Bela Lugosi had become the heir apparent to Lon Chaney, Sr. as Universal’s horror king with the extraordinary success of Dracula. When the studio decided that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein would be its next vehicle, Lugosi adamantly turned down the role of the monster. He felt that the role was doomed to failure, mainly because there was no dialogue and that audiences would not relate to the character. Enter a little known character actor from England to fill the monster’s shoes, and the name Boris Karloff would eventually eclipse Universal’s reigning king of horror. The role would lead to the rivalry often blown out of proportion between the two greats. Let’s not forget Colin Clive’s obsessed Dr. Frankenstein and Dwight Frye’s brain-switching Karl.
Dr. Frankenstein (Clive) has stumbled onto the very secret of life itself. Along with his assistant Karl (Frye) they scavenge the cemeteries for body parts. Once assembled, this human-like creature is brought to life by the power of lightning.
The creature, unknown to Frankenstein, carries the brain of a man who was criminally insane and begins to terrorize the local village. Frankenstein knows he must destroy his creation before it destroys him.
Frankenstein is presented in a Digital reproduction of the original mono. The reproduction is pleasing when you consider its age. The dialogue is always audible. For the first time you will be able to hear Dr. Frankenstein’s claim, “Now I know what it feels like to be a god” which was censored in 1931 and never fully restored until now. The music is shrill at times. There is little or no strong bass extension here. Most of the audio lives in the high end. The lack of audio noise, however, is clearly evident during the many crucial silent moments of the film.
There is an audio commentary by film historian Rudy Behlmer. This track is an “everything you wanted to know about Frankenstein” bonanza. The story behind this film is as entertaining as the film itself. I consider myself an expert on the Universal horror classics and still found new points of interest in this commentary.
Frankenstein is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The film has been wonderfully restored. Of course there are plenty of print artifacts, but I feel they are minor enough to actually add to the atmosphere of the film. Although black and white, shading is vital in this film and the transfer handles these subtleties admirably. I was particularly pleased with the detail now possible in Karloff’s makeup. Karloff’s facial lines provide a wonderful canvas of shadow and form. You will see it here like never before.
Universal pulled out all the stops for this first wave of horror releases. There is a new documentary by David Skaal, noted horror film historian and author. “The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made A Monster” is a wonderful tribute to the film and the talents of its stars and creators. It includes interviews with Sarah Karloff, daughter to creature Boris. “The Frankenstein Archives” is a montage of publicity and production stills set to some of the more chilling moments of the soundtrack. There are theatrical trailers, production notes, and bios. There is also a short production called “Boo” that is very entertaining. Finally, the DVD cover is a reproduction of the film’s original cover art.
The menus are simple with the exception of the initial screen which contains some cool Frankenstein music.
James Whale’s Frankenstein would become the model for horror films for the next 70 years. How often have we seen reproduced images like the great tesla coils, rampaging villagers with their torches, giant castles and powerful thunderstorms? Frankenstein didn’t create a man; it created a film genre, and I’m happy to report that still today “It’s Alive”.