this was dropped at the last minute, making Lugosi look like he's overacting. His  talking was also dropped, reportedly due to test audiences finding the monster speaking Hungarian to be silly. Pahhh, what's so silly about a European monster sounding European? Pricks. As for his performance, he does a fine job with what he's given, and I applaud that the 61 year old was able to go through the arduous make-up process and play a role like this.


For a movie with such an amazing name and premise, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is a sadly disappointing affair. It's got little to recommend it, though still worth checking out for what it is.


House of Frankenstein

After an earthquake damages a prison, the mad Dr. Niemann escapes alongside his hunchbacked assistant Daniel, and hijacks a touring monster caravan, full of authentic memorabilia, including Dracula's body. Niemann revives the vampire to do his dirty work, then sets about completing his research and taking revenge on all those who crossed him...


In some ways, House of Frankenstein is an improvement on its predecessor, but it also falls into many of the same pitfalls, and some entirely new ones! For a start, the plot is  disconnected, feeling more like two short films haphazardly stitched together. Despite the promise of a monster mash, Dracula never interacts with the others, dying long before they ever appear. He only dies 25 minutes in!


From the point when Niemann and co. take centre stage again, things do improve, though fall to the wayside once again. The film never really knows what to focus on, and none of the characters get enough time to shine. The monster doesn't come to life until the final minutes, and Larry's death scene comes before that point! He dies anticlimactically, with no brawl, and almost no werewolf action either!

The climax is pretty inevitable, and despite taking its sweet ass time doing what it should've done ages ago, it's a pretty enjoyable time, that wraps up the remaining loose ends in a decent enough way, with the mad Dr. Niemann meeting a suitably sticky end.


The film has quite a few missed opportunities, though they are at least tempered with good stuff. For example, the murder of the carnival man is an effectively creepy scene, but a monster ringmaster had such potential, yet he's dead in 2 minutes.

The romance between the hunchback Daniel and Gypsy girl Ilonka is botched. At first they seem to hit it off, despite his disability, but the moment strapping young Larry Talbot comes onto the scene, she's instantly horny for him, and ignores Daniel. Then when he tries telling her Larry's a werewolf, she screams "You're mean! And you're ugly! I hate you, I HATE YOU". Jeez, what a bitch! A far cry from the message seen in Hunchback of Notre Dame! Granted, Daniel is a homicidal maniac and pretty undeserving of a nice girl, but still!


The love story between Ilonka and Larry meanwhile is utterly dull, because he has all the charm of a dying limpet. The man won't stop whining, and he never smiles! At least the movie is aware of this to a degree, as Ilonka tries cheering him up out of his gloom, while Dr. Niemann is actively pissed off by his incessant moaning.


The characters in the first story are markedly more bearable. Simple of course, and the guy is very doofy, but they're not bad, and the girl is a charmingly morbid spirit! As she says of the night in one scene, "It's like being wrapped in the arms of a gigantic ghost". A wonderful sentiment, sister!

The acting here is a highlight. Boris Karloff returns to the Frankenstein series, in a different role as a mad doctor this time. He does marvellously, always entertaining! John Carradine is good as Dracula, though it's hard getting used to someone so different to Bela in the role. Lon Chaney Hr. is his usual self as Larry, which is both good and bad. The remainder of the cast are all fine too, including J. Carroll Naish as the hunchbacked villain.


Ultimately House of Frankenstein is a failure as a film. It has a lot of potential, but just about every ounce of it was botched.


House of Dracula

Mild-mannered Dr. Edelmann is working on secret experiments in his cliffside home, developing a formula that can help reverse bizarre mutations. This leads both Dracula and the Wolf Man into his care, and the body of Frankenstein's monster is also discovered. Things go better than expected at first, until Dracula's evil impulses lead him to throw a spanner into the works, turning the doctor mad and beginning all new horror...


House of Dracula is a lazy movie right from the title. I swear I have never been able to get these movies straight. The movie itself isn't much better. Any pretense of continuity is done away with, as the deceased Dracula and Larry Talbot are both alive again, not to mention the monster (though he is at least found in a swamp, if not the same one).


With its scant hour long runtime, it's a good thing that  gets off to a quick start, not wasting any time. It still manages to bore though, never really doing anything new. Anything unique it does bring to the table goes mostly unexplored.


The movie tries to have its cake and eat it too, explaining away all the supernatural afflictions with science, despite the clear magic behind them. Dracula's blood having a parasite in it wouldn't let him turn into a bat, nor does pressure on the brain explain how a man can spontaneously grow a fur coat, not to mention literally coming back from the dead.


A problem the movie faces as it chugs along is the absence of a villain. Since the doctor here is wholly benevolent, and Dracula is trying to go steady, there's no conflict. So to solve this the writers undermine the plot they were trying to explore, and just have Dracula randomly be evil again halfway through. It feels less like him succumbing to evil impulses, and more like the writers got a bit lazy.


In the last act, we have a Jekyll and Hyde style villain, with Dr. Edelmann becoming transformed into a demented mirror version of himself. This is a neat development, and leads to some good moments.

In terms of monster fights, House of Dracula disappoints just as greatly as the last. No, Dracula isn't killed 25 minutes in without meeting the other monsters...He's killed unceremoniously 45 minutes in, without meeting the other monsters. As for the Wolf Man, he gets a couple of minor outbursts early on, totalling half a minute, then Larry is cured and literally never transforms again, not even in the climax. 


And lastly, discounting the brief shots of him strapped to a table, the Frankenstein monster appears for only one minute! He knocks one man over, and does literally nothing else. Even his death is a disappointment, as it's just reused stock footage from Ghost, meaning the monster's final death scene in the series's last entry is just stock footage.

The climax is a bit of a downer, since all this revolutionary work goes up in smoke, and poor Nina suffers an unfortunate fate, but at least Larry Talbot finally gets a happy ending.

The film opens up with Larry alive once again, and still cursed. This raises the question of why he doesn't just take his condition to the authorities. They won't believe he's a werewolf at first, but when they see him transform they'll have all the evidence they need. Thankfully Larry has his moments here, even if he is a gloomy gus.


The local villagers are the most villainous they've ever been here. Without a Frankenstein to justify their raving, they're really just harassing a random doctor for 'daring' to have a clinic. They've got zero justification to think he's mad, and the only reason he does turn mad is because a vampire secretly transfuses evil blood into him!  In one scene they put up a machine for the doctor, then have the bloody nerve to whine just because they're not immediately pulling the thing down! What the fuck did you expect, dumbasses?!

Nina the hunchbacked assistant is nice, and it's cool seeing the deformed assistant be not only female, but a good guy this time! It's refreshing, and I hoped she'd get a happy ending. The doctor's other assistant and Larry's love interest is alright, and serves her parts well, from capable scientist, to would-be victim of Dracula's hypnosis, and the Wolf Man's bride-to-be.


The actors all do good turns here, with Onslow Stevens impressing, and Jane Adams having a unique role. Carradine gets more to chew on this time, but poor Glenn Strange is wasted.

House of Dracula is even more of a disappointment than its predecessor, and is only worth watching to complete the series...

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein


Postal workers Wilbur and Chick deliver a couple of mysterious crates to a wax museum of horrors. These boxes supposedly contain the remains of the real Count Dracula, and Frankenstein's Monster. This is proved unfortunately true when they come back to life, almost scaring Wilbur to death. He tries telling Chick what happened, but isn't believed, until werewolf Larry Talbot comes onto the scene, bringing dire warnings...


Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is lauded as one of the most popular horror-comedies of all time, as well as one of the greatest Abbott and Costello films, and one of the best Universal monster movie, which it served as a coda to. A lot of expectation to live up to! For most people it does, but I didn't enjoy it that much. It's by no means bad, but I guess there were just a few things about this that bugged me, and ultimately brought the experience down. I felt that movie focused a little too much on Bud and Lou and not enough on the monsters, who drive the plot, yet get comparatively little screentime. The movie's already a decent length as it is, so being longer probably wouldn't be the answer, but better pacing and writing, in my opinion at least.

The final battle is interesting in that we don't actually see a lot of it, but are on the periphery as Bud and Lou are trying to avoid it, unsuccessfully. On one hand it's pretty annoying that a lot of the film's only monster battle is offscreen, but I think this still works in its own right, especially given the monster brawls that had become plentiful in previous Universal outings.


The ending to ...Meet Frankenstein really bugs me though. There isn't one! It just stops after the climax, quite abruptly. I find it disappointing, though the wonderful parting joke is enough to lessen the blow, and make sure you leave the film with a smile on your face.

The characters here are mixed. The biggest problem is that there are too darn many of them! There's the main duo, the three monsters, Sandra, and the two young lovers. The latter two are the ones who feel the least necessary. Neither really do much, despite their seemingly important roles (lab assistant in the spooky castle, and dogged insurance investigator, respectively). Wilbur and Chick are both fun, with just the right level of childlike naivety, and skepticism, with neither overstaying their welcome.


The Frankenstein Monster gets to do the least, since he's strapped to a gurney for most of the film, only getting to really cut loose in the last few minutes. The Wolf Man is more active in his furry persona, but not by a whole lot since he's gotta revert back to good old Larry Talbot, who's a decent cipher to the supernatural events, even if a little crazy at times. Dracula gets the most, what with being the master villain.

Sandra is an interesting character. For a start, she's fictional Lou Costello's shockingly attractive girlfriend, so you just know she's got to have some sort of ulterior motive. And boy does she ever! (You know how it is, when the girl who dotes on you so much is really only interested in using your brain to revitalise a bedraggled monster). She even orders Dracula around! When Dracula gets ornery at her later on, you believe her when she says her will is as strong as his. Unfortunately the screenwriter evidently didn't, as she's successfully hypnotised, and spends the remainder of the film as a mindless dummy, only to be killed unceremoniously at the end...Well, I say unceremonious, but I mean on a character level. Visually it's quite spectacular! And shockingly final for such a goofy comedy!


The comedy here is spot-on! The dialogue flies by at a breakneck pace, and is almost hard to keep track of sometimes.
 "You’re making enough noise to wake up the dead." "I don’t have to wake him up.  He’s up."
"Whenever the full moon rises I turn into a wolf." "Oh, pal. That's all right. I'm sort of a wolf myself!"
"What was that?"-"The wind."-"It should get oiled."
"Dracula is Dracula! And Sandra's gonna use my brain to make a bigger dummy out of the other dummy."

The movie looks fabulous! It's got an abundance of spooky old scenery, including an old castle that just so happens to be on an American island. There are a few moments of animation, such as the fun credits, and moments of Dracula's bat transformations, which are pulled off quite well, and are visualised seamlessly (I suppose they had to animate backwards to synchronize it with Lugosi's movements). The music also sounds great. The score gets across both mirth and genuine atmosphere.


Lastly, the acting. The titular boys are great! Costello can get a little shrill and loud at times, but is otherwise really talented, as is Abbott, who plays off him perfectly. Meanwhile, Lon Chaney Jr. returns as Larry Talbot/the Wolf Man, as does Glenn Strange as Frankenstein's Monster (his third outing), and Bela Lugosi returns to the role that made him famous, 17 years later.

While I'm not the biggest fan of this film, it's still a classic, and I highly recommend you seek it out!...

Overall

The idea of combining these characters must have been a no-brainer. Who doesn't wanna see all these monsters going at it? Unfortunately the people behind it somehow managed to screw it up! There are two ways you could go with such a movie. 1, try and build on previous continuity, and tell interesting themes and develop your characters. That's the 'highbrow' route, to make these on par with the earlier Universal outings. Failing that, if you have zero interest in making such things, you could instead just shoot three monsters pummelling each-other senseless for an hour, and nothing more. Seems like a no brainer, right? But unfortunately, not only are the plots to all three of these movies inconsequential and dull, but they don't even satisfy on a popcorn level either. In fact the amount of monster fighting decreases as each movie comes! This reaches ludicrous degrees in House of Dracula, and really makes you question what the point was. Boris Karloff himself wasn't a fan, calling them monster clambakes, and I totally see why.

The lead is always Larry Talbot. He is a mopey Mildred, and I understand why, but it can be a bit tough to watch sometimes. Dracula is very weak and underused  And the Monster itself is almost a non-presence. We get a nice selection of other characters though., from mad doctors, to hunchbacks.

The continuity is pretty fast and loose, and these movies are more The Wolf Man than Frankenstein, though it always references the Doctor and his monster, with his secret notebook magically shifting from place to place.

The bright spot is Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Not only did it give us what's regarded as one of their best films, giving them a renewed popularity, but as an entry in the Universal canon it's one of the best. It's a shame these movies are as disappointing as they are, but I at least applaud the idea, and we did get a worthwhile final entry, which is a relief...

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Frankenstein (1931 to 1942)



Frankenstein

In 19th century Germany, the young scientist Henry Frankenstein has locked himself away in an old windmill for the last several months, desperately seeking to carry out his life's work-Bringing life to dead matter. Along with his demented manservant Fritz, he steals bodies for their parts, and attracts attention from his fiancee and friends. Elizabeth and college professor Waldman go to visit, just as Frankenstein succeeds in giving life to his creation. But at what cost?...


Along with Dracula, Frankenstein truly exemplifies the classic Gothic horror of the period. With its scant 70 minute runtime, this single film began so much, and created so much iconic imagery. Not many movies begin with the kind of introduction this did, with an actor actually addressing the audience about the film they're about to see, and it happening here really makes the movie stand out as something special, and it lives up to that impression.


Frankenstein is full of tropes that would become commonplace. Mad scientists babbling "IT'S ALIVE!", enormous machines, lightning crashing as they work, and angry torch-wielding mobs busting in to ruin everything, Frankenstein has got the lot! Obviously this is all super cliched now, but first of all, they are fun cliches! And secondly, the movie still feels just as fresh as the day it came out. After all, it doesn't necessarily matter how cliched you are, it's how you use them. Even if this film came out last year, when all these conventions were decades old, it would still be a roaring success.

The story is simpler than the book in many ways, which is immediately apparent from the runtime. At least half of the book is jettisoned, from most of the backstory, the monster's more intelligent character, some of the darker and more gruesome moments, etc. With some of these, it's a shame to not see their inclusion, while others are hardly missed. Some things wouldn't translate well to film, while other changes are simply more effective for the way this story is told. In a sense this is both a good and bad adaption, and the important thing is that it perfectly captures the spirit of Mary Shelley's novel.
 

Frankenstein gets off to a great start midway through the action, without ever confusing you or leaving you in the dust. The story progresses interestingly, with many what ifs. For example, what if Fritz hadn't broken the first brain jar and gotten the abnormal one, or what if he hadn't been such an abusive prick. Come to think of it, all these dilemmas could have been averted had Henry only employed a more stringent hiring policy. But the movie isn't totally dependent on fate either. either, a despite having a criminal brain, and despite being tormented by cruelty, the monster still has a childlike innocence in him, so despite facing hardships in his early life, he still could have been a well-adjusted monster, had he only been taught better, and the world not reacted with such fear and hate.


The main characters here are strong. The movie does a very good job portraying the doctor's obsession, and how it hasn't turned him one-dimensionally evil, but there's still an unhealthy drive governing him, that only bad can come of. Unfortunately this goes away a little too quickly. It's nice to see him throw off the addiction, though it perhaps comes a little too early and easily.

I also felt a bit put-off by how blameless everyone sees Frankenstein. Despite bearing the responsibility for all the bad things in the film, from the deaths of Dr. Waldman and little Maria (that asshole Fritz's death doesn't count), he is not only never punished, but the villagers never even find out he was the one who created the monster. They just go on throwing flowers at his wedding and cheering his family name, despite him being 100% to blame.


The monster is one of the more interesting characters of the film. He is mostly a lumbering beast with temper problems, but we also see him suffer at the hands of humans, and get a glimpse into his childlike mind in the famous scene where he plays with little Maria. He only wants to play, and she's the first one he meets who's not frightened or angry at him, but his incomplete understanding leads to a terrible accident, that only further turns the town against him. My only complaint is that we see Henry and the monster interact so little that we never get much of a relationship, father-son or otherwise.

As the rest of the characters, Elizabeth is a likeable enough lady, while his best friend Victor doesn't really contribute much. I figured he'd be inclined against Henry's research, purely because he wants to bang his fiancee, but there's not even that much character to him. Dr. Waldman is a good mentor, who isn't entirely dismissive of Henry's research, but also urges him to think twice lest it consume him. Fritz is a typically loony manservant, dispatched too quickly, but it's a treat when it comes. And last up is Henry's amusing old duffer of a dad, who gives a little bit of comic relief to the proceedings. Though we never really get much interaction between the two, making his inclusion a bit of a missed opportunity.


The sets here are beautiful. The windmill laboratory is a gothic marvel, with an almost unreal quality to it that makes it stand out perfectly. Equally impressive are the houses and wedding hall, which are normal in a way that contrasts well with the garish and otherworldly windmill, but also interesting in their own right, especially thanks to the sweeping direction, and seamless set design. The village looks great too, and you could swear it was shot on location in Germany.


The direction by James Whale is superb, with many fantastic shots, and well-orchestrated moments. Even small scenes that last only a few seconds still have hard work clearly put into them.

While not perfect, Frankenstein is still a timeless horror classic, and will live forever just as its monster...












Bride of Frankenstein

On a stormy night, Mary Shelley, her husband, and Lord Byron are discussing scary stories, and after prompting, she decides to tell the rest of her new story. Continuing after the monster's apparent death, we see its continued adventures, learning more of the world and meeting people both good and bad. Meanwhile, the sinister Dr. Pretorius visits his old pupil with a proposition-Make the monster a mate...


Often hailed as one of the greatest sequels of all time, and perhaps even an improvement over the first movie, Bride of Frankenstein is another classic, and one that's well and truly earned its reputation as one of the greatest films of all time.

The story here is a natural continuation of the first film, and also adapts many of the elements left out of the book, such as the monster's many attempts to get close to people, most notably his fateful encounter with the old blind man, his first true friend. That moment is effective and sad, though less heart-crushing than it is in the book, which is somewhat of a relief.


My only complaint is that some things happen a little too quickly. Like when the monster is captured, only to immediately escape from prison not 5 seconds after he's chained, without even so much as a different scene in-between!

Everything culminates in a truly iconic ending (if way too short). Originally it was to be more downbeat, but the test audience hated it, and for a change were correct! Test audiences have certainly have their drawbacks, as I've discussed, but in this particular case they had the right idea!


The monster is the true main character here, having the majority of the depth and character to him, as well as the fraught and complex journey. He is very likeable, and you really hope things work out for him.

Henry is a bit of a whinger this time round, facing zero consequences for his actions, and is actively dismissive of the beast. While he does sometimes make you want to slap him upside the head, his characterisation is well-handled, especially by the ending. His mental conflict is intelligently crafted too. We see him freely acknowledging how unhealthy his old desires and experiments were, but as he talks you see him slipping back on Ifs and Buts, and slowly talking like an obsessive again, about how it could work, if only...


Pretorius is a fascinating figure, and really provides a dramatic flair, and a perfect foil for Frankenstein. My only real complaint is that for all the movie's efforts at making him appear evil, he doesn't actually do anything bad! He wants to build a female monster, and that's it! Sure, he may have a shitty hiring policy in employing murderers, but so does the Baron, and he gets off scot free. Pretorius is almost certainly an assshole, but I wish the movie had've made him do more overt acts of evil.

Then come the two henchmen Pretorius has. They come so out of nowhere, solely to meet a deformed lunatic quota the producers were trying to meet, and feel unnecessary as a result. They perhaps would have had a better time fitting in were it not for the fact that there's only 14 minutes left.

Lastly, there is the Bride herself. A fascinating and eerie character, she is instantly memorable, but gets sadly little to do, only appearing in the climax. Despite this, every moment with her is a powerful one.



The acting in Bride of Frankenstein is masterful. Since the monster is already established now, Karloff gets even more to chew on, especially since he can now speak (in a move that may divide some, Karloff himself, even though it is in the book, to a bizarre degree). Colin Clive delivers another neat performance as the Doctor, being stable enough to be sympathetic, yet mad enough to cause interest.  Ernest Thesiger is delightfully evil as Dr. Pretorius, and camp without ever becoming obnoxiously so. Elsa Lanchester is a cute button in her role as Mary Shelley, and an iconic and creepy monster as the Bride. It's criminal that she doesn't appear more, but it really speaks of her talent that she is so instantly iconic despite only appearing for two minutes at the very end.


Some of the acting is hilariously over-the-top at times, like with Valerie Hobson as Elizabeth. It's so bad that in one scene I honestly couldn't tell if she was wailing, or if she was laughing and the whole monologue was actually a piss-take by Elizabeth. Una O'Connor is a mixed bag. While not as shrill as her turn in The Invisible Man, she still delivers a somewhat divisive performance. Loud and annoying at times, but better in others. O.P. Heggie delivers a soulful performance as the blind man, while Dwight Frye returns to play another mad deformed assistant, along with Ted Billings. Meanwhile, the accents range from vaguely European, to English, Scottish, and American.

James Whale once again directs, and does an even better job this time round, delivering some striking imagery. Not necessarily subtle, but fantastic all the same, and a sight to behold.


Bride of Frankenstein is a near-flawless movie. Short, yet meaningful and enthralling...


Son of Frankenstein

Henry Frankenstein's adult son Wolf is returning to their old village, with his family in tow. They are met with a frosty reception, and only the policeman Inspector Krogh shows any sympathy. Life seems normal at first, until Wolf is met by the sinister Ygor, a half-dead lunatic with a connection with the very-much alive monster...


Setting its action decades after the first two entries, Son of Frankenstein tries to begin the series off on a fresh start, with an all new Doctor, but same old monster. This is a shame in a way, as it totally negates the monster's hard-earned conclusion at the end of Bride, and his personality is completely gone at this point. Perhaps better to have a new monster! But as it is, this does continue the story in a satisfactory enough way.


This is where the villagers really start to become mistrustful and hostile, which feels weird. On one hand it is entirely warranted, and it would have been nice seeing this attitude bandied about when old Henry was causing direct harm. But on the other hand, 3 movies in is a little late for this, especially when they were hunky dory about the Frankensteins before, and these events were probably 40 years ago anyway! I can't see how a monster knocking some heads half a century ago makes your village a desolate wasteland. I'm willing to bet they just have a really shitty tourist program.

It's sad to see these rotten little assholes have still not learned the lesson that they were the real monsters, and they gladly pelt a family with dirt and more. After all, not one of the villagers finally destroyed the monster in Bride. Who did? The monster! He destroyed himself to rid the world of their existence, and yet these villagers still spit on his name.


Wolf Frankenstein is a decent successor. He's a little too quick to be obbsessive, but at least his ultimate motives are pure, in that he wants to clear his father's name. He got on my bad side at the start by calling the monster, well, a monster! He wasn't very fair at all. As the movie goes on he gets better, though as a character he annoyed me. For a great scientist he is a bit of a dope, like his inability to come up with a good cover story with Inspector Krogh. He's so laughably unconvincing with how calm he tries to play, despite being so on edge. He actually acts like Gene Wilder! Even with the sudden fake laughter! He becomes pretty unlikeable in this last act, with his constant raving and blustering, mainly at the friendly inspector, but thankfully his wife does call him out on this.


Ygor is the film's highlight. Rivalling even Dwight Frye, he is the most evil assistant so far, becoming the true main villain. Using the monster to exact revenge on the jurors who had him hung, he is surprisingly domineering. At no point does he even put up a pretense of following Wolf's orders, and he just assumes he'll someday get the man under his thumb, which you know isn't gonna happen when this maniac is gladly insinuating Wolf's murder.


The least interesting character is the monster itself, almost feeling like an afterthought. There's so much focus on Wolf and Ygor that the monster takes half an hour to show up, then another 25 before actually waking. Even when he does finally appear, he's only Ygor's instrument of murder, rather than getting any character or story of his own. There are a few dramatic moments here and there, but they're pretty minimal.

Inspector Krogh is a good due, and a kind understanding friend who has a healthy level of suspicion, while also not being an asshole. He's visually interesting, with his prosthetic arm that he spins and whips all over the place. The continuity is a little off though with how he got it, compared to the old movies. He suffered the tragedy as a mere child, even though they were the one group who the monster never deliberately harmed.


The acting here is a high point! Basil Rathbone delivers a good performance, if a bit manic at times. Bela Lugosi is a fantastic breath of fresh (or should I say rotten) air as the evil Ygor. Boris Karloff has a bit of a thankless role, mostly just lying around, or occasionally waving his arms and going "RAHHHH", but he still delivers a good performance as the monster, one last time. As for weaker performances, there is the Baron's son. It feels a little mean to rag on such a young child's performance, buttt...good god, he is SO annoying!

The direction here by Rowland V. Lee is equal to James Whale, with a greater emphasis on German expressionism, giving an almost surreal vibe to the sets. They look great, even if you do sometimes wonder about the floor plan.
 

One interesting thing of note here is the legacy the movie left. The comedy classic Young Frankenstein draws inspiration from various entries, with the majority coming from Son. It can be unintentionally amusing now watching some scenes or characters when you have those funny versions in mind the whole time, but on the upside, seeing this does bring into even greater perspective what a fantastic and respectful parody Young Frankenstein is.


Son of Frankenstein isn't as good as the classics that came before, but it's almost an equal, and responsible for its own share of iconic imagery. A little long, but well worth a watch...

Ghost of Frankenstein

In the sleepy village of Visaria, Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein is operating his practice  when he's visited by the surviving Ygor and monster,

Ghost of Frankenstein is a good movie in places, but feels largely unnecessary. About a whole third of the movie is dedicated to rewriting the ending to the last, and when it does finally get going, there's only 40 or so minutes left! If Son was too long, this is too short. Ordinarily I don't complain about hour long runtimes, but here it was a problem, not aided by the script.


While the plot here is beyond basic, there's a fair bit to discuss with the characters

The film starts out in the same location as the last three. The villagers are one-note dipshits, who bleat on endlessly about their village being cursed by Frankenstein, the fields are barren, and the birds no longer sing, etc. It sounds to me like you dopes are just shitty farmers! When some minor oddities happen, their immediate and only response is to assume the monster and Ygor are alive with zero evidence, and blow up the castle, ironically freeing the monster.

The setting for the majority of the movie is the new village of Visaria, populated by people so trusting and casual that they see nothing wrong with the creature shambling about in broad daylight. They do get concerned when it starts carrying off a little girl, but it turns out he was just helping the girl get her lost ball! Ahhh, then no harm no foul...Well, except for the people he killed along the way, but oh well.


Ludwig Frankenstein is a nice enough guy, and comes across like a natural successor to the fmaily legacy. Though I question his intelligence when it comes to lying low, as all he does is move to the next village over, and not even bother changing his name. It's so close that a cripple with a broken neck and 6 bullet wounds was able to do it in a day's walk!

Despite the somewhat inconvenient disability of being killed in the last movie, Ygor is back, as conniving as ever. While it is hopelessly convenient that he just so happened to survive, I'm glad he's back, as the direction taken with his character is interesting! Plus, it's more Bela, so what is there to complain about?


Rounding out the cast is the shifty Dr. Bohm. Formerly the teacher, he was demoted to assistant after a mistake on the operating table cost him his reputation. He puts up only the slightest pretense of helping Ludwig, harbouring extreme resentment which Ygor is able to manipulate. He's an interesting character, though loses points when he trusts Ygor, when doing what Ludwig wanted would've benefited him way more.

The monster really gets the shaft here. His appearances early on are fairly strong, such as his interactions with the little girl, and his innocent yet macabre wishes later on when he wants a new brain. But that aside he doesn't really do much, then 'dies' with little fanfare after his original brain is removed altogether


Cedric Hardwicke makes for a pretty good Frankenstein here. Lugosi once again turns in a fine performance as Ygor, though he's a little less evil, and really loves saying the name Frankenstein! Lionel Atwill returns to the series again, this time playing Dr. Bohm. He's fine, though it's weird seeing him as another new character, especially since he and Hardwicke blend together a lot.

While the plot can be a bit listless and basic, and lacks many important things (like any kind of justification for the title, or an explanation for where the little girl just vanished to), the climax makes up for a lot! The feeling of hubris comes together really well, culminating in a legitimately creepy finale! The moment the monster starts speaking is bound to cause chills.

Ghost of Frankenstein has it's issues, but as the last main entry in the Frankenstein series before it turned into monster crossover shenanigans, it's a decent enough watch...

Overall

With only four movies encompassing the main branch of the series, Frankenstein is one of the shorter franchises Universal had. The first two are seamless classics, while the other two veer more into b-movie territory. Still A-pictures of course, and by no means bad, but they did signal where the series was headed after the inspired first two outings.


Despite these rocky patches, this is still an amazing series all these years later, and well worth checking out for fans of horror, and cinema in general. They are some of the best!...