Starring: Colin Clive, Mae Clark, Boris Karloff
Director: James Whale
Running Time: 70 mins
Frankenstein is an American film about a genius but obsessed scientist who creates a living being out of various human remains. However, when his project finally succeeds, he and the people of his town soon find the rise of a monster-like man problematic.
If there’s a classic story that everyone knows, then Frankenstein has to be up there. Legendary in every right, the tale of Frankenstein’s Monster is a fascinating one, and this film brings a strong atmosphere to the story. Although it’s by no means the scariest and most emotionally enthralling movie of all time, Frankenstein is an intriguing watch throughout.
The most impressive thing about this film is easily the atmosphere. Taking on a similar approach to German Expressionist films of the 1920s like Nosferatu, Frankenstein is a decidedly eerie film, and it’s that that makes it a very engaging watch. Director James Whale’s dark and gloomy visual palette (even by black-and-white standards) is integral to making that vibe so strong, and it really helps to make some of the story’s darkest moments feel all the more powerful.
What’s more is that the makeup, costume and production design is excellent. Something that many horror films of the early talkie era did exceptionally well, the look of the world this story is set in is fully convincing, as well as a major player in the story itself. On the one hand, almost every location (apart from one) has an overbearing sense of gloominess to it, with all the buildings lined by sharp edges and spires, an effect made even stronger by the dynamic cinematography.
Also, the design of Frankenstein’s monster is excellent. Now pretty much the definitive look of the classic monster, he’s without a doubt an unnerving presence, thanks to the combination of the huge costume that makes Boris Karloff tower over all those around him, as well as the brutalist face makeup and dark clothing.
However, there’s something also about Frankenstein’s monster that comes through as very human, and that’s the most important reason that this story works so well in this film. Whilst initially an unnerving presence, the costume design allows us enough to see through to the humanity of the monster, and ultimately be able to care for his safety in the face of the growing opposition to his existence.
The early development of that dilemma is very interesting to see, coming to a head at the film’s brightest point where the monster comes across a little girl by the lake, standing out hugely in my mind because of its uniquely bright lighting and atmosphere, although it still retains an excellent degree of caution and eeriness in keeping with the rest of the film.
Overall, Frankenstein is a fascinating horror classic, and whilst it may be difficult to judge it in the same league as modern horrors, it’s an effectively eerie and engaging story that works brilliantly thanks to its stylistic directing, cinematography, makeup, costume and production design, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.2.