THE MOMENT the character of Doctor Waldman delivers the opening monologue as a word of warning about what the audience is about to see, a classic novel becomes an iconic film.
Said character is played by Edward Von Sloan who returns after his performance of Van Helsing in Dracula.
Also returning to the Gothic Horror scene for Universal, who played the maniacal Renfield.
He he turns a trick as the hunchback (and aide to Dr Frankenstein) Fritz.
But the film owes testament to Colin Clive’s performance of Frankenstein, Boris Karloff’s awesome transformation as the Monster, a performance that required hours in the make up chair to deliver the signature look for the creature.
Karloff’s name would be forever cemented in film history despite only being credited as “?” in the titles.
And let’s not forget the directorial duties of James Whale, who’s vision in this movie not only established his rightful place as a master of his craft, but would forever identify him with this time and place in film history.
The story of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley has become so identified with Gothic Literature that it arguably holds the title of being the finest example of that genre.
It was one of the earliest stories used for film back in 1910 with the Edison Manufacturing Company’s short feature and has seen numerous adaptations ever since.
By 1931, Universal Studios had found a successful run in the Gothic genre, particularly after Dracula and were looking to repeat that winning formula.
With the release of Frankenstein, they found that success and a golden era in horror was born.
I hold my hand up and have to declare that I do have a soft spot for these movies that I do identified with the time, but for me they feel ageless as I am easily transported into the setting and delve into the world that has been created, which is a testament to the storytellers and the performances of the cast.
Colin Clive deliberately hams up the role of Dr. Frankenstein, which hangs marginally on the right side of believable as a man driven to the brink of insanity.
Even to this day the scene in which he brings the Monster to life and cries, “It’s alive, It’s alive! Now I know what it’s like to be God!”, has been used or replicated time and time again, most notably in 1985’s Weird Science.
Most of the tragedy in this tale comes from the Monster, who is forced to live in the darkness, fearful of light and fire, and strives to find his place in the world.
With that in mind, praise can not be held highly enough for Karloff, who is still able to deliver heartfelt tenderness under the layers of make up and between the grunts and gruffs.
None more so in the harrowing scene (that has played a significant part in many a thesis written around the movie) when the monster encounters the village girl and is led to believe that all beautiful things should float.
Even to its epic conclusion, when Frankenstein is forced to confront his creation in the now iconic windmill setting as it’s engulfed in flames, taking the Monster with it.
It’s a must watch for true lovers of the the Horror genre as it not only bore witness to one of cinemas greatest horror creations but also gave birth to the Horror film genre as we know it today.
Yes there were horror films before this movie, but In Frankenstein, Universal had created a legend that impacted audiences to a greater level and would pave the way for more stories of blood and gore that would delight the senses and chill the bone.
- Paul Farrell