Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Films of Frankenstein

It's alive! I've been working hard in my laboratory and have forged new life from an old feature - Monthly Mini-Reviews, remember them? - for this special gothic-themed series of blog posts. And what celebration of the gothic is complete without a mention of the mighty Frankenstein! Mary Shelley's genius novel about a scientist who creates a man from the dead has captured imaginations for centuries, with the ideas revisited in endless novels, television shows and even stage plays. However, the most famous of these is arguably the  various film adaptations of the story that have sparked into life across the decades. As it would take a whole encyclopaedia to look at every film on the subject, below are four of my favourites. Behold, if you are brave enough, the films of Frankenstein!

Frankenstein (1931)

The undoubtedly most iconic of all Frankenstein adaptations is James Whale's early horror film, primarily known for Boris Karloff's legendary portrayal of the lumbering, flat-headed creature. Without speaking a word of dialogue, and in such grotesque prosthetics, Karloff certainly does an excellent job of showing the creature's innocence and anger. Colin Clive also plays the determined Dr Frankenstein (for some reason, renamed Henry here) well, being believably unhinged enough to undertake his experiments. Despite running for little over an hour, however, it does feels a little stilted in places; although that is more a fault of the Hollywood of the time still grappling with talkies. On the other hand, it has elements that were not only shocking for its time but push the boundaries even now. Not many films made over seventy years ago can say that.

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

First things first, Bride of Frankenstein is a rare example of a sequel bettering the original. Everything from the first film is upped; the gothic, the wry humour and, perhaps most importantly, the characterisation of Karloff's monster, in particular his loneliness and desire for companionship. The key to its success is the assured direction by Whale who, amongst the horror and the thrills, injects a sense of fun to proceedings. Also worth noting are the terrific score - particularly the haunting, twinkling theme for the Bride herself - and the unsung hero of the film, the campy, malevolent Dr Pretorius, the man who 'commissions' a bride for the monster. Simply a must-see film of its genre.

Young Frankenstein (1974)

Mel Brooks' thoroughly hilarious spoof of the 1930s films is definitely the funniest incarnation of Frankenstein you'll come across. The ever-endearing Gene Wilder stars as Frederick Frankenstein (it's pronounced Fronkensteen), a descendant of the original mad scientist who is dismissive of his 'famous cuckoo' grandfather. However, a death in the family ends in his returning to Castle Frankenstein. Will he live up to his namesake and create a monster? Answer; yes.
Nearly every joke works (with some sequences so effective, you won't be able to watch the original films without thinking of it) and Wilder has strong support from Marty Feldman as a fourth-wall breaking Igor. It's best scene will have you  laughing every time you hear Putting on the Ritz....

Frankenweenie (2012)

Based on his 1984 short film, Frankenweenie sees Tim Burton tackle a quirky all-ages version of Shelley's immortal tale. After his beloved dog, Sparky (geddit?) dies, schoolboy scientist Victor Frankenstein does the unthinkable and endeavours to bring the dog back to life - with much mayhem ensuing. As a lover of the Universal Frankenstein films (elements of them appear in many of his own works), it's perfect territory for the director to work in and it really does feel classic Burton. Sure, we've seen a lot of the motifs before in his features (not to mention in the original short film itself) but its a charming stop-motion film - totally in black and white - that not only alludes to its Frankenstein film forebears but becomes a celebration of the entire monster movie genre itself. Frankenweenie proves that even after so many versions, the Frankenstein legend has not been done to death - there's still a lot more life in it yet.

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