“In the name of God? Now I know what it feels like to be God.”
There’s nothing like a man and his monster. While it has been remade, sequeled, spoofed, adapted, animated, and in many other ways merchandised – Frankenstein owes a massive amount of its success to the original 1931 film. While not so true to the original Shelley novel, the film takes the original idea and develops it into an epic tale with a healthy dose of horror that has held up as a great film for many years.
Adapting Frankenstein is always tricky as the original source material provides so much to run with. I have seen theatrical productions that focus far more on Victor and Elizabeth, while some keep it creepy and put the action at the forefront. This film definitely takes the latter approach. It even swaps some names around and makes the central doctor “Henry Frankenstein,” drawing on the original character Victor Frankenstein but taking the first name from his friend in the novel Henry Clerval. Whatever way you want to spin the story, it ultimately plays out the same: a god complex.
The film doesn’t dig too deep into the ethical dilemma of Frankenstein aside from a few throwaway lines every ten minutes or so. Rather, it does so through imagery. The constant physical struggle of Frankenstein and his monster, played out fully in the final duel at the end of the film, demonstrates man’s constant conflict with the notion of being created. It’s a nice moral dilemma that seeps its way into an otherwise standard monster movie.
If I could make some criticism, I would say that Frankenstein’s creation could definitely be played up as more of a victim in the film. In other portrayals, the monster is humanized and confused. While this is still a driving factor in the 1931 version, it seems shoved to the side. I’m not too fond of the whole “the monster accidentally has a murderer’s brain” bit. I think a greater moral dilemma and a more interesting plot would develop if the monster was made from a normal guy who is just terribly confused and not all together. The scene with the little girl in the like veers towards this, but the monster tossing the girl into the lake seems to reject any humanity or gentleness the monster may have begun to show. That’s just my two cents as far as plot goes.
Boris Karloff is the iconic Frankenstein figure for his fantastic work in the film. The monster is slow but gives off strength and anger. His physicality depicts an unpredictability, as if the monster is still understanding his movements and could cause harm at any second because of this, especially early in the film. The makeup is also really strong work, especially for such early cinema.
The film is probably most noteworthy, along with Dracula of the same year, for launching the horror movie genre into popularity. Both films, the other which I will review at a future date, demonstrate that film can be a terrifying medium. With these early works and the success behind them, the monster movie was created, and it hasn’t died since. Even if it did, the monster movie will always be a fascinating genre, so I’m sure Hollywood would soon find a way to pump some life right back into it again.
Films Left to Watch: 990