“We are about to unfold the story of Frankenstein, a man of science who sought to create a man after his own image without reckoning upon God. It is one of the strangest tales ever told. It deals with the two great mysteries of creation – life and death. I think it will thrill you. It may shock you. It might even – horrify you. So if any of you feel that you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now’s your chance to – uh, well, we warned you.”
“It’s alive!” Universal studio’s embarked on a series of highly profitable Horror films exactly 80 years ago. They had made “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame” and “The Phantom Of The Opera” with Lon Chaney in the silent era, but with the coming of sound came a new kind of horror.
The first was “Dracula(US1931, Tod Browning)” released on Valentine’s Day, however it wasn’t really an adaptation of the book, just a transfer of a highly successful stage play. Most of the horror took place off screen and there wasn’t much dialogue (as most cinema’s were still not yet equipped for sound film), but the one significant role was Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, as stunning performance, rarely matched in all the many versions since.
Their next product was “Frankenstein” and they sort a British Director, James Whale (who had a massive hit with “Journey’s End”) and a British star , Colin Clive. In the role of the monster, they had originally wanted Lugosi, but eventually settled on an unknown British star, William Henry Pratt, better known as Boris Karloff. Much praise must be given to Karloff’s understated performance and the hours he spent in make up with the incredible flat head look, created by Jack Pierce.
Whale’s direction is stunning throughout and although the film is primitive, all the mad scientist ideas came from this film,it is like Whale is writing the horror text book.
But it the days before The Hay’s Code came in (1934), one thing was still too much, a scene in which the monster throws a young girl into a lake thinking she will float like a flower, she drowns. The scene was cut (as was the line “Now I know what it feels like to be god!”) and wasn’t restored until Leslie Halliwellfound it in the vaults in 1987 and restored it. It was this film they showed first, when he passed away in 1989.
However it wasn’t until DVD emerged in the early00s(when the “God” line was restored) that this was completely restored and we could see all the wonderful shadows and fog.
Whale took a lot of influence from the look of the German film “The Golem” in which a clay creature comes to life and menaces the village.
There are many gems in the Universal Horror catalogue (“Dracula”, “Dracula’s Daughter”, “The Black Cat(1934)”, “The Mummy”, “Werewolf Of London”, “The Wolfman”, “Tower Of London” to name a few), but none better Whale and the brilliance shown here.
James Whale’s four films for Universal (Frankenstein, The Old Dark House, The Invisible Man and The Bride Of Frankenstein) are the pinnacle of Horror’s golden age, perhaps it is the campness that has made them last longer in the mind than the others, Whale’s last days and death in mysterious circumstances in the 50s was the subject of the film “Gods And Monsters” in 1998.
US Release 21 November, 1931
DF Viewing 9 January 1989, Channel 4