Frankenstein – The Restored Version (Blu-ray Review)

PG – 70mins – 1931 – B&W


MAKING A MONSTER

Released to cinemas just nine short months after Dracula’s Valentine’s day bow, Universal soon realised they had another monster hit on their hands with this loose adaptation of Mary Shelley’s iconic morality tale about “The Modern Prometheus”, which would go on to produce a further seven direct sequels – and influence a whole lot more.

For all of Frankenstein’s variations from the gothic source material, this film has become just as culturally significant in its own right. Many of the striking make-up, lighting and cinematography choices director James Whale’s film conjures up (from the creation of a hunchbacked assistant to Boris Karloff’s flat-headed, bolt-necked Monster and his lightning-powered rebirth) have become stock horror tropes to this day, synonymous with the legend.

Opening with a fourth wall shattering “friendly word of warning” to the audience from Von Helsing himself, Edward Van Sloan, we are then transported to an unspecified European village to find controversial scientist Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and his obedient assistant, Fritz (Dwight “Renfield” Frye) robbing the graves of the recently deceased to help in their creation of life from death.

Aesthetically resplendent are the many diverse set changes, from medical lecture halls to hill-top laboratories racked with storms so to embrace “all the electrical secrets of heaven”. However, a number of dialogue-heavy and overtly-expository scenes delivered with grave sternness to reiterate “Herr Frankenstein’s mad dream” slow the pace to a crawl before we’ve even reached those two most crucial words… “It’s Aliiiiive!”

The same diminishing effect is also brought about by later scenes of the eponymous scientist’s exuberant wedding festivities. As smart as it is to inter-cut joy with the escaped Monster’s tragic drowning of an innocent child, too much filler does zap any flow from the narrative, dampening the cumulative effect of the horror and leading to a thoroughly lacklustre and uneven plot.

The townsfolk converging into a pitchfork rabble to hunt the dangerous creature to a fiery windmill crescendo is effectively tense and climatic, particularly the Monster’s throwing of his (ragdoll) master onto the spinning blades, however I never felt like Karloff’s lumbering undead oaf was ever successfully established as a tender or misunderstood naïve, rather as a snarling, heavy-handed mute brute with an “abnormal brain”.

I accept that he did not ask to be brought into existence, or to have the brain of a criminal, however you never really pity the tormented individual like you should. Furthermore, the epilogue baiting an heir to continue on Frankenstein’s work feels horrendously tacked on and disappointingly commercialised, leaving me with the overall opinion that for all of its undoubtedly iconic imagery, Frankenstein is a flawed and uneven early creation – ironically much like its monster.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars

Dracula’s Daughter (DVD Review)

PG – 64mins – 1936 – B&W


DADDY’S LITTLE GHOUL

With Van – sorry, Von – Helsing’s (Edward Van Sloan) return in a linking, but ultimately subsidiary, role from 1931’s iconic Dracula, and with screenwriter Garrett Fort again on script duty, you would think that Universal’s first vampire sequel was always planned this way, but it turns out that the film we ended up with was at least five drafts, two screenwriters, three directors and innumerable cast members away from the hit monster-movie studio’s original plans.

Ostensibly based on Dracula’s Guest, a “lost chapter” by Bram Stoker which was released as a short story long after his epistolary novel became a success, this money-motivated filmic follow-up (which weighs in at a featherweight one hour and four minutes, including opening title cards) actually bears precious little resemblance to the source material.

Following on directly from Bela Lugosi’s coffin-bound staking in Carfax Abbey, Dracula’s Daughter begins promisingly with a stoic Von Helsing being carted off to Scotland Yard by two bumbling policemen, who guard the murdered bodies of Drac (a wax bust to save Lugosi showing up for a lifeless cameo) and Renfield at the morgue.

Enter the mysterious Hungarian Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden), who mesmerises poor bobby Albert (Billy Bevan) so to steal away her cursed father’s corpse and purge it in flames, in the hope it will break the spell and release her to once more live among the living. Sadly, Holden never comes across as particularly evil or troubled, only distant (uninvested?). Her aide/inabler Sandor (Irving Pichel), however, is a far more menacing individual – even if his role is never really pinpointed.

When purging fails, Zaleska turns to psychiatric help to battle her unwelcome impulses from beyond the grave. She becomes convinced that pioneering doctor Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger), who works in hypnosis, is the key to freeing her from her father’s bloodsucking will. By ‘coincidence’, Garth is already linked to Dracula’s case, having been hired by the incarcerated Von Helsing in lieu of a lawyer!!

Despite clocking in at little over an hour, there is still ample filler in the strained and stretched plot, with a Scotland shooting party, a news montage and prank phone calls from Garth’s infatuated assistant Jane (Marguerite Churchill) all bulking up an otherwise verbose and terror-free story which doesn’t really get going until Zaleska flees back to Transylvania with a kidnapped Jane with ten minutes to go.

With the Countess only daring to reveal so much of her backstory to Garth, progression stalls in sluggish repetitive talk of the occult. Fort drops in a couple of riffs on the original legend, particularly when the Countess attends a swanky London cocktail party and is offered a drink, however Holden’s plain delivery lacks any tonal variation and the line falls flat.

With justice, science and supernatural folklore coming together, the clashing of ideologies and ideas in this probing sequel are to be praised, however the lack of any real horror or action deprives this narrative of any pace, and I soon tired of all the talk. It’s a shame, as Dracula’s Daughter opened brightly, but too many changes and concessions ultimately lead to a truncated and unimpressive experience and I soon realised why this was left off of Universal’s 2012 blu-ray Monsters boxset.

CR@B Verdict: 2 stars