I know. The headline for this article sounds a bit smug and patronizing. As if you actually need to be taught how to watch a frickin’ Frankenstein film. But please bare with me. 

Once a friend at work come up to me excitedly and told me she finally saw The Godfather. I had been telling her how it’s a must-see considering it and Citizen Kane are indisputably considered two of the greatest films ever made. I was happy for her and asked her the details of her experience. “When and where did you see it? Did you the rent the film?” (this took place in 2001 before streaming) To my horror she said, “No the USA network had a marathon so I watched some of the second one and I believe all of the first.” So I retorted, “You mean to tell me that your first experience ever watching The Godfather was on a cable network with commercial interruptions?!” As I read her hurt face I realized that my own geeked out experience with The Godfather wasn’t necessarily everyone else’s so I quickly pulled back, and gave her a high five, transitioned myself out of the conversation and walked back to my classroom muttering to myself that this person could never get the first-time experience of watching The Godfather back.

 

Universal Frankenstein Films: The Good and the Bad

Now with Frankenstein it’s a bit different. While Frankenstein films are very limited in number compared to the other monster genres, there are still quite a few out there compared to The Godfather which has only two films that are essentially the bookends of one overall 6 hour epic. (Godfather III doesn’t count). So it’s much more likely that everyone at some time in there life has seen one of or portions of some Frankenstein film; you may even know one of the most iconic lines delivered by actor Colin Clive, “It’s Alive!”. Certainly everyone not living under a rock associates the appearance of the monster with the Universal Horror version played by Boris Karloff. That said, it is significant to know that the first two Frankenstein films are considered to be part of the pantheon of great films. When established film critics and historians discuss the essentials such as: Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, The Godfather, et al.- the original 1931 Frankenstein and its 1936 sequel Bride of Frankenstein are included. This cannot be said for any of the rest of the Frankenstein films that came after- or most of the other Universal monster films. The drop in quality between the first two Universal Frankenstein films and the rest is pretty steep. The first two were directed by the artistically brilliant A -list director, James Whale, who had access to a cast of A-list character actors and a generous studio budget. Whale did not return for the third film, and by the fourth, Universal had ditched this franchise to the back of the studio where only B-list actors and hack directors were allowed to make films with very small budgets. Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, House of Frankenstein, The Ghost of Frankenstein are all pretty bad, and probably should only be watched for camp and irony.

Bride of Frankenstein

Bride of Frankenstein

 

The Ygor Character Was First Introduced in the Third and Last of the Great Frankenstein Film Trilogy

Which brings us to the third film, Son of Frankenstein. This was the first film without director James Whale but it was the last effort by Universal to deliver a quality film. Boris Karloff returned one last time to play the monster along with a cast of A-listers, and while it does not come close to the brilliance of the first two James Whale films, it is definitely not as bad as those B-list versions that started with the fourth. Karloff gave his monster a final send-off and so this third one essentially closes the circle; it in effect caps off the first two to form a complete trilogy. It is also significant to note that, it is in this third installment that the iconic character of Ygor is first introduced- and by the way Ygor was not hump-backed, but had a broken neck due to a botched hanging. Played by Dracula himself, Bela Lugosi, he essentially stole every scene he was in with the monster. The movie actually revolves around the villainy of Ygor who is clearly the most interesting character and comes off creepier than the Frankenstein monster. Finally, the 1974 Mel Brooks Frankenstein film and some recent Scooby Doo cartoons both draw from these three films, so it is important not to leave this third one out in terms of its own iconic cultural contribution.

Ygor

Bela Lugosi as Ygor (1939)

So the point of all this is you can hit the reset button with this film genre. What you don’t want to have happen is to curl up with your significant other one night and watch what a creature feature has in store for you because it may be one of the bad ones. And if you don’t know about the backstory of the Universal Frankenstein filmography you may assume that what you’re watching is one of the standard Frankenstein films and thus come away with a bad impression. If you want to hit that reset button, start with the first two films which were intended to be watched back to back, and then sometime later view the third. This would constitute a quality Frankenstein experience in terms of what it means in Western Pop Culture.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: