If you haven’t seen it:
The Universal Studios Frankenstein 1931 movie is the single most important horror film ever made, and it still looks great today.
This film set the blueprint for so many future horror movies – the mad professor, the hunchback assistant, the lumbering monster. It is a short film but it packs a lot in. You are unlikely to find it scary (despite what the pompous professor says at the beginning of the movie) but it is full of excitement, drama, iconic images and interesting ideas. Highly recommended.
The more recent Branagh/De Niro version may be more faithful to the novel (which is also excellent by the way) but when you think of Frankenstein it is Boris Karloff’s face that you see.
If you have seen it:
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SPOILER ALERT: The plot summary and comments below contain details that might spoil your enjoyment of the movie if you have not already seen it.
Henry Frankenstein, with the help of his hunchbacked assistant Fritz, succeeds in bringing to life a body they have created by stitching together parts of corpses that they have collected.
Despite its horrific appearance, and the fact that it has the brain of a late criminal, the “monster” appears to be a gentle, innocent creature. However, Henry becomes afraid of it, and locks it in the castle dungeon. When Fritz antagonizes it with a torch, it kills him, and Henry decides he must kill the monster. The monster however, kills Henry’s colleague, Dr Waldman, and escapes. Wandering around the nearby countryside, it comes across a young girl, and the pair play together, until the monster accidentally drowns the girl. Confused and angry, the monster tracks down Henry, who is getting married, and menaces the bride-to-be, Elizabeth. This results in Henry leading a mob of flaming-torch-and-pitchfork-wielding villagers, who corner the monster in an old windmill, and burn it down.
Steve Sunday Says:
Everyone has something to say about Boris Karloff’s performance as Frankenstein, and usually, what they have to say is “Actually, Frankenstein was the name of the scientist, not the monster.”
When you look at poster at the top right of this page, it is easy to see why people assumed Karloff’s character was called Frankenstein. In fact he is never actually given a name in the original movie, he is just referred to as “the creature”. I used to be one of the people who insisted on calling him “Frankenstein’s monster” but recently I have come around to the idea that because the monster’s creator/father was Frankenstein, it’s surname should be Frankenstein too. Also, we learn in one of the sequels that the villagers did in fact call the monster “Frankenstein”, and if it was good enough for them then it is good enough for me. Anyway, last Halloween when my six-year-old son proudly showed me his “Frankenstein fancy dress” I decided not to inform him that a more accurate Frankenstein outfit would have involved surgical smocks and a lot of Brylcreem. I think it was the right decision.
Trivia Trish Says:
The Monster in the Frankenstein 1931 movie does not physically resemble the character in the novel. It was make-up artist Jack P. Pierce who came up with the now iconic design – the flattop, the neck terminals (not bolts!), the heavy eyelids, the scars. The monster is usually imagined to have green skin, but in fact the make-up gave the monster yellow skin.
- In the original ending of the film, Henry Frankenstein dies when he is thrown from the windmill (in fact, if you watch the scene, there is no way he could have survived). By the time Universal had decided they wanted to change the ending, Colin Clive was out of the country, so it is a body double who appears in the final scene.
- The scene by the lake was heavily censored in the original 1931 release; audiences at the time never saw the monster throw the little girl into the water, and they did not know how she had died. The full scene was not restored until the 1980s.
Chris the Critic says:
Modern audiences find some of the plot scenes and secondary characters rather trite, but all of Karloff’s scenes and most of Clive’s and Frye’s remain as compelling as ever.Their performances are so memorable that they defined the stereotypes (respectively) of the mad scientist, his hunchbacked assistant, and the misunderstood monster.
There are some wondrous theatrical set-pieces, among them the “creation” in the chaotic laboratory with lightning crashing around outside; the first appearance of the monster, turning his face towards us; the chilling scene where the father carries his little girl’s body through the streets; the monster attacking Elizabeth on her wedding day; the angry mob chasing the monster.
The Frankenstein 1931 movie was the cornerstone of its entire genre.
Lots of people watch the first Frankenstein 1931 movie, and often the Bride of Frankenstein too, but did you know there were actually six movies in the series (not including the later spoof movies)? Well, thanks to a season of movies on an obscure TV channel a few years ago, we have watched them all so you don’t have to!
Bride of Frankenstein
We discover that the monster survived the fire by taking cover in a pit under the mill. It escapes, kills a few more people, gets chased by more angry mobs, gets captured, and escapes again. It makes a few friends, including a blind hermit (who teaches it to talk), and Henry’s former mentor, the sinister Doctor Septimus Pretorius. Pretorius and the monster persuade Henry to make a mate for the monster by kidnapping Elizabeth, and they all return to Castle Frankenstein together. When the “bride” comes to life though, she rejects the monster. Miserably, the monster declares “we belong dead” and blows up the lab using the self-destruct lever that Henry had for some reason installed. Only Henry and Elizabeth escape.
Son of Frankenstein
Henry’s son, Wolf (Basil Rathbone) moves his family to Frankenstein village. With the help of demented blacksmith Ygor (Béla Lugosi), Wolf finds the monster’s comatose body, and for some reason thinks it would be a good idea to revive it. The monster however (now mute again for reasons not explained) goes on a killing spree. We discover that Ygor can control the monster (it is not explained how) and he is using it to kill his enemies in the village. When Wolf kills Ygor, the monster kidnaps Wolf’s young son. Eventually, Wolf defeats it by kicking it into a boiling sulphur pit. Then he decides to leave town, but before he leaves he donates the castle to the cheering villagers.
Ghost of Frankenstein
When villagers (who are angry again) blow up Castle Frankenstein, Ygor (not dead after all!) finds the monster (Lon Chaney Jr) in the dried up sulphur pit, and revives it. After more killings, angry mobs, and tender moments with little girls, the monster is captured, escapes, and is recaptured. The ghost of Henry Frankenstein appears to his other son, Ludwig, and tells him that he must save the family’s honor by replacing the monster’s faulty criminal brain with the brain of a good person. With the aid of a rival surgeon though, Ygor tricks Ludwig into putting his brain into the monster’s body. However, the monster’s body rejects Ygor’s brain, and it goes blind. Staggering around the mansion, the monster accidentally starts a fire, and the mansion burns down.
Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man
Larry Talbot, the “Wolf Man”, travels to Castle Frankenstein in the hope of finding a way to die. While in werewolf form, he comes across the body of the monster, which is (for some reason) in the frozen catacombs beneath the castle, and accidentally revives it. The wolf man and the monster (no longer blind or having Ygor’s personality, I seem to remember) end up fighting over a young woman, before the local tavern owner blows up the town dam, causing a flood that drowns them.
House of Frankenstein
A new character, Dr. Gustav Niemann (played by Boris Karloff), escapes from prison, and (after quickly reviving and then killing Count Dracula!) finds the bodies of the monster and the wolf man which are in the flooded ruins of castle Frankenstein. He naturally revives them both, but after a lot of unpleasantness involving gypsy girls, silver bullets, and angry mobs, Niemann and the monster drown in quicksand.
House of Dracula
This movie is mainly about Dracula and the wolf man, who are both seeking cures for their respective conditions. The monster only appears at the very end, when he is revived again, and burned to death in a castle, again.
Top ten ways Frankenstein set the blueprint for the “horror franchise”:
- First movie = great
- Second one also good with some interesting new ideas
- Monster killed at end of every episode, forcing the next movie to start with a far-fetched resurrection
- Director and main actors jump ship around episodes 3 – 4
- Later sequels ignore plot developments from earlier episodes if they are inconvenient, and hope audience will not notice.
- Episode 3 was in 3D. (Well it would have been if the technology had been more readily available)
- Monster becomes more powerful in each episode
- Descends into Freddy-vs-Jason-style team ups with characters from other franchises.
- Actor from first film (who has not had a hit for a while) returns to the series after a gap of a few movies
- Franchise rebooted twenty years later
For More reviews see Rotten Tomatoes