Frankenstein (1931)

Like for so many of us, Henry Frankenstein’s college years were a time of turmoil and self-discovery. He was way too advanced to stay in school and wanted the university to provide him with a steady stream of corpses so that he could continue playing God. The school refused, saying that they preferred to suck people dry over the course of a lifetime through their student loan program instead. So Henry put a flyer up at the student union looking for a hunchback to join his band and got an off-campus apartment with a windmill. If you substituted “kegs” for “corpses,” that pretty much describes my freshman year!

With a major in creating life, it just makes sense that Frankenstein’s minor is in body snatching. So it is that we find he and his new assistant Fritz down at the local cemetery. What I liked about this Frankenstein is that he wasn’t afraid to roll his sleeves up and get his hands dirty. He’s right down in there with Fritz getting the corpses out of the ground, busting up coffins, and generally being a grave robbing fool! He’s not some elitist, ivory tower evil genius!

The neck on the corpse they’ve pulled out of the ground is broken and Henry decides that they need another brain, so he sends Fritz off to the university where they keep brains on standby. (You know, college was the best seven years of my life and I don’t recall ever seeing any brains just laying around classrooms. I did see a guy in the laundry room steal some girl’s panties and I also saw a guy set a trash can on fire, but gray matter was obviously in short supply.)

Fritz may have a hump, but he’s no dummy, so when he’s confronted by two canisters marked respectively “Good Brain – Take This One!” and “Brain of Psycho – Not To Be Transplanted to Monsters” he takes the good one. Mission accomplished. Then he drops it and the thing splatters on the floor, so he takes the brain of a psycho. (He’ll probably be referring to that one from now on as “The Back Up Brain.”)

Once Fritz gets back home with the brain, Henry immediately sets about getting it installed into the monster. There’s a raging thunder storm outside, which is just perfect to provide all the electricity needed to jump start the creature to life. Well, just when he’s about to hook the jumper cables up to the car battery in the Monster’s neck, there’s a bunch of knocking at the door! Who could that be, wonders Henry? I’ve already killed all the Avon ladies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and meter readers for parts.

He sends Fritz out to tell whoever it is to get lost, but it turns out to be his fiancee, his pal Victor, and his old professor, Dr. Waldman! Henry yells that she can’t come in. Well, you know how women are when you’re in the middle of an important project – they let you know that nothing is a bigger project than they are, so even the mad-scientist supreme, Henry Von Frankenstein, has to bow to the little lady’s wishes and he lets them all in. Henry figures that since they’re all there and his “buddy” is calling him crazy in front of his woman, that they can watch him play God. (It really isn’t much fun if no one is around to marvel at your hubris.)

But once you’ve created life what do you do with it? You let your hunchback assistant tease and torment it! (That’s why you built it all along, right?)

Following a fatal accident involving a bullying hunchback and a pissed off Monster, the monster escapes and rumbles off into the great outdoors on a journey of self-discovery. The creature is child-like in his curiosity, but his enthusiasm gets the better of him when he encounters a little girl. It isn’t long before an angry mob is assembled and stuff is getting burned down and people heaved off windmills.

The movie is short which leads it to both feel fast paced and somewhat abbreviated. Everything seems to wrap up quickly and the Monster doesn’t do a lot considering how heinous he’s supposed to be, though he does amass some impressive credentials any modern-day psycho killer would be proud of: drowns kid, kills doctor, peeps woman, assaults creator/godhead, etc.

Boris Karloff as the Monster of course is the stand-out here. He displays an impressive ability to generate sympathy with just his eyes and the Monster’s skittish movements. Even though this thing is supposed to be a big, scary monster, he spends most of his life being scared himself.

He’s frightened by the things that Fritz does to him, he’s frightened when the girl drowns, he’s scared when the villagers are attacking him. The Monster is merely a bewildered thing in a world he doesn’t understand and that doesn’t want him. It’s a much more effective and moving aspect of the film than the tired old, “don’t play god, technology is going to destroy us” bit that lots of these movies seem fond of selling.

You come to believe that the real monster isn’t necessarily the tall geek with the bolts sticking out of his neck, but the society that would create and abandon him like he was yesterday’s trash. Don’t feel too bad for the monster though, he would go on to headline several sequels, each (after the classic Bride Of Frankenstein) worse than the next.

© 2015 MonsterHunter

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