53. Frankenstein (1931)

“It’s alive!”

When I was younger, Friday night used to be the time when there would be a Hammer film or an old horror anthology to watch until the early hours. I often miss the fact that these old films are rarely shown on television, and I still get a hankering to see a spooky tale to scare myself before bedtime.

So tonight I decided to watch a horror double-bill of Frankenstein, followed by its sequel, Bride of Frankenstein. Both classic movies, and Frankenstein must have been the first film to be preceded by an announcement warning people about how terrifying it was about to be. 1931 was an important year for the horror genre. The two most famous horror characters ever were both set on the silver screen that year – Dracula, and the Monster – as well as the making of one of the most creepy thrillers ever, Fritz Lang’s M.

Frankenstein begins, appropriately enough, in a graveyard. A funeral is being watched by Henry Frankenstein and his assistant, a hunchback, Fritz. I was a little disappointed that he wasn’t called Igor, but there we are. Henry complains that the hanged man they have cut down is useless as his neck is broken, something I’d have presumed he’d already realise, so Fritz steals a brain from the anatomy class at the university, and off him and Henry go to reanimate the corpse they’ve just grave-robbed. You can tell things aren’t going to go well.

On a very dark and stormy night, Henry’s fiancée Elizabeth turns up at his laboratory with her friend Viktor and Henry’s old professor, Doctor Waldman. Waldman assists Frankenstein, and they successfully revive the body. However, when they hear Fritz’s screams and find him hanging, Henry discovers that the brain that Fritz stole was one from a man who was criminally insane, so him and Waldman realise they must kill the Monster before he murders anyone else…

There are some excellent scenes of villagers armed with pitchforks and flaming torches, which have been copied many times in subsequent horror movies. The film is played very straight-up with very little of the over-acting which plagues its sequel and the Monster is scary, but whilst he’s terrifying, he’s also terrified, and as the mob approaches, you can only sympathise with his plight.


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