C’mon, be honest…when was the last time you watched them? College film class? Late night television as a kid? Never?! Everyone recognizes the iconic images, but I often wonder how many have exposure that’s limited to the 1974 Mel Brooks parody movie “Young Frankenstein”. But these are the ones that you have to experience, so may I suggest a back-to-back viewing just in time for Halloween? The whole screening process will take just 2 hours of 25 minutes of your time, with 1931’s “Frankenstein” clocking in at 70 minutes and 1935’s “The Bride of Frankenstein” sequel clocking in at 75. That running time is almost exactly matched by the last “Hunger Games” movie…which is a tepid hunk of garbage. “Frankenstein” and “The Bride of Frankenstein” are not only great films, they are unmatched titans of the horror genre. And don’t be fooled…both are still pretty damn scary.
So, a little focus on the films’ differences and similarities. Neither is completely faithful to Mary Shelley’s 1818 classic “Frankenstein” novel, but there are solid elements of the book in both adaptations. Both releases were monster hits in their day, and Universal Pictures ordered six more sequels–straight through 1948. The great James Whale directed both the 1931 film and its 1935 sequel, and Dr. Frankenstein was the incredible Colin Clive for each one (It’s aliiiive!). Mae Clarke would portray Frankenstein love interest Elizabeth in the first movie, but was replaced by Valerie Hobson in 1935, for ill-health reasons. But the two “folks” above provide a pair of filmdom’s most familiar characters of all time. Elsa Lanchester appears in “The Bride of Frankenstein” as the Monster’s intended, but also as author Mary Shelley herself in the movie’s prologue! And the fantastic Boris Karloff plays the Monster in each film…two of only three times that he would ever portray the creature on the big screen–but his legendary creation has thrilled for over 80 years.
The make-up artist Jack Pierce is responsible for the Monster’s renowned look, and is there a more parodied, copied and celebrated ghoulish image? But, are these classic motion pictures a little creaky after all these years? Of course–but that’s part of the charm. Do you really desire phony-looking, computer-generated effects, when compared to good, old-fashioned, studio lot production values in glorious black-and-white? Both films were added to the National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”–your only argument will be which one is superior. So, go back to the source of inspiration for the dozens of adaptations and imitations that have followed for the last 83 years. The burning windmill. The electrodes on the Monster’s neck. The violent, lightning storm that brings the creature to life. The encounter with the blind hermit. The creation learning to speak (“bread…goood!“). The unforgettable Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Pretorious. It’s all here. And just as good upon the 20th, or so, go-round as the first. But don’t just take my word for it—queue ’em up!
Grade: both films an A for quality…but historically, it’s an A+