Film 33 (a): Frankenstein

Frankenstein (1931) dir. James Whale. USA.

NB: This wasn’t on our docket, but we inserted it upon realizing that “Bride of Frankenstein” is a direct sequel.

Picture starts out with a wallop. Midnight funeral services are in progress on a blasted moor, with the figure of the scientist and his grotesque dwarf assistant hiding at the edge of the cemetery to steal the newly-buried body. Sequence climaxes with the gravedigger sending down the clumping earth upon newly-laid coffin. Shudder No.1.

Shudder No.2, hard on its heels is when Frankenstein cuts down his second dead subject from the gallows, presented with plenty of realism. These corpses are to be assembled into a semblance of a human body which Frankenstein seeks to galvanize into life, and to this end the story goes into his laboratory, extemporized in a gruesome mountain setting out of an abandoned mill. But first our scientist must have a brain, which leads to another sock touch of the creeps, when the dwarf crawls into a medical college dissecting room to steal that necessity. If you think these episodes have exhausted the repertoire of gruesome props they are but preliminaries.

— Alfred Rushford Greason

Abigail:  The Universal Monster Movies  made me consider lifting my ban on horror. I have LOVED watching “Dracula” and “Phantom”, and now the “Frankenstein” duo.  I love how imaginative the stylization is, and how pitched the performances are.  These aspects however, make me cling closer to my previously held notion of hating modern horror.  These are qualities that absolutely still exist in cinema – wonder and style and imagination and awe, but they show up in Science Fiction, or re-tellings of Fairy Tales.   Horror for me was ruined by special effects catching up with the imagination.  “Insidious” could be real.  “The Purge” could happen on the streets of Baltimore.  But Frankenstein exists in a world outside our own, in a time we don’t quite recognize.    And the stretch our brains have to make is what endears this film, in my opinion.

Forrest:  This movie blew my mind.  Like “Dracula,” and “King Kong,” it’s way better than I had any idea it would be.  I understand why it inspired so many imitators, so many Halloween costumes, so many parodies.  It’s visual sense is so keen, its storytelling so self-aware, its irony so pointed, that it’s impossible not to be drawn in.  Universal’s monster movies are like fairytales — they’re set in a strange, unnamed time and place where horse-drawn carriages and torch-carrying villagers coexist with 1930s evening wear; where British stage accents mingle with Hollywood twang.  This dissociative effect, rather than hurting the film, is utilized to brilliantly create self-contained worlds that absorb the viewer entirely.  I love it.

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