For Reel

Frankenstein (1931)
November 6, 2016, 9:55 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: James Whale
4.5 Stars
frankensteinAlthough Dracula was shot by Karl Freund, a key figure in establishing the aesthetic of German expressionism in the 1920s, it is actually James Whale’s Frankenstein that bears more obvious resemblances to the form. From the opening scene in which Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and his hunchback assistant (Dwight Frye) scour a cemetery for fresh corpses, Whale’s predilection for the theatrical and cinematographer Arthur Edeson’s harsh, diagonal lines creates an uncanny atmosphere driven by a darkness in tone—if the cemetery is blatantly a soundstage, its very falseness amplifies the Gothic atmosphere, with the crooked tombstones and lurching figure of Death signifying that the unholy is being done. Frankenstein makes a good argument for being the film that popularized the German expressionist aesthetic in Hollywood, and just as significantly it is undoubtedly the first horror film as the genre became to be known. While Dracula left more to mystery (any act of violence happened only after the screen had faded to black), Frankenstein is blatant with its shocks. Boris Karloff’s monster is justifiably the iconic takeaway from the film, but Clive’s mad scientist both has the right mad fury and a level of humanity to him—when the scientist is aware of the horrors his creature is capable of, it’s something special that Clive can convincingly transition the mad scientist persona into a man who is mournful and genuinely sorry for the hell that he has wrought.

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