Starring: Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, Boris Karloff
Director: James Whale
This is THE horror film, 1001 Movies You Must See calls it “the single most important horror film ever made”.
It’s a well known story now. Dr Frankenstein has become obsessed with creating life, and robs graves to find the parts he needs, cobbling them together with the help of his hunchbacked sidekick. He’s the original mad scientist, laughing hysterically and comparing himself to God, as his creation is struck by the lightening that will zap it to life. The creation is a huge hideous monster, a man child that can kill as easily as not in it’s naivety and lack of guidance as it is cast out by the man that created it.
Of course, here it’s all rather sensationalised, and the monster, with what would become it’s iconic flat topped head, drooping eyes and bolts in it’s neck, are now the accepted image of the creature that would come to be known by it’s inventors last name. Mary Shelley’s themes of compassion are present here, but take a back seat to the spectacle of midnight grave robbing, lavish tower room lab sets and a beautiful damsel in distress, and were dropped in later films in favour of outright scares. But those themes are here. The monster is not a bad guy, but a figure judged by outward appearances and who is distressed by his lack of knowledge. He’s attacked and vilified because he looks like a monster, but his horror at having accidentally drowned an innocent child during play is palpable.
Boris Karloff became a real name in black and white horror films because of this role, and although it’s sad in places, it’s a real cracker of a film, moving through set pieces to bring you swiftly from event to event. You might be surprised at how short this film is. Movies of this era often did a great deal with a short run time, which is charming after modern films tend to be over twice this long, often with very little reason to be.
It spawned a number of sequels and an appetite for this kind of horror film emerged, and although we can recognise to much that’s cartoonish about this film, it’s quite a detailed story, the plot is logical and escalates well, and the sets are beautifully designed and thought out, using the black and white to create a real gothic, ghoulish feel to scenes that really bring the atmosphere to the fore. It’s quite beautiful at times, in a dark kind of way. A very exciting film.
See It If: a must for all horror and monster fans, this is such a classic, iconic, early horror film.