Directed by: James Whale
Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Runtime: 71 Minutes
In 1931, history was made when this monster movie classic hit the screen. People were shocked, enthralled and very much surprised by the story. “Frankenstein” is one of the most influential horror films of all time filled with expressionistic sets and may not be horrific tremendously by today’s viewer, but it is still a fascinating experience. The acting was first class and James Whale’s resonating direction made this film an instant classic, and it shall remain that for quite some time.
The horror fable opens with a gloomy funeral and the burial. Soon, Henry Frankenstein and his Igor Fritz sneak over to the buried coffin and begin to dig up the body, for what we learn is an experiment. Not long after, they steal a brain (which turns out to be an abnormal one) and Frankenstein takes on the creation of life. The story is so well known; it does not need to be described much, but does not stop it from being elegantly great.
When you watch “Frankenstein”, you see the true rise of the monster movie. This is truly were monster movies came to power, which makes the film definitive to the genre. For the time it was created, the photography was nothing short of beautiful. Likely German expressionist inspired, “Frankenstein” is an inspirational horror film that has beautiful imagery all over. First, there is the house were Frankenstein carries out his experiments, then there is the room in it with all his chemicals and such. Black and white movies were incredibly hard to make due to colouring and a lot must be credited to Arthur Edison the Cinematographer. It is one of the films elements, which have gained this film critical acclaim.
In the same year, Bela Lugosi starred in “Dracula” as the titular character. Many compare the two films but for me Frankenstein is on top. Dracula is more melodramatic and Frankenstein has the better sophistication to it. However, the story of “Dracula” is still fascinating.
The film can be considered the “Star Wars” of its time; that is how much of an impact it had. Once it hit the cinema, people fell in love with it instantly. Despite its age, being 80 years this year, the film lives to viewing expectation and is still an exciting film to watch. The film is so culturally important and aesthetically significant. If you simple think of all the people who know of this Universal character and have not seen the original film, this truly shows the impact it has had.
Of course, the exuberant and imaginative story should be credited to Mary Shelley, for if there were no book, there would be no film. However, it is the direction of James Whale and the amazing collaboration of writers, set designers and actors that make the creation something special. The story is an undeniable classic. Here we have a film that explores the creation of life and the line between madness and genius. Out of all the horror stories out there, “Frankenstein” is still one of the most fascinating for its versatile strength of sci-fi, horror and drama and being one of the core stories of film itself.
After watching the film, you will always remember Boris Karloff for an amazing performance as the monster. You may think it was an easy role to achieve, but Karloff’s convincing role as the monstrous creation was brilliant. With speech not yet inherited, the monster is an alien creation still squandering and learning like a child, except a very large and strong one. Karloff’s performance is still unnerving and wonderful to watch today. We will all remember the monster on first sight, with that close-up of the monster staring upwards in an inhuman kind of manner. Of course, we cannot forget about Colin Cline as Henry Frankenstein, who was marvellous as a crazy and eccentric scientist.
For those film buffs out there, keep in mind this is a pre-code film, which means before the production code in 1934. The film is quite relentless for its time and censorship offices consider some things that happened in the film to be blasphemous and violent. When Colin Clive says the films famous line “It’s alive, it’s alive!” he also says, “In the name of God, now I know what it is like to be God”. The 30’s is unlike today so religion in movies was taken very seriously. Another controversial scene is the scene in which Frankenstein throws a little girl in to a lake, drowning her. Considered violent and just plain wrong it was quite controversial. However, it was not cut from the film and thank god, it wasn’t. That scene shows that Frankenstein is an unaware creation who does not yet have a sense of morality.
I think the character study of Frankenstein is the fascinating thing about the film. For the time, it was a leap for science fiction and horror because it takes the ungodly idea of creating life in to a film. Frankenstein’s monster is a creation, which we learn has fire, has yet to learn morals and can be a relentless creation. You cannot help but give some slight sympathy at the end of the film when the angry mob burn down the old mill where he is trapped, because he is a creation who is unaware of his actions.
As for that scene, even today it is one of the most famous scenes in horror history. Look at Tim Burton’s short film “Frankenweenie”, where a set similar to that old mill is used. The old mill scene shows the relentless fury of many people and shows them almost as the villains rather than Frankenstein’s monster. That is the versatile beauty the film has, it puts blame on society for radical actions as a group, but at the same time you are reminded to them the monster is an emotional murderer.
“Frankenstein” 80 years later is still electrifying and a truly fascinating experience to have. As one of the most influential horror films ever made, once the film is over you will understand why. The story has a great moral lesson for people not to tamper with science and not to ‘play god’, which is why the story lives strong today. With all of its dark but elegant cinematography, first class direction and classic acting, “Frankenstein” is the must-see horror movie and should remain a classic for a very long time.