1930s | Frankenstein (1931)
Film 1 of 8, representing the 1930s, Universal Monsters, and Gothic Horror
Expectations: ‘Frankenstein’ is a pretty familiar film to most, me included, so it’s important to try and watch this with fresh eyes, ignoring, as best I can, the decades of parody, pastiche, and over familiarity that surround this most famous of Hollywood monsters. This is an opportunity to look back at one of Horror’s first true marquee horror events, and the moment two very important names in horror history would be become synonymous with the genre; actor Boris Karloff (in his most celebrated role as The Monster) and director James Whale. Both men (and most of the cast and crew), importantly were British (as of course is the novel on which the film is based). Important because, this was a time when Holloywood was utalising the horror’s of the ‘old world’, looking outward to European literature for sources and German cinema for visual inspiration.
Cup of coffee in hand, lets start the Deadly Movies Halloween Moviethon with on of the very best.
Reflection: The film is still superbly effective today. The film provides a fabulous example of where American horror was in the 1930s. Heavily reliant on European talent, it’s interesting to watch an American studio horror product where the American accents are the odd ones out. Films like Frankenstein that heavily utilised British stage performers set a trend for using British actors and accents to represent the non-American (remembering here that the film is set in Germany not England) which still persists today (Nazi’s, Russians, Ancient Greeks, and biblical characters are often portrayed with British accents). It’s also a film which shows how close movies and horror still were to theatre, not only with the cast, crew, and story, but also the staging, performance, and direction (although at times Whale really does use the freedom of the camera with great fluid shots).
Then of course there’s also two powerhouse performances from Karloff and Colin Clive. I for one have been guilty of dropping Clive from my recollection of the film such is the cultural significance of the Karloff performance and appearance. But Clive is the driving force of the show, delivering a terrific stage actors performance. The “It’s Alive!” scene being of notable mention. As for Karloff, it’s all in the eyes, and of course Jack Pierce’s amazing makeup (also taken for granted and worth revisiting as we tend to think of films, of such an age, as being naive in their makeup – not so here). The movie retains shocking and eerie moments, the grave robbing, Karloff’s violent outbursts, and the little girl’s lifeless corpse being carried through the streets are scenes that, on revisiting, were surprisingly effective. The lesson is to watch these older, ground breaking, horror’s as one would watch a new movie.., and most definitely not to take them for granted.