John Carradine appeared in many of Universal’s classic monster movies from the 1930s and 1940s. He played Dracula in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) and in HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945), and he played prominent supporting roles in such chillers as THE MUMMY’S GHOST (1944) and THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE (1944), as well as appearing in a whole host of others, with some of these roles uncredited, like his brief moment in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) as one of the men who discovers the Monster (Boris Karloff) in the home of the blind man.
And while Carradine did eventually achieve the same fame as his notable co-stars Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Lon Chaney Jr., he did so mainly as a character actor rather than as the lead. Even as his long and varied career continued onto the next generation of horror stars, where he co-starred with the likes of Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing, he still rarely played the lead role.
Over a career which spanned six decades, Carradine amassed an amazing 354 screen credits. On both TV and in the movies, he was everywhere from the 1930s through the 1980s. But it was a rarity to find Carradine in a lead role.
One time that he did get the opportunity to play a starring role and carry a movie on his own is with today’s film, BLUEBEARD (1944).
In BLUEBEARD, John Carradine plays Gaston Morel, a Parisian puppeteer, who seems friendly and harmless enough, but in reality, he’s the infamous Bluebeard serial killer stalking the streets of Paris, violently strangling young women to death. As I said, it’s a rare treat to see Carradine in a lead role. Here as the haunted and tortured Bluebeard, he’s never been scarier! It’s a terrific performance by Carradine. In fact, he considered it his favorite.
BLUEBEARD was directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, the man who directed the classic Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi thriller, THE BLACK CAT (1934). Like with THE BLACK CAT, there are plenty of innovative camera angles and shots, and also like the Karloff/Lugosi masterpiece, nearly the entire film has background music playing throughout.
Better yet, the murders are chilling and frightening, a testament to how one can create fear without showing graphic scenes of violence.
The screenplay by Pierre Gendron, based on a story by Arnold Lipp and Werner H. Furst, tells the story of puppeteer Gaston Morel who hires women to work with him, paints their portraits, and when he tires of them, he strangles them to death. He then gets rid of the paintings by having a private dealer sell them to buyers who only display them privately, keeping Gaston’s connection to the murders out of the public eye. This private dealer has no issue with Gaston being a murderer, as long as he makes money off the paintings. It’s a lurid plot with modern day overtones, as the way Morel manipulates and then harms women, eventually murdering them, as well as the way his fellow male art dealer dismisses the murders as if these women don’t matter, is symbolic of modern day male predators.
After his latest murder, Gaston meets artist Lucille Lutien (Jean Parker) who like other women, is fascinated with the puppeteer and agrees to design some new puppets for him. Hot on Gaston’s trail is Inspector Jacques Lefevre (Nils Asther) who finally catches a break when by chance he happens to see one of the paintings of the murder victims. He then focuses his investigation on trying to learn the identity of the artist.
BLUEBEARD is an atmospheric, gritty, and genuinely frightening thriller that in spite of its low budget really packs a punch. It’s also a golden opportunity to catch John Carradine in a starring role. He’s excellent as the conflicted puppeteer Gaston Morel. He’s also damned scary!
It’s a shame Carradine didn’t play more leads like this, although he appeared in so many movies in so many supporting roles he certainly made his mark in the movies and for horror fans, his name is up there with the greats like Karloff, Lugosi, Chaney, Price, Lee, and Cushing. And rightly so.
But those guys pretty much always had starring roles. Carradine achieved the same success primarily as a character actor.
Maybe it was because I watched it late at night. Or maybe it’s the fine work of John Carradine and director Edgar G. Ulmer. All I know is, when it was over, I was creeped out way more than I expected. For a black and white 1940s horror movie to get under my skin like that, that’s saying something.
So check out BLUEBEARD. With his terrific performance as Gaston Morel, John Carradine will get under your skin too. In fact, you may even notice your neck starting to feel a bit sore…
This is a reprint of a column I wrote for the HWA NEWSLETTER back in 2011:
One of the joys lost in today’s age of DVD collections and massive streaming video libraries is the discovery of unseen gems. There are few things I enjoy more than watching one of my favorite classic actors— say Peter Cushing or Boris Karloff— in a film performance for the first time. Sure, I’ve seen most of the movies these guys have made, but on purpose, I’ve yet to see them all.
That’s the case with today’s movie THE GHOUL (1933), a classic tale of the walking dead starring Boris Karloff fresh off playing his signature role in FRANKENSTEIN (1931). I had never seen this one before, and watching it for the first time was a pleasure.
Karloff plays Professor Henry Morlant, and as the film opens, Morlant is dying. He’s sick in bed with just a few hours to live. Not to fret, Morlant is an Egyptologist who believes in the powers of the Egyptian gods. A wealthy man, Morlant has spent the bulk of his fortune on a jewel known as the “Eternal Light,” and he believes that with this jewel in his possession, he’ll have eternal life.
Morlant instructs his servant Laing (Ernest Thesiger) to bury the jewel with him, to in fact bandage it to his dead hand. He warns Laing, however, that if anyone should steal the valuable item, he will rise from the dead to kill those who have taken the jewel so he can reclaim it and enjoy his eternal life in the next world. Hmm, if he can come back from the dead without the jewel, what does he need the jewel for in the first place? The answer, of course, is that the Eternal Light gives him eternal life in the next life, while without it, he just comes back as a murderous ghoul. Nice to have options!
Since the Eternal Light jewel is worth a fortune, everyone and his grandmother wants to steal it, including Morlant’s accountant Broughton (Cedricke Hardwicke) and a host of other unsavory characters. It’s Laing, however, who gets to it first, and true to his word, Morlant does rise from his tomb to pursue those who stole the jewel, but since this tale plays like a mystery, with so many suspects, Morlant doesn’t know who has the jewel, and so he goes on a murder rampage in search of his treasure.
THE GHOUL is a fun 1930s horror movie and a nice change of pace from the Universal classics of the decade. This one was produced in Britain and was directed by T. Hayes Hunter who imbues it with lots of creepy atmosphere. It really does play like a mystery and at times the proceedings can get confusing as it’s difficult to tell who’s plotting against whom, and to be honest, I prefer the horrific elements of THE GHOUL over its mysterious parts. Once Karloff rises from the grave as the murderous ghoul, the film reaches a higher level and is much more fun to watch.
THE GHOUL has a great cast led by Karloff, who’s at his scary best roaming the dark countryside and corridors of shadowy mansions in search of the Eternal Light jewel. Karloff is even scary in his opening death bed scene, which is pretty amazing considering his character is confined to a bed. He’s frightening as he threatens Ernest Thesiger that he damned well better be scared of him, because if anyone steals the jewel, he’s coming back to kill! I think it’s easy to forget just how scary Karloff could be. He didn’t come to be called the King of Horror for nothing.
He’s also wearing ghoulish make-up by Heinrich Heitfeld, which reminded me a little bit of the make-up Karloff wore in THE RAVEN (1935).
Ernest Thesiger [Dr. Pretorius in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)] provides another solid performance as Morlant’s servant Laing. He gets to spend most of the picture terrified of Karloff’s ghoul. Sir Cedricke Hardwick [Dr. Frankenstein in THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942), as well as many other notable film performances] gives a fine portrayal as Broughton. He looks and acts like a character in a Dickens’ novel. THE GHOUL also marks the film debut of Ralph Richardson as a shady minister. Richardson’s another actor who made tons of movies, but I always remember his genre performance as the blind man in FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY (1973).
THE GHOUL also has a powerful music score by Louis Levy.
Rupert Downing and Leonard Hines adapted the screenplay from a play by Frank King. Two other writers are also listed in the credits, Roland Pertwee and John Hastings Turner. There’s nothing wrong with the script as it contains snappy dialogue and a decent story that moves right along at a nice clip.
THE GHOUL, with its mysterious goings-on and Egyptian folklore reminded me of two other Karloff movies, James Whale’s THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932), which also co-starred Ernest Thesiger, and THE MUMMY (1932).
This holiday season THE GHOUL would make a fine stocking stuffer, a creepy addition to anyone’s gift bag, especially for the horror film connoisseur. Just don’t steal the Eternal Light, or Karloff will be out of his tomb, back among the living to kill, kill, kill—.
But long before I called them horror movies, I referred to them as Monster Movies. As a kid, it was rare that I would say “I’m going to watch a horror movie.” Instead, it was “time to watch a monster movie!”
Part of this may have been the influence of reading the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, and enjoying all of Forry Ackerman’s affectionate coverage of movie monsters. But the other part certainly was most of the time I was watching movies that had monsters in them!
And so today, I’d like to celebrate some of these monsters, specifically the Frankenstein Monster. Here’s a look at the Frankenstein Monster in the two most important Frankenstein film series, the Universal and Hammer Frankenstein movies, and I rank each Monster performance with the Monster Meter, with four brains being the best and zero brains being the worst. Okay, here we go.
The Universal series:
The Monster (Boris Karloff) in FRANKENSTEIN (1931)
FRANKENSTEIN (1931) – The Monster – ?- Sure, he was listed in the credits this way, but we all know by now that it was Boris Karloff playing the monster in this original shocker by Universal studios. It was the role that made Karloff a household name, and rightly so. It still remains my all-time favorite Frankenstein Monster performance. Karloff captures the perfect balance between an innocent being recently born with the insane violence of an unstoppable monster. There are several sequences in this movie where Karloff’s Monster is so violent and brutally powerful it still is frightening to watch.
Monster Meter: Four brains.
THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) – The Monster – Karloff. This time he was so famous that his name was listed in the credits as only Karloff, but again, it was Boris Karloff playing the role of the Monster in a movie that many critics hail as the best of the Universal Frankenstein movies. It’s certainly more ambitious than FRANKENSTEIN. And Karloff does more with the role, as the Monster even learns how to speak. I still slightly prefer FRANKENSTEIN, but I will say that Karloff’s performances in these two movies are probably the most powerful performances of the Monster ever put on film.
Monster Meter: Four brains.
SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) – The Monster – Boris Karloff. The third and last time Karloff played the Monster was the least effective. While the film is elaborate and features big budget sets and a stellar cast that also includes Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, and Lionel Atwill, this film begins the sad trend in the Universal Frankestein movies where the Monster simply didn’t do as much as he did in the first two movies. Here, he’s a patient on a slab for most of the film, and once he becomes active, he’s a far cry from the Monster we saw in the first two movies. He doesn’t even speak anymore.
Monster Meter: Three brains.
The Monster (Lon Chaney Jr. ) in THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942)
THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942) – The Monster – Lon Chaney Jr. As much as I like Lon Chaney Jr., I don’t really like his interpretation of the Monster here. He takes over the role from Boris Karloff, and although he means well, he just doesn’t possess Karloff’s instincts. The attempt is made to make the Monster more active again, but Chaney simply lacks Karloff’s unpredictable ferocity and sympathetic understanding. I will say that this is the one time where Chaney disappoints as a monster, as he of course owned Larry Talbot/The Wolfman, made an effective Dracula in SON OF DRACULA (1943), and I thought played a very frightening Kharis the Mummy in his three MUMMY movies.
Monster Meter: Two brains.
FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943) – The Monster- Bela Lugosi. Lugosi turned down the role in 1931 because the Monster had no dialogue, a decision that haunted the rest of his career, as the film instead launched the career of Boris Karloff who went on to largely overshadow Lugosi as the king of horror over the next two decades. This should have been an awesome role for Lugosi. It made perfect sense story wise, for at the end of the previous film, THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, the brain of the manipulative Ygor (Lugosi) was placed inside the Monster. In FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, the Monster was supposed to speak with Ygor’s voice, and be blind, but all his dialogue was cut as were references to the Monster’s blindness. The story goes that because of World War II, Universal balked at having a Frankenstein Monster talking about taking over the world. The sad result was the film makes Lugosi’s performance look silly, as he goes about with his arms outstretched in front of him, walking tentatively. He was doing this of course because he was blind! But the film cut all references to this, and the audience had no idea at the time what the heck was up with Lugosi’s Monster.
Monster Meter: Two and a half brains.
HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) – The Monster – Glenn Strange – Strange takes over the Monster duties here, in Universal’s first monster fest, also featuring Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man, and John Carradine as Dracula. Boris Karloff returns to the series here as the evil Dr. Niemann. Strange is an okay Monster, but he doesn’t have a whole lot to do.
Monster Meter: Two brains.
HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945) – The Monster – Glenn Strange – Strange returns as the Monster in Universal’s second Monster romp.
Monster Meter: Two brains.
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) – The Monster – Glenn Strange – The third time is the charm for Glenn Strange as he gives his best performance as the Monster in this Abbott and Costello comedy which in addition to being hilariously funny is also one of Universal’s best Monster movies! The Monster even talks again! Notable for Bela Lugosi’s return as Dracula, and also once more features Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man. Look fast for Chaney as the Frankenstein Monster in the sequence where he tosses the nurse out the window, as he was filling in for an injured Glenn Strange at the time!
Monster Meter: Three brains.
The Hammer series:
The Creature (Christopher Lee) in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)
THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) – The Creature – Christopher Lee. The Hammer Frankenstein series, unlike the Universal series, focused on Victor Frankenstein, played by Peter Cushing, rather than on the Monster. Each Hammer Frankenstein flick featured a different Monster. Poor Christopher Lee received no love back in the day, and his performance as the Creature was widely panned by critics. But you know what? Other than Karloff’s performance in the first two Universal films, Lee delivers the second best performance as a Frankenstein creation! Lee’s Creature is an insane killer, and darting in and out of the shadows, he actually has more of a Michael Meyers vibe going on in this film than a Boris Karloff feel. With horrifying make-up by Philip Leakey, it’s a shame that this Creature only appeared in this one movie. On the other hand, it kinda makes Lee’s performance all the more special. It’s one not to miss!
Monster Meter: Three and a half brains.
THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958) – The Monster/Karl – Michael Gwynn. This sequel to THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is one of the most intelligent Frankenstein moves ever made. It has a thought-provoking script and phenomenal performances, led by Peter Cushing, reprising his role as Baron Victor Frankenstein. The only trouble is this one forgot to be scary. Plus, the Monster, played here by Michael Gwynn, pales in comparison to Lee’s Creature in the previous film.
Monster Meter: Two brains.
THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1964) – The Creature – Kiwi Kingston – The Hammer Frankenstein movie most influenced by the Universal series, with the make-up on Australian wrestler Kiwi Kingston reminiscent of the make-up on the Universal Monster. Not a bad entry in the series, but not a very good one either. This one has more action and chills than REVENGE, but its plot is silly and no where near as thought-provoking or as adult as the plots of the first two films in the series.
Monster Meter: Two brains.
FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1967) – Christina – Susan Denberg – The Creature in this one is as the title says, a woman, played here by Playboy model Susan Denberg. A good looking— no pun intended— Hammer production that is largely done-in by a weak script that doesn’t make much sense when you really think about it. The best part of this one is the dynamic between Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein and Thorley Walter’s Doctor Hertz, who capture a sort of Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson vibe in this one.
Monster Meter: Two brains.
His brain is in someone else’s body. Dr. Brandt/Professor Richter (Freddie Jones) seeks revenge against Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969).
FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969) – Professor Richter- Freddie Jones – By far, the darkest and most violent of the Hammer Frankenstein movies, and certainly Peter Cushing’s most villainous turn as Baron Frankenstein. For a lot of fans, this is the best of the Hammer Frankenstein series. It also features a neat script involving brain transplants, and Freddie Jones delivers an exceptional performance as a man whose brain has been transplanted into another man’s body. The scene where he returns home to try to convince his wife, who believes her husband is dead after seeing his mangled body, that he is in fact her husband, that his brain is inside another man’s body, is one of the more emotional scenes ever put in a Frankenstein movie. This one didn’t perform well at the box office and is said to have been director Terence Fisher’s biggest disappointment, as he believed this was a superior film and would be a big hit. The years have proven him right, but at the time, it was not considered a successful Hammer Film. Christopher Lee once said in an interview that he believed this film flopped because it didn’t really have a monster in it, and that’s what fans really wanted. I believe Lee’s observation to be correct.
Monster Meter: Three brains.
THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970) – The Monster – David Prowse – Hammer decided to remake THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN with Ralph Bates playing Victor Frankenstein and David Prowse playing the Monster. Unfortunately, this is the worst of the Hammer Frankensteins by a wide margin. David Prowse would go on of course to play Darth Vader in the STAR WARS movies.
Monster Meter: One brain.
FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1974) – The Monster – David Prowse. Peter Cushing returns as Baron Frankenstein for the last time in what is essentially a poor man’s remake of THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Prowse plays a different Monster than the one he played in THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN, and by doing so, he becomes the only actor to play a monster more than once in a Hammer Frankenstein Film. This one is all rather mediocre, and since it’s the final film in the series, it’s somewhat of a disappointment as it’s a weak way to finish a superior horror franchise.
Monster Meter: Two brains.
And there you have it. A look at the Frankenstein Monster in the Universal and Hammer series.
Thanks for reading!
Books by Michael Arruda:
DARK CORNERS, Michael Arruda’s second short story collection, contains ten tales of horror, six reprints and four stories original to this collection.
Waiting for you in Dark Corners are tales of vampires, monsters, werewolves, demonic circus animals, and eternal darkness. Be prepared to be both frightened and entertained. You never know what you will find lurking in dark corners.
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.
Michael Arruda reviews horror movies throughout history, from the silent classics of the 1920s, Universal horror from the 1930s-40s, Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, all the way through the instant classics of today. If you like to read about horror movies, this is the book for you!
FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, first short story collection by Michael Arruda.
Michael Arruda’s first short story collection, featuring a wraparound story which links all the tales together, asks the question: can you have a relationship when your partner is surrounded by the supernatural? If you thought normal relationships were difficult, wait to you read about what the folks in these stories have to deal with. For the love of horror!
No poetry slams for this guy, as the Monster (Boris Karloff) in FRANKENSTEIN (1931) didn’t speak.
In addition to writing movie reviews and fiction, I also teach middle school English. April was National Poetry month, and so my students have been reading and writing poetry this past month. I love teaching poetry, and I write it for fun, but it’s not something I do a whole lot.
However, I’ve been writing more poetry of late, and I thought now would be a good time to show off a few. Just for fun.
One of the forms I’ve enjoyed this year, as have my students, is based on the Fibonacci sequence, a form that poet Linda Addison spoke of this past summer at Necon.
Here are a few of my Fibonacci poems, inspired by the Universal Frankenstein movies. Fibonacci poems follow the Fibonacci sequence: 1,1,2,3,5, 8, and so on. In poetry, each number corresponds to the number of syllables in each line.
In THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) the Monster (Boris Karloff) did speak, and spoke of life and death, and what that meant to him.
Made Me Live From Dead
Love Dead, Hate Living, Belong Dead!
Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) screams two of the most famous words in horror movie history, “It’s Alive!” in FRANKENSTEIN (1931).
A body I made
With my own hands, with my own hands!
In SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, Bela Lugosi steals the show as Ygor, the shady shepherd who survived a hanging, punishment for stealing bodies— “they, said!”
Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein Monster in FRANKENSTEIN (1931)
Happy Birthday, Boris Karloff!
Karloff, the king of horror, was born on November 23, 1887.
Karloff made over 70 movies before playing the Monster in FRANKENSTEIN (1931), the film which changed his career and made him a household name. He would reprise the role twice, in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) and SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939), and of course would go on to make a ton of horror movies over the next four decades, from the 1930s to the 1960s.
To celebrate his birthday, here’s a look at a handful of Karloff’s most memorable horror movie performances:
FRANKENSTEIN (1931) – The Monster- there’s a reason this role turned Boris Karloff into a star. His Monster is both brutal and sympathetic. Insanely powerful, he can kill in a heartbeat, and yet this newly born creature is simply terribly misunderstood and maltreated. With a remarkable make-up job by Jack Pierce, no movie Frankenstein monster has ever looked as much like a walking corpse as this one. If you only see one Boris Karloff movie in your life (which would be shame- see more!) see FRANKENSTEIN.
THE MUMMY (1932) – Imhotep – For my money, Karloff’s interpretation of Imhotep remains the most effective movie mummy performance of all time. There still has not been another one like it. In spite of a plot that is very similar to DRACULA (1931), THE MUMMY is a superior horror movie, and Boris Karloff’s performance as Imhotep is a major reason why.
Karloff as Imhotep in THE MUMMY (1932)
THE BLACK CAT (1934) – Hjalmar Poelzig – In this classic first-time pairing of horror icons Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, Karloff plays the devil worshipping Hjalmar Poelzig, pitted against Bela Lugosi’s heroic Dr. Vitus Werdegast. Superior horror film has little in common with the Poe tale on which it is so loosely based, but it has a top-notch script full of classic lines, and it features two performances by Karloff and Lugosi in their prime, doing what they do best. Best watched late at night with the lights out.
Karloff in THE BLACK CAT (1934).
BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) – The Monster- The Monster speaks! So boasted this movie’s tagline, and it’s true, Karloff’s monster learns to speak in this classic sequel to the iconic original. Critics consider BRIDE to be the best FRANKENSTEIN movie of all time, but I still slightly prefer the original, if only because it remains much scarier. But Karloff takes his performance as the Monster here to another level. It’s arguably the best performance of the Frankenstein monster of all time.
THE RAVEN (1935) – Edward Bateman -The second Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi pairing. Karloff plays Edward Bateman, a criminal transformed into a hideous monster by Lugosi’s insane Poe-obsessed Dr. Richard Vollin. Another classic pairing of these two iconic horror film stars.
THE BLACK ROOM (1935)- Baron Gregor de Berghman/Anton de Berghman – Karloff has a field day in a dual role as twins, one good, one bad. Karloff delivers one of his best performances in this little known period piece horror drama. Look fast for an uncredited Edward van Sloan as, of course, a doctor.
THE BODY SNATCHER (1945) – John Gray – Another superb Karloff performance. He plays John Gray, the body snatcher who robs graves for Dr. “Toddy” MacFarlane (Henry Daniell). Based on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson and the real life story of Dr. Knox and grave robbers Burke and Hare. Produced by Val Lewton and directed by Robert Wise. Horror film making at its best. Also features Bela Lugosi in a small supporting role.
Karloff in THE BODY SNATCHER (1945).
ISLE OF THE DEAD (1945) – General Nikolas Pherides- Karloff plays a hawkish general who uses his ruthless methods to protect a group of islanders who believe they are being hunted by a vampire-like creature in this intriguing well-made chiller by producer Val Lewton.
THE TERROR (1963) – Baron Victor Frederick Von Leppe – An aging Karloff stars opposite a young Jack Nicholson in this haunted house tale, reportedly shot by director Roger Corman in four days.
BLACK SABBATH (1963) – Gorca – Karloff is at his scary best in this horror anthology by Mario Bava. Karloff appears as a “Wurdalak” or vampire, and he’s downright frightening. This is the only time Karloff ever played a vampire in the movies.
So, there you have it, just a few of Boris Karloff’s more memorable horror movie roles. To celebrate his birthday, you can’t go wrong watching these or any of Karloff’s 205 screen credits, for that matter.
Torin Thatcher as the evil magician Sokurah in THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958).
Welcome back to IN THE SHADOWS, that column where we look at the career of character actors in the movies, especially horror movies.
Today IN THE SHADOWS it’s Torin Thatcher, a character actor known mostly for his villainous roles. I remember him most for his outstanding portrayal of the evil magician Sokurah in the classic fantasy film THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) which also features some of Ray Harryhausen’s best stop-motion special effects.
And when you watch a movie featuring Ray Harryhausen’s special effects, it’s usually those effects that you remember, not the actors in the film. This is true with THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, with the exception of Torin Thatcher. His work in 7TH VOYAGE is so strong you remember the magician Sokurah just as vividly as you do Harryhausen’s fantastic creatures.
Before he become an actor, Torin Thatcher was a school teacher. How cool would that have been? To have Sokurah the Magician as your teacher. But seriously, I can only imagine how powerfully effective he must have been standing in a classroom teaching students.
Here now is a partial list of Torin Thatcher’s 150 film and TV credits:
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE (1927) – Solanio – Torin Thatcher’s first movie credit as Solanio in this silent short adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.
NORAH O’NEALE (1934) – Dr. Hackey – Thatcher’s first screen credit in a feature-length movie. Early drama starring Lester Matthews, known to horror fans for his work in WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935) and the Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi classic THE RAVEN (1935).
SABOTEUR (1942) – uncredited appearance in this classic Alfred Hitchcock thriller.
GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1946) – Bentley Drummle – small role in the classic David Lean version of the Charles Dickens tale starring John Mills, Alec Guinness, Valerie Hobson who played Elizabeth in the Boris Karloff classic THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), and future Hammer Films stars from THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960) Martita Hunt and Freda Jackson.
THE FALLEN IDOL (1948) – Policeman – Plays a policeman in this classic mystery from director Carol Reed (Oliver Reed’s uncle) with a script by Graham Greene.
THE CRIMSON PIRATE (1952) – Humble Bellows – Swashbuckling pirate adventure starring Burt Lancaster and directed by Robert Siodmak, the director of SON OF DRACULA (1943). Also memorable for featuring a young Christopher Lee in a supporting role.
THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO (1952) – Johnson – classic drama starring Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward, Ava Gardner, and Leo G. Carroll.
THE DESERT RATS (1953) – Col. Barney White – Robert Wise-directed war movie starring Richard Burton and James Mason.
THE ROBE (1953) – Sen. Gallio – Biblical tale of Roman tribune with a conscience starring Richard Burton and Michael Rennie.
WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (1957) – Mr. Myers – Billy Wilder-directed Agatha Christie tale starring Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, Charles Laughton, and the Bride of Frankenstein herself, Elsa Lanchester. Also features veteran character actor Una O’Connor, also from THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) and THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933).
THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) – Sokurah the Magician – My favorite all-time Torin Thatcher role. This classic fantasy adventures features some of Ray Harryhausen’s best special effects ever. Who can ever forget his giant Cyclops? In addition, it also features a rousing Bernard Herrmann score, one of my favorites. The third outstanding element of this movie is Torin Thatcher’s performance as Sokurah. It’s a rare occurrence indeed in a Ray Harryhausen movie for anything to be as memorable as his creature effects, but Torin Thatcher achieves this feat. He’s just as memorable in this film as Harryhausen’s effects.
ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS (1957-59) – Constable Johnson – “The Hands of Mr. Ottermole” (1957)/ Felix Edward Manbridge – “Relative Value” – appearances in two episodes of the classic Alfred Hitchcock TV series.
THRILLER (1961) – Jeremy Teal – “Well of Doom” – appearance in the classic horror anthology TV show hosted by Boris Karloff.
JACK THE GIANT KILLER (1962) – Pendragon – Once again playing the villain in a fantasy adventure. Thatcher is reunited with 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD director Nathan Juran and lead actor Kerwin Matthews who played Sinbad in 7TH VOYAGE and plays Jack here, but missing this time around is Ray Harryhausen and his fantastic creatures, resulting in inferior special effects.
GET SMART (1966) – Dr. Braam – “All In the Mind” (1966) – appearance in the classic Mel Brooks TV series starring Don Adams as Secret Agent Maxwell Smart and Barbara Feldon as Agent 99.
LOST IN SPACE (1966) – The Space Trader- “The Space Trader” (1966)- plays a villain in this Season 1 episode of the Irwin Allen science fiction adventure TV show. Trades with the Robinson family, takes advantage of Dr. Smith’s greed and makes him his slave, only to be eventually outsmarted by the Robinson Robot. Way to go, bubble headed booby!
STAR TREK (1967) – Marplon- “The Return of the Archons” (1967) – appearance in this Season 1 episode of the classic TV series chronicling the adventures of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy aboard the starship Enterprise.
THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1968) – Sir John Turnbull – TV movie version of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson tale, produced by Dan Curtis, the man behind DARK SHADOWS and THE NIGHT STALKER (1971). Starring Jack Palance as a very sinister Mr. Hyde.
LAND OF THE GIANTS (1970) – Dr. Berger – “Nightmare” (1970) – appearance in this Irwin Allen fantasy TV show.
NIGHT GALLERY ( 1971) – Captain of the Lusitania – “Lone Survivor” (1971) – appearance in the horror anthology series by Rod Serling.
BRENDA STARR ( 1976) – Lassiter- Torin Thatcher’s last screen credit is in this TV movie adventure involving extortion, voodoo, and the supernatural. Starring Jill St. John.
Thatcher passed away on March 4, 1981 at the age of 76 from cancer.
Torin Thatcher – January 15, 1905 – March 4, 1981.
I hope you enjoyed this edition of IN THE SHADOWS. Join me next time when we look at the career of another classic character actor.
Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, available now in the February 2016 edition of THE OFFICIAL NEWSLETTER OF THE HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION, on the third Universal Frankenstein movie, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.
It’s my 150th IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column.
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT
Welcome to the 150th IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column!
To celebrate, let’s look at the Universal Monster classic, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939).
SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is the third film in the Universal Frankenstein series. It marked the third and final time that Boris Karloff would play the Monster, and while Karloff’s presence in this one is still key, really, the biggest reason to see this movie is to watch Bela Lugosi play Ygor, arguably his second best film role after Dracula.
SON OF FRANKENSTEIN takes place several decades after the events of THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935). Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) has died, and his adult son Baron Wolf von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) returns home to his father’s estate along with his wife and young son, after being away for many years.
Wolf and his family are given the cold shoulder by the villagers, who remain scarred by memories of the Monster. In fact, the local police inspector, Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill) even offers Frankenstein and his family protection from the villagers, an offer which the proud Wolf scoffs at.
While searching the ruins of his father’s laboratory, Wolf comes across old Ygor (Bela Lugosi), a man who had once been hung for the crime of stealing bodies but survived the hanging. When Ygor learns that Wolf is a scientist like his father, he brings Wolf to an underground cave beneath the laboratory where he shows him the sleeping body of the Monster (Boris Karloff).
Intrigue, Wolf decides to bring his father’s creation back to full strength, which pleases Ygor, since he uses his “friend” the Monster to murder the members of the jury who had sent him to the gallows.
SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is the most elaborate of the Universal Frankenstein series and it’s also the lengthiest, clocking in at 99 minutes. While it can be a bit talky, it does a terrific job developing its characters, as the three new characters in this film, Wolf Frankenstein, Inspector Krogh, and Ygor are among the series’ best. It was originally going to be shot in color, but the decision was made to film it in black and white when initial screen tests of the Monster in color failed to impress.
While SON OF FRANKENSTEIN has a lot going for it, it’s nowhere near as good as the first two films in the series, FRANKENSTEIN (1931) and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935). That being said, it’s the one film in the series that is closest in style to the Hammer Frankenstein movies which were to follow twenty years later, as it spends more time on characterizations and less on the Monster, and it features opulent sets.
Even though director Rowland V. Lee does an admirable job at the helm, the film really misses the direction of James Whale, who directed the first two Frankenstein movies. Those films were paced better and possessed a chaotic energy about them that really captured the persona of the Monster, and in both those films, Karloff’s performance as the Monster stole the show.
Here in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, Karloff turns in his least effective performance as the Monster, mostly because he doesn’t have much to do. For reasons that are not explained, the Monster in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN no longer speaks. One can infer that he may have suffered further brain damage in the explosion at the end of THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, which could have taken away his ability to speak. Whatever the reason, without speech the Monster is a far less interesting character than when we last saw him in BRIDE.
Also, the Monster becomes a “patient” in this movie, spending lots of time lying on a lab table waiting to be energized by Doctor Frankenstein. Unfortunately, this trend would continue as the series went on, with the Monster spending more and more time reclining on his back, rather than moving around terrorizing people. It’s also established for the first time in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN that the Monster cannot die, that Henry Frankenstein created him in such a way that he would live forever. This would make it convenient for Universal to keep bringing the Monster back in subsequent movies.
Karloff’s best scene as the Monster in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is when he meets Wolf Frankenstein for the first time. As he gets right in Wolf’s face, easily terrifying the man, he seems to be thinking back to the man who created both of them, Wolf’s father, Henry Frankenstein.
Ygor (Bela Lugosi) and the Monster (Boris Karloff) are up to no good in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939).
But again, the best part of this movie is Bela Lugosi’s performance as Ygor. He steals nearly every scene he’s in. My favorite bits include his coughing on a jury member in a courtroom scene, and his answer to Wolf when asked if he killed their butler Benson: “I scare him to death. I don’t need to kill him to death!” And then he laughs. Of course, he’s also lying since the Monster did murder Benson.
Basil Rathbone is adequate as Wolf Frankenstein, though he does tend to ham it up a bit. I definitely miss Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein. Of course, the writers went with the “son” story-line rather than another Henry Frankenstein tale because Clive had sadly passed away shortly after making THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.
Lionel Atwill also has one of his best roles here as Inspector Krogh, the one-armed inspector spoofed so effectively by Kenneth Mars in Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974). Krogh is a memorable character, with a great back story: he has one arm because the Monster ripped it from its socket when he was a child. Yikes!
Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill) prepares to tell Wolf Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) the story of his childhood encounter with the Monster.
The screenplay by Willis Cooper is definitely talky, but it does tell a good story and does a terrific job developing its characters. SON OF FRANKENSTEIN also features arguably the best music score of the series, by Frank Skinner.
SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is a fine third film in the series, not as effective as the first two, but definitely better than the films which would follow it, and its cast, which features Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Basil Rathbone, and Lionel Atwill is second to none.
The biggest of the Universal Frankenstein movies, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is a well-made and worthy installment in the Frankenstein canon.
Welcome back to SHOCK SCENES, the column where we look at memorable scenes in horror movie history.
We’re celebrating a birthday today.
Today we celebrate the birth— and rebirth— of the Frankenstein Monster in the Universal Frankenstein series.
We’ll be looking at the various creation scenes in the Universal Frankenstein movies. Technically, the Monster was only created once, in the first film, FRANKENSTEIN (1931) but Henry Frankenstein did such a good job creating life that his Monster in spite of the best efforts of angry villagers and exploding castles and laboratories just couldn’t seem to die. So, while the Monster would be “killed” at the end of each movie, he’d be “revived” in subsequent films.
In today’s SHOCK SCENES column, we’ll look at the Monster’s various turns in the laboratory and compare how they all stack up.
By far, the best creation scene was the first, in James Whale’s classic FRANKENSTEIN. Who can forget Colin Clive shrieking “It’s alive!!” as he watches his creation come to life. The lab equipment by Ken Strickfaden (later used again in Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974) with its flashing lights and zip-zapping electrical sounds was strictly for show and had very little scientific relevance, but oh what a show! It set the precedent for all the Frankenstein movies to come.
Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) prepares to create life in FRANKENSTEIN (1931).
Even more memorable than the whirring electrodes and blinking lights was the everlasting dramatic image of the lab table with the unborn body of the Monster lying on it rising to the top of the towering ceiling of Frankenstein’s lab making its way through a giant opening high into the sky into the raging thunder and lightning. Henry Frankenstein literally raises his unborn creation into the heavens to give it its life spark.
And when he brings the table back down to the ground, and we see the Monster’s hand moving and witness Henry Frankenstein’s reaction, “It’s alive!” it provides one of the most iconic scenes in horror movie history.
I can only imagine how terrified movie audiences were back in 1931 watching this story unfold for the first time of a dead body coming to life, and in that moment, seeing for the first time that the corpse on the table wasn’t a corpse anymore but a living being. It must have been chilling.
The creation scene in FRANKENSTEIN is not only the best creation scene in the Universal series, but it’s also the best creation scene in any FRANKENSTEIN movie period! Countless Frankenstein movies have been made since. None have matched this scene, and few have come close. The closest is Hammer’s THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) but that’s a story for another day.
James Whale’s sequel to FRANKENSTEIN, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) has the distinction of being the only Frankenstein film in the series in which the Frankenstein Monster (Boris Karloff) doesn’t spend any time on a laboratory table getting zapped with life-reviving electricity.
When the film opens, it’s revealed that the Monster survived the fire in the windmill at the end of FRANKENSTEIN, and so he’s already up and running when this movie begins. There’s no need for him to receive a laboratory “pick me up.”
Of course, there is a creation scene in BRIDE, and it’s the climactic scene near the end where the Monster’s Bride (Elsa Lanchester) is finally brought to life. As creation scenes go, it’s a good one, and the staging here by director James Whale is more elaborate than in FRANKENSTEIN, but as is often the case, bigger isn’t necessarily better. And it is bigger, as the lab set is larger, and the sequence where the lab table rises through the roof is on a grander scale than the original and includes kites flying into the lightning-charged sky.
There’s a lot to like in this scene. The dramatic electrical equipment is back again, and not only do you have Colin Clive back as Henry Frankenstein, but you also have Ernest Thesiger’s Dr. Pretorious, as well as Karloff’s Monster who’s in the lab to prompt Henry to keep working to make his bride. Heck, Clive even gets to shout “She’s Alive!’
It’s a very good scene. However, it’s nowhere near as shocking or dramatic as the creation scene in the original FRANKENSTEIN.
SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) is the first film in the series in which the Monster (Boris Karloff) is viewed as a patient in need of ongoing medical treatment. Ygor (Bela Lugosi) tells Wolf Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone), the adult son of Henry Frankenstein, that the Monster is “sick” and “weak” and needs to be strong again.
Ygor (Bela Lugosi) and Wolf Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) examine their “patient”, the Monster (Boris Karloff) in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939).
The Monster “died” at the end of THE BRIDE OF FRAKENSTEIN when the entire lab blew up, but as we learn in this movie, Henry Frankenstein and his electric rays were so successful at creating life that basically the Monster cannot die- or at least he’s more difficult to kill than ordinary human beings. And so when we first see him in this film, he’s lying on a table in a semi-conscious state. In fact, he spends a lot of time in this movie in a semi-conscious state which is why a large chunk of this film is less compelling than the two movies which preceded it. The Monster isn’t up and running and scaring people until two thirds of the way into this one.
There really isn’t a creation scene in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN. After some preliminary examinations, Basil Rathbone’s Wolf Frankenstein uses a much smaller assortment of electrical devices to attempt to bring the Monster back to full strength. It’s all very undramatic. SON OFFRANKENSTEIN is a very entertaining movie, the most elaborate of the entire series, but its “creation” scene is a dud and probably the least dramatic of the entire series.
The fourth film in the series THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942) saw Lon Chaney Jr. taking over the role of the Monster, replacing Boris Karloff. Chaney played all four of the major movie monsters (the Wolf Man, Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, and the Mummy) and played them well; however, his portrayal of the Frankenstein Monster was his least satisfying.
In THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, the Monster (Lon Chaney Jr.) is revived without the help of electrical equipment in a laboratory, as Ygor (Bela Lugosi) simply finds his friend buried in a Sulphur pit where he fell at the end of SON OF FRANKENSTEIN and he simply digs him out.
The more dramatic laboratory scenes come later. Ygor takes the Monster to see Henry Frankenstein’s second son Ludwig (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), who’s a doctor who treats mental illness, but no, he doesn’t hold psychiatric sessions with the Monster in this one. He does attempt to use his laboratory equipment to destroy the Monster, before changing his mind when he’s visited by the “ghost” of his father who inspires him to keep the Monster alive.
The more dramatic “creation” scene happens at the end of THE GHOST OF FRAKENSTEIN when the devious Dr. Bowmer (Lionel Atwill) conspires with Ygor to secretly transplant Ygor’s brain into the Monster in order to give the all-powerful creation a sinister mind to use on a world-conquering power trip. Alas, the actual transplant occurs off-screen, and so visually this scene has little to offer, but in terms of story, it’s all rather dramatic and exciting.
The next film in the series, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943) contains my second favorite creation scene in the entire series. Again, the Monster doesn’t need a lab to bring him back to life. This time around, Wolf Man Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) discovers the body of the Monster (Bela Lugosi) frozen in ice and simply digs him out. The Monster doesn’t even have to be revived after being frozen for all those years, as he simply steps out of the ice and is feeling as right as rain.
The creation scene once again comes at the end of the movie, a pattern which would continue for the rest of the series. This time around, Dr. Mannering (Patric Knowles) agrees to use Dr. Frankenstein’s notes to put Larry Talbot out of his misery, a plan proposed by Talbot himself, as he’s seeking release from his werewolf curse. So, they set up shop in Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein’s old laboratory from THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, and Mannering attempts to transfer Talbot’s energy (thus killing him) into the Monster, but Mannering, like all good scientists in these movies, becomes obsessed with the Monster and decides to pour all the electrical juices into the creature to bring him back to full strength.
The Monster (Bela Lugosi) regains his sight in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943).
When the Monster finally gains his strength, he smiles a sinister smile, and it’s a great moment for Lugosi’s Monster. In the original script, the Monster was supposed to be blind, a side-effect of the brain transplant at the conclusion of THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, and it’s this moment when the Monster regains his sight, which is why he smiles. All references to the Monster being blind were cut from the final print, but even so, Lugosi’s smile here is still very effective.
And what follows is the climactic battle between the Monster and the Wolf Man inside the laboratory. It’s a great sequence, one of the best in the series.
Sadly, the Monster would take a huge step backwards in the next two films in the series, as would the creation scenes. HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) is significant because it added Dracula (John Carradine) to the mix, giving the movie three monsters, as the Frankenstein Monster (now played by Glenn Strange) and the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.) returned. It also marked the return of Boris Karloff to the series, although not as the Monster but as the evil Dr. Niemann, a protégé of Dr. Frankenstein, who is more insane and ruthless than any of the Dr. Frankensteins who appeared earlier. Niemann is much closer in spirit to Dr. Pretorious from BRIDE and Peter Cushing’s interpretation of Baron Frankenstein in the Hammer movies.
Alas, the Monster spends the majority of this movie as an unconscious body, lying in wait for Niemann to restore his strength. This occurs at the end of the movie, in a brief sequence, and the Monster is only on his feet long enough to be instantly chased and “killed” by the angry mob of torch wielding villagers who chase him into a pit of quicksand where he and Dr. Neimann sink to their deaths.
Ditto for the next film in the series, HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945). All three monsters return again here, but once again the Frankenstein Monster is reduced to being a reclining patient and isn’t revived until the final seconds of the movie. Very sad.
Ironically, it would take turning the series into a comedy with ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEETFRANKENSTEIN (1948) to return the monsters to prominence. Bela Lugosi returned as Dracula, Lon Chaney Jr. was back as the Wolf Man, and Glenn Strange finally had much more to do as the Frankenstein Monster than just lie on a table— he even gets to talk!—and so in spite of the fact that this is a comedy, the monsters all fare well.
Likewise, the creation scene in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN is also a good one. This time around, Dracula plans to put Lou Costello’s brain into the Monster. With the electrical equipment whirring and buzzing, both Lou and the Monster are strapped to tables, but when Bud Abbot and Larry Talbot burst into the lab to the rescue, Talbot turns into the Wolf Man and instantly tangles with Dracula, while the Monster breaks from his binds and promptly tosses Dracula’s sexy female assistant out a window!
Seriously, this creation scene in spite of being played for laughs, is one of the more memorable scenes in the series.
Who knew that it would take Abbott and Costello to give the Universal Monsters a proper send off? This would be the final film in the series.
So, there you have it. A look at the creation scenes in the Universal Frankenstein movies. By far, the original creation scene in FRANKENSTEIN is the best. None that followed even come close, but if I had to rank the next couple, I’d go with the creation scene in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN second, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN third, and ABBOTT AND COSTELLOMEET FRANKENSTEIN fourth. The rest hardly warrant a blip.
Hope you enjoyed today’s column, and I look forward to seeing you again next time on a future installment of SHOCK SCENES.
Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the Boris Karloff classic THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), published this month in the September 2015 HWA NEWSLETTER.
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT
Time to put the frivolous films of summer aside in favor of the horror movie heavyweights, time for one of the most critically acclaimed horror movies of all time, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935).
In the annals of mainstream cinema, there are very few horror movies which earn a four star rating. THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN is one of them. Not only is it considered a better movie than its predecessor, FRANKENSTEIN (1931) but it’s widely viewed as the best FRANKENSTEIN movie ever filmed. While it’s hard to argue against this assertion, I actually prefer FRANKENSTEIN over BRIDE since it’s a scarier film, but that doesn’t take away my appreciation for BRIDE.
THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN opens with a prologue in which Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester, who also plays the titled Bride of Frankenstein later in the movie) tells her husband Percy Shelley and fellow Romantic poet Lord Byron that her story did not end with the Monster perishing inside the burning windmill. There’s more to the tale, she says.
The action then segues to just after the conclusion of FRANKENSTEIN, with the villagers watching the windmill burn to the ground, and we quickly see that the Monster (Boris Karloff) has survived the fire and escapes. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) survives as well, and he resumes his plans to marry Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson), but these plans are interrupted when he’s visited by his old professor, Dr. Pretorious (Ernest Thesiger) who tries to convince Henry to continue his experiments, but Henry is not interested.
Meanwhile, the Monster is loose in the countryside, inadvertently terrifying everyone he comes in contact with. He’s hunted down and briefly chained in a prison before he escapes. In the film’s most touching scene, he befriends a blind hermit (O.P. Heggie) who teaches the Monster how to speak and shows him considerable compassion, even prompting the Monster to shed a tear at one point. But even this ends badly when two hunters happen upon the hermit’s cabin and “rescue” him from the Monster.
Eventually, the Monster crosses paths with Dr. Pretorious, who tells the Monster he wants to create a mate for him, but that he needs Henry Frankenstein’s help for the experiment to succeed. The Monster agrees to work with Pretorious to compel Henry Frankenstein to make him a mate.
By far the best part of THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN is the development of the Frankenstein Monster. The role is taken to a whole other level, and Boris Karloff delivers a brilliant performance. This time around, the Monster is conscious of who he is and how he came to be. When Pretorious asks him if he knows who he is and who Henry Frankenstein is, he answers, “Yes, I know. Made me from dead. I love dead. Hate living.”
And of course the Monster learns how to talk in this movie, which is a huge development in the story and makes the Monster an entirely deeper character than he was in the first film. Sure, it takes away some of his frightening brutality, but it also makes him much more interesting.
The look of the Monster is also unique in BRIDE, as make-up artist Jack Pierce singed the Monster’s hair and face to show that he had been burned in the windmill.
Colin Clive returns as Henry Frankenstein, and once again, he’s excellent in the role. Clive broke his leg shortly before filming, which is why in the majority of his scenes in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN he’s sitting down. Sadly, Clive died two years later in 1937 from pneumonia as a result of his alcoholism, and he never lived long enough to see or take advantage of his increasing fame through the decades as the iconic Henry Frankenstein in these two classic Frankenstein movies.
Stealing the show, however, is Ernest Thesiger as the evil Dr. Pretorious, in a role originally offered to Claude Rains. Thesiger is a delight to watch, as he instigates Henry Frankenstein throughout, eventually teaming up with the Monster in order to force Henry to create the Monster’s mate. Thesiger’s Pretorious is a nice precursor to Peter Cushing’s interpretation of Baron Frankenstein in the Hammer Films, although Cushing would take things a step further and make his Baron an even darker character. It’s a shame Thesiger’s Dr. Pretorious only appeared in this one Frankenstein movie.
Ernest Thesiger steals the show as the conniving Dr. Pretorious in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.
Dwight Frye, who famously played the hunchback assistant Fritz in FRANKENSTEIN after his even more famous role as Renfield in DRACULA (1931) appears in BRIDE as the grave robber/murderer Karl who assists Pretorious and once again has the distinction of being murdered by the Monster. The original role of Karl was much bigger and included a scene where Karl murders his aunt and uncle and then blames the Monster for the crime, which is why at the end of the movie the Monster goes out of his way to kill Karl. These scenes were cut prior to the film’s release.
The iconic Bride with the lightning-strike hair was played by Elsa Lanchester, who made such an impression with this role it’s easy to forget that she’s only in the movie for about five minutes, and that’s it! Yet she hisses her way to infamy, prompting the Monster to complain, “She hate me! Like others!” Ah, the pains of dating!
The Monster (Boris Karloff) is bound by the angry mob.
Director James Whale, who directed FRANKENSTEIN, is at the helm once again for THEBRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and he does another masterful job. He sets up several memorable scenes in this one, even making the Monster a Christ figure. When the mob binds the Monster and hoists him up on a huge pole where he hangs for several moments as they throw sticks and stones at him, the scene definitely brings to mind a crucifixion. And in the sequence with the blind hermit, as the Monster sheds a tear, just before the camera fades to black, it focuses on a crucifix which illuminates and remains the sole image after the fade.
The scene where the villagers pursue the monster is shot with a moving camera, and it’s every bit as impressive as the chase scene at the conclusion of FRANKENSTEIN. Henry Frankenstein’s lab is bigger in this sequel, and the bride creation sequence is more elaborate than the creation scene in the original, as this one includes flying kites high above the roof of the laboratory.
The one thing lacking in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN that FRANKENSTEIN did better is scares. The Monster in FRANKENSTEIN as played by Boris Karloff was a brutal unstoppable force that was frightening every time he was on screen, not because he was evil, but because he was tremendously strong and unpredictable, possessing raw incredible strength unchecked by learning or experience. In FRANKENSTEIN, the Monster had no knowledge of life and death, right and wrong. But in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN the Monster does know, which makes him a much more fascinating character, and since he develops a conscience rather than become evil, he’s much less frightening.
The screenplay by William Hurlbut and a host of uncredited writers is thought-provoking throughout. THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN is critically acclaimed because it takes the infamous murderous Monster from FRANKENSTEIN and humanizes him, enabling him to reflect upon his existence, which ultimately causes him even more tragedy and pain.
THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN also contains a phenomenal music score by Franz Waxman.
Without doubt, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN is one of the best horror movies ever made. It was a hit and a critical success upon its initial release in 1935, and today, 80 years later, its reputation is even stronger.
Looking for first-rate horror movie fare this September? Look no further than Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.