Frankenstein (1931)


One of the most iconic images in horror movie history.

(1931) Horror (UniversalColin Clive, Boris Karloff, Mae Clark, John Boles, Edward Van Sloan, Frederick Kerr, Dwight Frye, Lionel Belmore, Marilyn Harris, Francis Ford, Michael Mark, Mae Bruce, Jack Curtis, Paul Panzer, William Dyer, Cecil Reynolds, Cecilia Parker, Ellinor Vanderveer, Soledad Jiménez, Mary Gordon, Carmencita Johnson, Pauline Moore, Arletta Duncan. Directed by James Whale

Perhaps the most iconic horror film of all time is James Whale’s 1931 version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (the latter of whom is listed in the credit as “Mrs. Percy B. Shelley” – ah, misogyny). It is in many ways the perfect storm of Gothic imagery, gruesome subtexts, pathos, terror and a truly mind-blowing performance by Boris Karloff as the monster.

Most everyone knows the story, or at least bits of it; medical student Henry Frankenstein (Clive) who was renamed from Victor in the book and most subsequent films, is obsessed with the big questions of life; why does one child turn out to be the pillar of the community, the other a criminal? Where does life begin? Can a man bring life to the lifeless?

To discover the latter, he and his faithful servant Fritz (Frye) – renamed Igor in most subsequent productions – dig up bodies for their parts to create a perfect being. Utilizing a violent thunderstorm, lightning strikes buffet his creation until, as Frankenstein notably exclaims, “It’s alive! It’s alive!”

However, Frankenstein eventually has cause to regret his experiment as he loses control of the monster which goes on a murderous rampage, not always out of malice (in a particularly famous scene he inadvertently drowns a little girl while throwing flowers into a lake).

Many of the tropes that have characterized horror films in the 88 years since this movie was made originated or was refined here; the angry mob with torches and pitchforks, the sweet maiden menaced by an ugly monster, the imposing castle, the thunderstorm, the grunting of the inarticulate monster and so much more.

Karloff’s sad eyes and stiff gait made the monster so memorable that it was called thenceforth Frankenstein, even though the monster is never given a name in the film. Karloff, to that point a journeyman actor who generally played the heavy in B movies, would go on to a lucrative and acclaimed career as one of the greatest horror specialists of all time. Frankenstein is so iconic that many identify the genre with this movie; often the scowling visage as the monster is used to represent the genre.

While the scares are tame by modern standards, I think the film holds up extraordinarily well even today. This is how horror films were done before excessive gore was used as a crutch by many filmmakers in the genre; Whale knew just about how much to leave to the imagination and our imaginations are often more gruesome than reality. I think that these days, it gets lost in the shuffle a little bit but if you haven’t seen it – or haven’t seen it in a while – you owe it to yourself to watch it once again or for the first time.

REASONS TO SEE: A classic in every sense of the word. Karloff’s performance is a career maker. Still pretty scary even now. Still the best adaptation of the iconic Mary Shelley tale. The standard by which other horror movies are judged.
REASONS TO AVOID: Quite tame by modern standards.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some scary images and child peril.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The monster isn’t seen until 30 minutes into the film.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/2/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: 91/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Bride of Frankenstein
FINAL RATING: 10/10
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The Saudi Women’s Driving School

Pick of the Litter – November 2019


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Knives Out

(Lionsgate) Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Toni Collette. Direct Rian Johnson delivers a delightful homage to Agatha Christie-style whodunnits with this parlor mystery about the murder of a family patriarch on the occasion of his birthday. An all-star cast highlights the festivities which look to be great fun. November 27

OTHER WIDE RELEASES TO WATCH FOR:

Terminator Dark Fate, November 1
Doctor Sleep, November 8
Ford v. Ferrari, November 15
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, November 22
Frozen 2, November 22
Queen and Slim, November 27

INDEPENDENT PICKS

American Son

(Netflix) Kerry Washington, Jeremy Jordan, Steven Pasquale, Eugene Lee. A frantic mother and her estranged husband reunite at a Florida police station in an attempt to help find their missing teenage son. Based on the acclaimed stage play. November 1

Harriet

(Focus) Cynthia Erivo, Janelle Monáe, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Tim Guinee. The story of American icon Harriet Tubman, focusing on her daring escape from slavery to freedom and the iron will it forged to make her into one of the leading abolitionists of her day. November 1

The Kingmaker

(Greenwich/Showtime) Imelda Marcos, Bongbong Marcos. The story of the controversial political career of Imelda Marcos who rose to power first as the First Lady of the Philippines and then to power in her own right. Now elderly, she is plotting to get her son Bongbong elected to the vice-presidency and is rewriting her family history of corruption and exploitation to do it. November 1

Honey Boy

(Amazon) Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe, Laura San Giacomo. A child actor grows to young adulthood dealing with an overbearing father. He struggles to reconcile with his dad while dealing with his own mental health issues. November 8

The Report

(Amazon) Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Corey Stoll, Jon Hamm. An American Senator sets a recent graduate to look into files that were destroyed by the CIA and what he finds turns into a national scandal. Based on actual events. November 15

Waves

(A24) Taylor Russell, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Sterling K. Brown, Clifton Collins Jr. Two young couples in South Florida, facing a devastating loss, try to navigate love and forgiveness in the darkest of days. There are a lot of folks whispering that this might just be the best movie of 2019. November 15

When Lambs Become Lions

(Oscilloscope) Jon Kasbe. A small-time poacher, with the Kenyan government cracking down on his vocation and unable to feed his family, turns in desperation to his younger cousin, a park ranger who hasn’t been paid in weeks. November 22

The Irishman

(Netflix) Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Ray Romano. Interesting that one of the year’s most anticipated movies is coming out on Netflix (and on a brief limited theatrical run beginning November 1). Legendary director Martin Scorsese looks at one of America’s most enduring mysteries: the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. November 27