Frankenstein (1931)

A stunning and genre defining film that has left an indelible impact on the pop culture. It deserves to be viewed this Halloween.

While not the first film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s story (there was a silent film in 1915 from Edison studios that is available online. It’s creepy and worth checking out for the creation of the monster sequence) this is 1931 version is the one that defined the story for the last 88 years. For anyone unfamiliar with the story, a scientist discovers the key to reanimating dead tissue. He uses this technology to bring life to a dead body. However he can’t control that life and it terrorizes the nearby village.

This story has been adapted and redone hundreds of times over the years, but this one remains the one people think of. The images created in this film by James Whale are powerful and potent and lasting. Images like the giant crooked castle on the hill. The body being raised up into a lightning storm. The hand of a once dead body raising slowly. The whirring gadgets and electrical shocks of the scientific equipment. And of course the appearance of the monster…

The monster in this movie is incredible. With his flat top head, bolts in his neck, sunken eyes, huge feet, and long outstretched arms, this is the monster that everyone thinks of when they hear Frankenstein. The performance by Boris Karloff is astounding considering the fact that he has to perform under pounds of makeup and prosthetics. He brings a sensitivity to the monster. There are scenes that are beautiful and balletic like when he sees light for the first time and reaches for it. Or when he plays with a little girl. He’s also horrifying. When those dead eyes of his turn angry, it is truly chilling.

The film has wonderful cinematography. It utilizes depth in a way not commonly seen. It casts light and shadow in a powerful way. It paints the scene with light and crafts incredible images.

The film is not like modern horror movies. There are no jump scares, no set up and payoff of scary scenes. The film uses the horror of the situation. It horrifies through implication. A grave robbing scene, might not be a big deal to a modern audience, but what the film asks its audience to imagine what they’ll be doing with that body. The movie doesn’t instill a visceral emotional reaction, but it makes its audience think. That might not play well for someone looking for a thrill this Halloween, but it does make for a film that will endure for years to come.

Definitely my cup of tea A+

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