Favorite Horror Movies: Part 4: Frankenstein




The movie that I will discuss in this installment is Frankenstein.  This 1931 film was directed by James Whale and produced by Carl Laemelle, Jr. Universal Studios was following up its huge success with Dracula earlier in the year, so this film seemed like a natural choice to make.

While the title and characters come from the 1818 Mary Shelley novel, it is a loose adaptation of the text.  Interestingly, the sequel, The Bride of Frankenstein, is a much more faithful treatment of the novel than this first film. This movie, one of the most important in horror film history, introduces Boris Karloff as the Creature. Karloff gives an impressive performance as the lost and lonely being who is unsure of who he is and his place in the world.  This sounds like so many teenagers and young people, and while frightening, Karloff also gathered empathy from viewers in his nuanced performance.

Bela Lugosi had been offered the part of the creature but apparently turned it down because of its lack of speaking lines.  Lugosi made a terrible career choice, because Karloff would supplant him after this film’s success as the top box office star and would continue to dominate Lugosi’s subsequent film career.



The movie is powerful and atmospheric and is highly influenced by the artistic movement German Expressionism that had a stylistic impact on cinema especially in the 1920s and 1930s. Whale used large Gothic structures in the set and deep slashing shadows in creating the atmosphere of the film.

Jack Pierce designed the Creature’s distinctive makeup, which was an ordeal to apply and remove from Boris Karloff each day before and after filming. It is a work of design masterpiece, but it is completely different from the Creature’s appearance in the novel.

For those familiar with the novel, it is significant that not only the Creature’s appearance but also his personality and level of intelligence are vastly different from that of the character from the book. In Mary Shelley’s work, the creature is one of the narrators and is both intelligent and self-educated.  Both of those characteristics are missing from the inarticulate and not very bright film Creature. This kind of vastly different portrayal of characters and themes is something that is, unfortunately, typical of many horror films, or should I say, many film adaptations of books. That, however, should be the topic of another post.



The film was very successful financially for Universal Studios.  It is also considered by many cinema historians and critics to be one of the most important films made. It spawned numerous sequels and parodies, not limited to movies.  From Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein to the character of Herman Munster in The Munsters to Young Frankenstein, the story of Victor Frankenstein and his creation have been fertile ground for satire and spoofing.

If you have not seen Frankenstein, then you should. I recommend it highly.




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23 thoughts on “Favorite Horror Movies: Part 4: Frankenstein

  1. John Bainbridge

    I think Karloff was a wonderful actor, stunning and moving in this and his two sequels. I think his finest hour was in the Robert Louis Stevenson adaptation The Body Stealers. Wonderful too as Colonel March on TV.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The movie also gave us the doctor’s hunchbacked assistant and the line “It’s alive!”–neither of which were in the original book. Interesting to note also that the film switched the names Henry and Victor between the doctor and the friend from the book; I’ve always wondered why. I was amazed when I first read the book that there was a bride, although her fate was different (spoiler alert!).

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  3. Mum and Dad used to go out on a Saturday night and Nanan took on the babysitting duty. I must have been about eight when they started showing a series of black and white monster movies at about midnight. For whatever reason (perhaps she was scared to watch them alone) I was allowed to stay up and watch these movies. I remember being very taken by the Frankenstein series. I don’t remember being frightened or having bad dreams from Frankenstein’s Monster (but werewolves and vampires – that was a totally different story). I thing that even at that age I was impressed by the human qualities of the monster; about how he felt emotions like fear, anger and tenderness (that scene by the river with the little girl). Thanks for reminding me of these things with your very interesting article here.
    Hope you’re having a great day.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. One interesting point I heard earlier this year was that Mary Shelley spent some time in the company of the social reformer Robert Owen and that Victor Frankenstein was based on Owen and his obsession with ‘creating’ the conditions for the perfect man.

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  5. Charles, as a kid I loved this movie and the genre, in general. Who doesn’t like a scary movie. I enjoyed your comparison to the book. Very few movies follow the book, I think. One that did a good job of doing it, in my opinion, was ‘The Godfather’. As for other F’stein spin offs, the Mel Brooks, ‘Young Frankenstein’ was hilarious. All the performers were top notch. I can still see the actor who played the monster, and whose name escapes me, doing the tap dance routine. Thanks, Charles.

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