Year of Monsters: Frankenstein

Unlike the other Universal films we’ve discussed so far, I’ve actually seen Frankenstein before. Read it before, too, although I’ll admit it’s been years since I’ve done either. I’ll also admit that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was a serious struggle for me to get through. Some of the prose is fascinating and beautifully written, like, there are sections of it that have stuck with me for years, and I’d actually be interested in seeing a more faithful adaptation, but boy. There’s a limit on how much I can deal with a dude moaning about how wretched and cursed and doomed he is, and Victor Frankenstein easily surpasses that limit in the first fifty pages.

But that’s not this story. James Whale’s Frankenstein is a wildly different affair, and while it certainly has its moments, I think I enjoyed it more the first time I watched it.

Year: 1931
Director: James Whale
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Absolutely

On Twitter, I described the characters from It Came From Outer Space as ESH. (Or “everybody sucks here,” for those of you who don’t spend your mornings testing out the viability of rage-induced spontaneous combustion by reading AITA.) But that’s only because I hadn’t seen Frankenstein yet, a movie where nearly everyone deserves to be slapped silly with a dead fish. For instance:

A. Victor Henry Frankenstein, partially because he treats Fritz like shit (sure, dude with severe hunchback, you do all the hard physical labor while I keep my precious scientist hands clean), partially because he apparently didn’t bother to read the labels on the jar that Fritz gave him (like, come on, “abnormal brain” is written in all caps here), and partially because of the whole desecrating graves thing (cause it’s one thing to steal bodies when you wanna figure out how livers work for science; it’s a whole other thing when you just want to be the first to create Flesh Pinocchio.)

B. Fritz, who turns out to be a sadist and keeps torturing the Monster. No one’s sorry when you die, buddy. (The fact that Frankenstein doesn’t just immediately fire Fritz continues to baffle me. Dude. Your problems are so easily fixable.)

C. Dr. Waldman, AKA, Van Helsing’s Asshole Twin Brother, who jumps to “outright murder” as the only viable solution way too quickly, like, maybe Plan A should be “stop attacking the Monster with torches for a bit and see if he chills out” before we resort to offing the poor bastard. Dr. Waldman also has no ethical concerns about killing the Monster by drugging him to the gills and dissecting him alive, like, on both a moral and a precautionary level, this is a fucked up plan. Waldeman even notes that the sedation is wearing off faster than expected before he turns his goddamn back on the Monster, and I’m sorry for the excessive italics here, but truly, this dude deserves to be kicked into the sun.

D. Maria’s father because FFS, if your small child can’t swim in what’s gotta be, like, two feet of water, maybe don’t leave her alone next to a fucking lake, you incompetent sonofabitch.

Other characters include Henry Victor, who is so functionally useless they don’t even bother to include him in the Big Showdown. He just stays behind to take care of Elizabeth, even though she’s no longer in any particular danger. And Elizabeth herself is predictably boring, except for this weird moment where she suddenly intuits that everything will all go horribly wrong, and I’m like,”Wait, when did this bitch get psychic? That’s awesome! Can we have more of this please?” Alas, we did not get more of that. 

Finally, there is Baron Frankenstein, Henry’s father, and while I don’t know that he’s really any more plot-relevant than Victor, he’s at least kind of amusing in that he’s a grumpy old man who is continuously displeased with literally everything around him. Also, Baron Frankenstein is a great pet name.

As far as the rest of the story goes, though, it’s . . . okay? I honestly don’t have much to say about this one. I’m not even totally sure why I enjoyed it less this go-around, just that I was a little bored overall. My favorite bits are definitely the silly ones, and I do wholeheartedly love them: the introduction where the viewers are warned about all the horror they’re about to experience, or just the whole “it’s alive, it’s ALIVE” scene. In general, I think Colin Clive is probably my MVP of this movie. He’s often over-the-top, but mostly in a fun or interesting way, and he surprisingly pulls off the occasional moment of genuine pathos, too. The other actors, less so. Karloff, perhaps, but it’s pretty hard to take all the moans and stuff seriously, like, I do feel sorry for the Monster, but mostly because everyone else around him sucks so hard. Then again, I may have made a strategic error watching The Black Cat before this and The Mummy; none of Karloff’s iconic movie monster performances hold a candle to his sheer creepiness as Hjalmar Poelzig.

Finally, a few random notes:

A. Henry Frankenstein sucks as a person, but he’s still less awful than his counterpart in the original novel. Seriously. That dude may be the most worthless protagonist of all time.

B. In the title credits, we discover that Frankenstein is based on the novel by Mrs. Percy B. Shelley, and nope, nope, NOPE. I may not be that book’s biggest fan, but Mary Shelley didn’t invent science fiction just to be erased like this by her broody ass poet husband.

C. When Frankenstein inevitably gets remade again, I think Elizabeth should legit be psychic. That shit would be awesome. Also, Henry (who will once again be named Victor) should definitely be played by Burn Gorman.

D. According to IMDb, the whole Victor/Henry name swap happened because there was concern that Americans wouldn’t consider Victor a relatable or friendly name? I don’t even know.

E. Poor Boris Karloff had to carry Colin Clive around so much during the story that he permanently fucked up his back. Also, his name isn’t even in the opening credits, like, I get that this was his first role and nobody expected him to become famous because of it, but that’s some bullshit. I may personally prefer Karloff in roles where he actually gets to talk, but I’m still glad he managed to prove all those studio people wrong.

The Current Ranking

1. The Black Cat
2. Creature from the Black Lagoon
3. The Mummy
4. The Invisible Man
5. Frankenstein
6. It Came From Outer Space

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