Mary Shelley's Promethean tale follows the mad genius Dr. Henry Frankenstein as he attempts to create new life from dead tissue. His experiments are a success, but the being that rises from his slab is an abomination of science. Frankenstein is unable to contain his own creation, and the hulking brute is unleashed upon the unsuspecting village below.
Although it was not the first time Shelley's novel had been adapted for the screen, James Whales will always be remembered as the man who gave life to the one true FRANKENSTEIN. The 1931 version would set the standard for every Gothic Horror film to follow, with its incredible sets, creeping atmosphere, and impeccable performances. Colin Clive shows a ferocious energy and an irresponsible enthusiasm as he declares "It's alive!" as the egomaniacal Dr. Frankenstein. The iconic look of the creature would be attributed to the great Jack Pierce, who would go on to design other such notable villains as The Mummy and The Wolf Man.
But who is the mystery man behind the monster that is only identified by a question mark in the opening credits? Although Boris Karloff played in countless pictures prior to making FRANKENSTEIN, it would be this role that would jettison him into the limelight. Karloff would go on to star in dozens of Horror films in the decades to follow, but none of his performances (save for his reprisal of the character in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN) would ever reach the same level of notoriety and critical acclaim. While his towering form combined with his menacing snarls made The Monster both fearsome and frightening, it is the tender moments like the death of Maria that best demonstrate Karloff's range and form as an actor. Few, if any, have even come close to creating such a terrifying and tragic character through their performance.
FRANKENSTEIN is the greatest of any of Universal's classic monster movies, and yet James Whales would somehow manage to outdo himself four years later in the film's stunning sequel.
If you liked FRANKENSTEIN, check out:
DRACULA, THE WOLF MAN, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN.