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Frankenstein (1931)

Reviewed By MP Bartley
Posted 06/17/04 23:22:47

"Now THIS is how you treat a horror icon Sommers!"
5 stars (Awesome)

Just think about how influential this film is. The look of Frankenstein's laboratory. The hunchbacked assistant. Boris Karloff and his subsequent career. The reveal of the monsters face. The girl in the water. The burning windmill. The "It's alive!" line. Truly one of the greatest films ever made.

Re-makes and appropriations may come and go, but nothing else will ever come close to having the same sense of wonder, horror and awe that James Whale captures here. Like Frankenstein himself, it's the feverish product of a twisted genius mind. And I love every minute of it.

'Young Frankenstein' obviously owes its very existence to it (and just think how memorable THAT film is). Every monster to crawl forth onto the screen since then has had to live in the monsters shadow. No other monster has ever captured that peculiar mix of revulsion and pity in the same way. I can still hear Colin Clive howling at the storm-lashed skies and proclaiming himself agod now. As a cinematic icon of horror, the monster has no equal. Horror was born here and not even Dracula has the same impact.
The Hammer remake was a good attempt to re-invent the legend, but you may as well try to re-invent the wheel. The DeNiro version has no right to even share the same name. It has a thousand times more intelligence and style in one long shadow than 'Van Helsing' had in its whole, bloated 2 hours. Because this is a true love and respect for the genre and the characters and not just a special effects showboat.

What's particularly outstanding about 'Frankenstein' when you think about it, is that these guys were true pioneers. Cinema was still in its infancy and the likes of James Whale were the real trail-blazers. Influenced by German expressionism and 'The Golem', 'Frankenstein' is simply a marvel to look at. It has a richness to the black and white photography, the sets are stunningly rendered, the stormy night skys and the burning windmill are works of art and the make-up is without peer. Nothing has looked as shocking, as terrifying and as pitiable since. Especially at the same time.

Karloff is majestic as the monster poking out the monsters humanity underneath his homicidal rage and Clive as the original mad scientist has yet to be bettered in his role either. But the true genius is Whale, creating a whole new shorthand for how horror movies should look. It's a blue-print still being copied today but with far less effect.

And considering the kind of journey that the movie takes you on, it's astounding that this clocks in at just over an hour. Maybe they did know more about making movies in those days, as it never feels crammed or hurried.

Forget 'Citizen Kane', 'Frankenstein' has surely got to be the most influential film ever made. Ask anyone about the look of 'Citizen Kane' and you're likely to get some puzzled looks and shrugs of 'don't know'. Ask those people about the look of 'Frankenstein' and everyone is likely to nod their head in understanding. A magnificent work of art from some magnificent artists.

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