Friday, October 3, 2014

#2 The Son of Frankenstein

"One doesn't easily forget, Herr Baron, an arm torn out by the roots." -Krogh

That's right kids, my top Universal Frankenstein film is the one where the screenwriters essentially said "Mary Shelley be damned - we're writing our own stories now". And that would mostly be the way they addressed classic horror from that point on. Why choose "Son" and not the very popular "Bride"  or the first film - most popular among the purists? I'd say that's an easy one - Son of Frankenstein is the darkest, most frightening and most well rounded horror film of the three. It is a true classic thriller. Rather, when fall rolls around it's the one I look forward to seeing the most.

Years after the initial horror in the tiny Frankenstein hamlet, the good doc's son, Wolf (Basil Rathbone) and family roll into town on a particularly dark and stormy night, expecting to be greeted with a kegger of SpatenBrau, pretzels and happy, dancing Bavarians. Instead he encounters that same old howling, angry mob this town is already well known for. The chief of police Inspector Krogh immediately infers that nothing good can ever come from a Frankenstein homecoming. We know all too well the inspector is never wrong.

It's hard to say just what the hell is going on with Basil Rathbone during this film. It's been suggested he didn't take the horror genre as a serious acting gig (explains why he did so many other horror films afterwards - not), but I wonder if he didn't simply see it as being the way to best portray this character as very high strung and possibly addicted to caffeine - as he was definitely losing his way and feeling the pinch between his new found aspirations to make monsters, the one armed, dart-tossing Krogh and of course dear Ygor, the murderous crook-neck with revenge plots aplenty bubbling inside his shaggy noggin.

"They hanged me once Frankenstein. They broke my neck. They said I was dead. Then they cut me down. They threw me in here, long ago. They wouldn't bury me in holy place like churchyard. Because I stole bodies, eh they said. So, Ygor is dead!" -Ygor

Karloff is billed as the monster but is Ygor, played to glorious horror perfection by Bela Lugosi here that is actually the most monstrous character in this film. Wolf's first moment encountering Ygor is highlighted by nearly being splatted like a giant Bavarian mosquito at the murderous hand of Ygor via a tremendous, foam-filled boulder. Nothing Ygor says or does at any point in this film infers that he would be a good pal to keep around for a laugh. Good for us!

 Karloff's final go-round as the monster features a particularly ghoulish "dead" appearance to his makeup and of course that fan-favorite woolly vest. A classic look. Thank goodness he has also apparently again lost the ability to speak since the last film. The monster no longer seems to long for female companionship. He only seems interested in doing the murderous bidding of his old pal Ygor.
The "giant" appears to have pretty insightful knowledge of the wondrous Frankenstein castle, trekking through secret rock-laden halls and into rooms via hidden doorways.

The home itself is a character in the film and I'd be remiss not to mention it. I particularly love the scene in Wolf's library during the storm that features very Haunted Mansion-ish lightning through the windows..

Old TV Guide Creature Feature ads always seemed to infer graphically that Wolf's young son Peter, played by Donny "Voice of Bambi" Dunagan was the "Son" of Frankenstein. Peter for the most part is the true 'WTF?' character in this movie - but having personally quoted most of his utterly comical dialogue probably thousands of times over the years I couldn't imagine this film without him. Dunagan is still living today and I would love the chance to meet him at one of the horror cons some day. It would be difficult not to holler out "Welllllllllllll hellllllllllllllllooooooooooooo!"

Finally, I wanted to mention the scene where Elsa, Wolf's wife arrives in the extremely shadowy and black Frankenstein Castle - after riding through hundreds of miles of the creepiest, decrepit terrain ever shown on film - in a horrific late-night storm. She politely asks the house maid about the castle - "Are the bedrooms cheery??".
If the maid would only answer: "look around lady, what the fuck do you think?"....


  1. I dearly love this movie, and for most of the reasons you do. But we part ways on the child. He's horrifically bad; even as a kid I was hoping the monster would remove him from the movie.

  2. Lol - yeah I know many folks who dont like Peter in this film.