Universal Movie Monsters Sequel Mini Reviews: Frankenstein
by Steve Habrat
Nothing says Halloween like Frankenstein, the iconic horror story penned by Mary Shelley. The legendary tale has it all: walking corpses, gothic castles, mad scientists, hunchbacks, and misty graveyards. If that doesn’t scream Halloween then I don’t know what does. Shortly after the success of Dracula, Universal unleashed Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, two horror classics that are still celebrated today and beloved by every single horror fan on the planet. If you wish to read Corinne Rizzo’s reviews of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, click here for Frankenstein or click here for Bride of Frankenstein. So, without further ado, here are Anti-Film School’s mini reviews of the Frankenstein sequels.
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
Picking up several years after the events of Bride of Frankenstein, Henry Frankenstein’s son, Baron Wolf von Frankenstein (Played by Basil Rathbone), returns to his father’s castle with his wife, Elsa (Played by Josephine Hutchinson), and his young son, Peter (Played by Donnie Dunagan). Eager to repair his father’s reputation, Wolf quickly discovers that local villagers are not so eager to forgive for the abomination that his father created. Wolf soon finds himself approached by the demented Ygor (Played by Béla Lugosi), who wants Wolf to bring the Monster (Played by Boris Karloff) back from the dead. Wolf reluctantly agrees with the hopes of restoring his father’s legacy but with the reanimation of the Monster, death and destruction once again tear through the countryside.
If Universal would have ended its Frankenstein series with Son of Frankenstein, then it could have ranked as one of the greatest trilogies to ever come out of Hollywood. Wrapping things up quite horrifically, director Rowland V. Lee tells one of the heartiest tales Frankenstein’s Monster ever received and it is all the better for it. Immensely satisfying and surprisingly eerie, Karloff once again shines as everyone’s favorite grunting brute corpse as he shuffles about the twisted landscape. It would become the last time Karloff would ever don that famous make-up and boy does he go out with a bang. While he lacks much of the understanding and humanity that he did in Bride of Frankenstein (my personal favorite Universal Monster movie), he still gives the Monster heaping amounts of personality. Karloff does end up playing second fiddle to Lugosi, who gives one hell of a performance as Ygor, a raspy grave robber who somehow survived a hanging and now has a deformed neck.
As far as the supporting players go, Rathbone is adequate as a man who refuses to own up to what he has created. Rathbone consistently plays off of Lionel Atwill’s one-armed Inspector Krogh, who is being forced into reprimanding Wolf even though he believes that he isn’t the criminal the rambling villagers think he is. The film applies a nightmarish German Expressionist vision to the terror, making everything seem slightly surreal as Karloff and Lugosi lurch about the rocky landscape. The film really takes hold when Wolf’s son Peter begins explaining that a giant has paid him a visit, a confession that will give you the creeps. Overall, Son of Frankenstein stands as the last great Universal Frankenstein film, one that still manages to terrify to this very day. An unsung winner from Universal’s glory days. Grade: A-
The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
Taking place shortly after the events of Son of Frankenstein, the horrific devastation that took place at Frankenstein’s castle still looms over the nearby village. Many villagers believe that Ygor (Played by Béla Lugosi) is still alive and is desperately trying to find the body of Frankenstein’s Monster (Played by Lon Chaney, Jr.). It turns out that Ygor has indeed found the body of the Monster caught and preserved in the sulfur that he was pushed into by Wolf von Frankenstein. The villagers soon storm the ruins of the castle and run Ygor and the Monster, who has been weakened due to the sulfur exposure, out of town. Ygor decides to travel to the nearby village of Vasaria to find Ludwig Frankenstein (Played by Cedric Hardwicke), the second son of Henry Frankenstein, with the hopes that he can restore the Monster to his full strength. Ludwig begins studying the Monster with the hopes of destroying it once and for all, but a visit from his father’s apparition pleads with him to perfect the creation.
At a brief sixty-seven minutes, The Ghost of Frankenstein seems like lukewarm scraps that should have been thrown out rather than reheated. Despite a tepid script and a nonsensical storyline that is slightly convoluted, The Ghost of Frankenstein still has a few surprises that keep things just barely shuffling along. Chaney does a surprisingly decent job as the Monster, who once again doesn’t show the degree of humanity that Karloff did in Frankenstein or Bride of Frankenstein. Chaney is much better as this monster than he was as Dracula but he will always be the best at the Wolf-Man, a role he should have stuck to but I guess someone had to step in and fill Karloff’s shoes. Meanwhile, Lugosi once again steals the show as the unhinged freak Ygor, who wants to use the Monster to cause as much destruction as he possibly can. Despite a lot of silliness, Lugosi plays for keeps. Thankfully, he comes out unscathed. Then there is Hardwicke, who seems rather disinterested as Ludwig, a man who has been blackmailed into reviving the Monster. He certainly doesn’t live up to the other two Frankenstein boys.
A step down in the production department, The Ghost of Frankenstein feels frustratingly stale and downright meaningless. It is obviously a quick cash grab on the Frankenstein name and it is hard to forgive Universal for that, especially after that trio of treasures that they delivered before this. The film has very few creepy moments to speak of but the atmosphere of the original three films is long gone. Still, Chaney works hard to keep things on the ghoulish track and the ever-colorful Lugosi aids him along. I will admit that I did enjoy the morbid twist at the end of film, a twist that involves a quick brain swap with fiery results. Overall, it is far from my favorite Universal horror film but I believe you can do much, much worse. It just hurts to see the high quality Frankenstein series deteriorate into such an unimaginative mess. Grade: C
The House of Frankenstein (1944)
After the vengeful Dr. Gustav Niemann (Played by Boris Karloff) escapes from prison with the help of his hunchback assistant Daniel (Played by J. Carrol Naish), he sets out to find the three men responsible for his imprisonment. After murdering a traveling showman and taking over his roaming horror show, Dr. Niemann unleashes Dracula (Played by John Carradine), the Wolf-Man (Played by Lon Chaney, Jr.), and Frankenstein’s Monster (Played by Glenn Strange) to get revenge on those who have wronged him. As their rampage tears through multiple villages, Dr. Niemann and Daniel begin to fear that they may also fall victim to the horrors that they have unleashed.
Released a year before the weary House of Dracula, The House of Frankenstein marked the first time that all of Universal’s headlining monsters were together in one smash horror show. A bit smoother than House of Dracula, The House of Frankenstein is carried by the mere presence of Karloff, who here is portraying the mad doctor rather than the big green Monster. While Karloff seems to be enjoying the fact that he isn’t caked with make-up, the real star here is Naish’s hunchback Daniel, a tragic soul who lusts after a beautiful gypsy Ilonka (Played by Elena Verdugo). Daniel longs for a better body, which he believes would allow him to win over Ilonka’s affection. It is even more tragic to see Daniel pitted against Larry Tolbot/the Wolf-Man, who seems to be the apple of Ilonka’s eye. The House of Frankenstein also finds Glenn Strange stepping in as the Frankenstein Monster, once again played as a grunting brute with very little emotion. Carradine also makes an appearance as Dracula, who flies off with the film’s most thrilling sequence.
Much like House of Dracula, The House of Frankenstein is really straining to keep itself together for its seventy-one minute run. The film really works due to the surprisingly strong conflict between the Daniel and Larry; a feud that we know will not have a positive outcome. Still, the plot finding Dr. Niemann using these creatures to exact revenge is a much sharper idea than all of them wanting to be cured of their curses. While it doesn’t mark the last appearance of all these ghouls in one film, it really should have acted as their last appearance on the big screen. Overall, The House of Frankenstein is a mildly enjoyable undead soirée that should have closed the coffin lid on these decomposing beasts from Hell. Grade: C+
Son of Frankenstein, Ghost of Frankenstein, and The House of Frankenstein are all available on DVD.
Breaking Dawn Part I (2011)
by Steve Habrat
I knew that the announcement to spilt Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into two films would be a disastrous idea, mostly because every final film in a series is going to follow suit. Here we have the first copycat, Breaking Dawn Part I, and I’ll be damned if this isn’t one of the most boring film exercises I have sat through. You’d think that Summit placing Dreamgirls director Bill Condon behind the camera would give birth to a hit (get it?) but instead he makes a film that is on the level of New Moon. Obviously just trying to milk more money from fans, Breaking Dawn Part I is the pettiest entry of the Twilight Saga, moving the story along an inch when it should have been a mile. It should be clear that I use the word “story” loosely. Mostly to blame is the returning writer Melissa Rosenberg, who is too focused on the honeymoon aspect of the film to even care about what else is going on. This entry will forever be the known as the film where Edward and Bella have sex, and the action stops right there. Nothing else happens in Breaking Dawn Part I and I mean absolutely nothing.
Breaking Dawn Part I picks up with Bella (Played once again by Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Played once again by Robert Pattinson) sending out invitations to their wedding, one going to the temper-tantrum prone Jacob (Played once again by Taylor Lautner, who only takes his shirt off once through the entire film). After klutzy Bella’s dream wedding, Edward whisks her off to a beachfront villa in Brazil, where they partake in the actions of a recently married couple. Trust me, it’s not all as exciting as it sounds, as they sit on the beach and play chess, stare at each other, swim around and embrace each other, etc. This goes on for about forty-five minutes and it’s just as boring as you’d expect. Hey, it gives the girls something to hang on. After the seemingly endless montage of exotic exploration, Bella suddenly gets ill one morning. She notices she is two weeks late and after a strange twitch in her stomach and barely noticeable baby bump (It looks like Stewart is trying to give herself a beer belly), Edward makes a mad dash for Forks and seeking the help of Carlisle (Played by Peter Facinelli), Bella slowly spirals into the pregnancy from hell. She is deathly pallid, bony, weak, and frail. The pregnancy resembles moments of Rosemary’s Baby (A nifty little nod, but Condon does little with it. He also put a cool nod to Bride of Frankenstein in there, which is perhaps the best moment of the entire movie), and lip-biting Bella makes calls to her still clueless father Sheriff Charlie (Played once again by Billy Burke) and lies about her condition. Soon, Jacob and his ravenous band of wolves begin hollering about treaties, Bella’s safety, and more, but as Bella gets worse, Edward may have no one else to turn to for help except Jacob.
Finally, a Twilight film draws a little blood and it is, well, disgusting and severely disappointing. The birth sequence, which is shown in blurry flashes and complimented with Bella’s groans and shrieks, is almost impenetrable. Condon and Stewart claimed that the scene was long and filled with very little dialogue. We must have seen a different movie. It’s the only point of the movie where anything substantial occurs and almost saves the entire thing from just being known as that honeymoon movie. Everyone still stands around and acts sullen, dejected, and explain why they can’t do this or that. Bella is still one-dimensional and boy crazy, even though she is married. Jacob has a creepy pedophile moment, a scene I’m surprised that no one pointed out to Condon himself and suggested a restructuring of the entire scene. I couldn’t help but feel like Breaking Dawn Part I is just killing time and for all the wrong reasons.
What is also troubling about Breaking Dawn Part I is its sinister view of childbirth, presented here as a curse rather than blessing. Edward tries to see the optimistic side of things but a majority is grim, serious, and acting as some weird public service announcement to tweens. It should be noted I’m still not entirely sure the point of this PSA except that pregnancy is bad. Bella is shown shuffling through the Cullen home, taking swigs of a blood concoction that gives her strength, and being doted over by the annoying Jacob. You know, if they converted this to black and white, maybe it could have acted like social guidance films from years past in the same style as 1936’s Reefer Madness and 1961’s Boys Beware. Don’t have sex or you will be pregnant with a monster!!! But who is the cautionary tale for anyway? Is it for girls who happen to meet men that stepped out of a Universal Studios horror movie?
While the honeymoon scenes are painfully monotonous in their subject matter, Condon does photograph things with a whole lot of panache. He has sweeping shots of Rio de Janeiro, as Bella and Edward embrace in the midst of a street fair. He tries to give it some individuality even if the script hinders anything resembling individuality. The exotic shots are luminous and when they return to Forks, the film looses its visual punch. It slips back in to Days of our Vampires when the camera dollies around the Cullen residence. The shots of the lustrous wedding will also send anyone with an interest in cinematography into a tizzy. The wedding conjured up memories of the much better Eclipse and for a moment I thought that Slade may have bumped Condon out of the picture.
Breaking Dawn Part I is a real kick to the groin, partly because Eclipse showed some promise and hinted at an ample story emerging from all the vacant melodrama. This film backtracks and reverts right back to the same old conservative frame of mind. This makes me dread the coming of Part II, which we can only hope holds our attention longer than this crap does. For a film about nothing and as insulting as it is, I was shocked to see women on the edge of their seats about to face plant into the seat in front of them. Filled with B-movie performances, stilted dialogue, and a handful of flaccid action scenes, Breaking Dawn Part I sends a bizarre message to its female viewers, all who seem to be oblivious to what its saying to you. And trust me, it is not sending an abundance of compliments your way.
It’s been a graveyard smash…
Hey boys and ghouls,
We sincerely hope that you guys have enjoyed our Halloween Horror Movie Spooktacular. We have crossed 3,000 hits and the hits keep coming. In celebration of the day all things scary walking the earth, lets do the Monster Mash with Boris Karloff and a hoard of go-go dancers to celebrate! Tune in tomorrow for our final review of the horror film you guys chose. Happy Halloween!
“We’ve warned you…”
Hello, boys and ghouls…
We are very close to beginning our Halloween Horror Movie Spooktacular here at Anti-Film School. Starting October 1st, Anti-Film School will be overrun by monsters of all sorts. We will have zombies, mummies, vampires, werewolves, swamp monsters, psycho killers, and more. No one will be safe. Here is what you can expect over the course of the month:
Starting October 1st through the 9th, Steve will be reviewing George Romero’s zombie films and the remakes of two of his films. He will also be reviewing one of his personal favorite zombie flicks that is not a George Romero movie. It will be a gory week, so make sure you don’t get any blood and guts on you while checking the reviews out!
Starting October 10th, Corinne will be visiting with the Universal Studios Movie Monsters. She will drop in on The Phantom of the Opera, Dracula, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf-Man, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. It’s going to get spooky!
Throughout the third week of October, Charles will be unleashing Norman Bates in Psycho and the sequels that followed the Hitchcock original. He will also be checking in to the refurbished Bates Motel in the Gus van Sant remake. Charles will be hanging out with the ghosts of Poltergiest and writing a study on shock rocker turned horror director Rob Zombie. Oh, the horror!
You can also expect reviews of vampire films that you may have not seen, reviews of the original John Carpenter film The Thing and the prequel that makes it’s way to theaters during the month, and a few other monsters that we like and dislike. Also, we are asking you to vote in our latest poll, which asks you which horror film you want us to review on Halloween day. This is your chance to interact with out site. Head over to the Category Cloud and click on the poll link. The first poll box that comes up is the one that we want your input in. Voting closes on the October 20th and anything cast after the said date will be ignored. We hope you are as excited about this event as we are. We hope you all make it a ghoulish hit. Who’s ready to get scary?
Note: Anti-Film School does not claim to own the images and clips from Universal Pictures’ 1931 film Frankenstein.