The Bride of Frankenstein (10/24/12)

Frankenstein Bride of Frankenstein Double FeatureMovie Two Hundred Thirty Nine

A scientist even more obsessed with creating life coerces Dr. Frankenstein to create a female creature to be The Bride of Frankenstein.

The film begins with Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Walton), Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon), and Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester) discussing her story for the original Frankenstein. Shelley says that people seemed to miss the moral lessons she was driving at and that there was more to the story she wished to tell. The film then picks up immediately at the end of Frankenstein with the windmill burning. The creature (Boris Karloff) has survived the fire by falling into a pit under the windmill and Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) has survived being thrown by the creature from the top of the windmill. Soon, Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) finds Frankenstein and shows him his miniature human creations. Pretorius wants to work with Frankenstein for creating new life. Meanwhile, the creature is on the run from the angry mob and stumbles upon a blind, lonely monk and learns to speak. The creature later finds Pretorius in a grave and Pretorius tells him that he wishes to create a mate for him.

I had never seen The Bride of Frankenstein in its entirety before and I had kind of a mixed reaction to it. On the one hand, the film is truly ahead of its time in terms of horror and even sci-fi films. Made in 1935, it sets the hallmarks for essentially every horror/sci-fi film of the 50s. Unfortunately, the film also has some very silly choices that make it veer off into comedic territory more than horror. The servant named Minnie (Una O’Conner) is basically the Jar-Jar Binks of the film; she gets way too much screen time screeching about stupid things and I found it beyond distracting. Also, when the creature is learning to talk, he also learns to smoke and drink and his voice and mannerisms are fairly hilarious, possibly unintentionally. I’m not sure how audiences reacted to these scenes originally, but the audience for the double feature thought they were hilarious – I merely found them a bit unnecessary.

The changing themes between comedy and horror in The Bride of Frankenstein are further offset by the completely archetypal mad scientist character of Dr. Pretorius. He is both villainous and cartoonish at the same time, but again, this could merely be what we are used to nearly 80 years after the original release. We have endured countless spoofs and other films that have copied a similar formula. As for the bride herself, I was kind of surprised by how little screentime she gets. Karloff is still very much the star of his film as the creature. Oh, and Dwight Frye gets yet another role as one of Pretorius’ henchman in this film as well!

I’m quite happy to have gotten the opportunity to see The Bride of Frankenstein, not only the big screen but back to back with Frankenstein. Having the films seen in tandem is hugely successful in selling the franchise as a whole (I’m not sure how The Son of Frankenstein fits in, I have yet to see that). While I’m fairly undecided about my overall feelings on The Bride of Frankenstein, I did have a great time watching it. Part of me wishes the film seemed to take itself a bit more seriously, but maybe that bit of camp has made it the huge hit that it is today.

I give it 4 Frankenstein and Pretorius creating the bride out of 5.

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Frankenstein (10/24/12)

Frankenstein Bride of Frankenstein Double FeatureMovie Two Hundred Thirty Eight

A scientist creates new life from human body parts, but creates an unstoppable monster in Frankenstein.

Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and his assistant, Fritz (Dwight Frye) are gathering body parts from the recently deceased and other nefarious means. Frankenstein’s consuming goal is to cobble together the body parts to create new life. His fiancee, Elizabeth (Mae Clarke) worries about Henry and arrives at his laboratory just in time for his creature (Boris Karloff) to be brought to life, amidst shouts of “it’s alive!”. The misunderstood creature soon escapes and causes terror in the town, including the accidental drowning of a young girl and an attack on Elizabeth before the wedding. The townsfolk, Frankenstein included, all take up torches and pitchforks to find the creature and put a stop to him.

Frankenstein is the second classic Universal monster film after Dracula, both arriving in 1931. I’ve always had a fondness for Frankenstein, largely because the creature is so misunderstood. Considering the film’s age, the menacing tone of Frankenstein is incredibly poignant today, though there were some scenes that caused a few audience members to chuckle today that probably caused people to scream 80 years ago. As a whole, Frankenstein has a completely different feel to it than Dracula does, there is less silent dread and the creature is not a willing villain, he is just a frightened being that doesn’t belong and inadvertently causes trouble.

Like Dracula, however, Frankenstein has been given a top-notch restoration by Universal. Though I saw this in theaters as part of TCM’s double feature with The Bride of Frankenstein, afterwards I popped in the blu-ray to compare and was pleasantly surprised. The sets and scenery of Frankenstein are slightly more varied and less claustrophobic than Dracula but are no less effective. Other than their studio and their release dates, Dracula and Frankenstein are completely different horror movies. Henry Frankenstein is arguably the real monster of the film, not the creature, whereas Dracula is undoubtedly the menace of his film. Also worth noting is Dwight Frye plays sidekicks in both Dracula and Frankenstein as Renfield and Fritz, respectively.

Frankenstein’s creature as played by Karloff is still one of the most revered monsters in movie history. Countless spin-offs and sequels have been made, though the creature, who is not named in the film has been wrongly called “Frankenstein” for far too long. While much of the scares have been diminished since its release, Frankenstein is still an absolute joy to watch.

I give it 4 why the creature is depicted as green out of 5.

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Dracula [1931] (10/8/12)

Dracula [1931]Movie Two Hundred Twenty Eight

A vampire is brought from Transylvania to England and preys on a young woman in Dracula.

In Transylvania, Renfield (Dwight Frye), a solicitor  heads to a castle owned by Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) despite warnings from townsfolk that vampires live there. Later that evening, Dracula attacks Renfield and makes him his slave. Renfield stows the Count away on a ship to England, but as the Count is mysteriously feeding on the ship’s crew, Renfield is thought to be insane when he is discovered. As Professor Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) is tasked with analyzing Renfield, Count Dracula becomes fascinated by a young woman named Mina (Helen Chandler) but Van Helsing is quickly understanding the truth behind Renfield’s madness and other mysterious attacks.

As the premiere Universal horror film, it’s amazing that Dracula not only stands the test of time but has been so incredibly influential on horror films and vampires in general. Bela Lugosi is Count Dracula and even 80 years later, is probably the most recognizable vampire ever. While the vampire thing has kind of been done to death (pun intended), I can keep coming back to this version of the film and I get chills every time Lugosi stares at the camera, he really has a way to seem supernatural and menacing with just a look – modern vampires take note!

The weird thing about Dracula is that Tod Browning created a film that is almost a hybrid of silent film and “talkie”. It was made in an era that sound films were still fledgling and as a result, there are long periods without dialog and one scene uses a close-up of a newspaper to fill in critical plot points. Apparently, the film was even modified to be silent for some theaters. Another interesting factoid about the production of Dracula is that a Spanish version was shot simultaneously using the exact same sets with Carlos Villarias in the lead role as Count Dracula. This film was also restored and while I don’t care much for Villarias compared to Lugosi, the film seems tighter in some spots and is considered the superior version by some.

Dracula was recently restored and released as part of the Universal Classic Monsters: Essential Collection blu-ray set and I have to commend Universal for producing such an incredible set. Dracula is the first film I have watched (since it was the first film of the set to be released) and if the other films have been treated with the same amount of care it is a must-own for horror fans or fans of early cinema. The quality of the picture for Dracula is nothing short of stunning, with no noise or distortion and the richest blacks I think I’ve ever seen in a movie of its age. In addition to an amazing restoration, the special features on the set are the icing on the already delicious cake. If you don’t own a blu-ray player yet, this set may be worth considering for an upgrade.

Dracula is a film that, like its namesake, may never age. It is quintessential viewing for all movie fans, as far as I’m concerned. Some may not like it’s somewhat slow, deliberate pacing, but I found it only added to the tension of the menacing presence of the Count himself.

I give it 5 film restoration processes out of 5.

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