(1931) dir. James Whale
For the month of October, I usually like to dedicate a certain amount of my film-watching to the Horror genre, so I thought that for even the kids, we’d choose a path of “Monster movies”, my childhood nomenclature for the films in which I was so deeply involved. As with many of my various genre and period experiments with showing the kids films, there is always a degree of risk or chance. Will they like them? Will they respond? In this case, the answer was “yes.”
I’d last seen Frankenstein as a double feature at the Castro with its sequel, Bride of Frankenstein (1935), in a minor James Whale tribute some years ago. And that’s how we watched them on Friday, as a double feature.
It’s so hard for an adult to watch these films and not be cognizant of the heavy influence these films have had on popular culture and continue to effect. The original source material, this film in this sense, from Boris Karloff’s make-up and mien, to lines such as “It’s Alive! Alive” as shouted by Colin Clive, Dr. Frankenstein, and even through some of Karloff’s growls as the speechless monster. So pervasive are these that the original even seems part of the post-modern adaptation of these bytes and tropes and images.
And even though the kids have no doubt been exposed to such a myriad of subtle or less than subtle variations on these repurposed ideas, they at least see it fresh. The story isn’t something that they know by heart and the tension and drama effect them. They were certainly scared through bits of it. They were also very moved by the moral complexity of the monster, how his abuse at the hands of the hunchback Fritz (still want to call him Igor), leads him to a life of violence, how even his killing of the little girl isn’t purely malicious. It lead to some interesting discussions about the way he experienced the world.
The truth is, this film is an archetype among archtypes, and not simply for its art design, its quotability, or even for its iconicness. But it’s a damn fine film with little fat on it. The images are striking, especially the father of the drowned little girl carries her limp body through the village, the camera tracks it, and his drained face, with a striking power. Karloff’s visage, heavy-lidded eyes, his body, his movement and characterization, still stand out vividly.
The kids totally enjoyed it, too. Leading us both to Bride of Frankenstein right after…and beyond.