- The opening scene in the graveyard feels like the birth of the American horror movie. Frankenstein and Fritz Not Igor digging up a casket on a nifty indoor set is the first Christmas for horror, dragging something revolting and shocking into the movies.
- Frankenstein’s monster and King Kong are hugely inspirational characters for movie makers, but not as influential when it comes to actual movies. The Monster (I’m calling him Frankenstein from now on) was never just scary in this or Bride; he was also someone we pitied, someone we felt didn’t get a fair shake, someone misunderstood. Frankenstein is like a big Goth kid, clomping around in his big boots, knowing he’s a clumsy oaf but unable to do anything about it, getting rocks tossed at him. Then he overreacts, and feels even WORSE. This audience identification with The Monster is something movie makers TALK about a lot, but rarely if ever do they know how to replicate this blend of horror and pity—or, horror and embarrassment. Movie makers either are incapable of doing this (and should just not try and fail) or they don’t really believe they’re making anything more than a monster flick. To give their monster some definition and to head off embarrassment, they use humor, winking at the audience to let them know they’re hip to how silly this junk is. And there goes any possibility of deep emotion. Not Karloff and director James Whale: they meant that shit.
- Very little background score. Along with Arthur Edson’s stark photography, the lack of a score leaves the audience emotionally exposed—are we supposed to cower, or feel bad, or laugh at this crazy stuff? The music isn’t going to tell you. Contrast this with Franz Waxman’s score for Bride of Frankenstein, which is one of the major achievements of Golden Age film music.
- Casting Karloff might be the best single decision James Whale ever made for a movie. His physical presence as a canvas for Jack Pierce’s makeup is one of those instances of judgement and luck that made these movies special. Karloff was in a lot of pain as a result of the weights he had to wear, and the boots affected his walking, and he’s got all this junk on his head–and it all works to make him STRANGE to us. He’s a human, but he’s not. He just stands there, looking scared, stranded and mean all at once. He’s not JUST misunderstood: He’s genuinely bad news, too.
- Maria’s drowning is brutal, especially since we don’t see it. Her father carrying her in the street, looking brain-dead, is an unsung bit of movie magic. This guy looks utterly destroyed, and who can blame him? Again, we feel for the monster, but we want to hit him on the nose with a rolled-up schnitzel.
- Kerr Frankenstein wears a fez and sucks on a hookah he refuses to share. I suspect he’s nailing at least two of the maids.
- Colin Clive being a ‘troubled soul’ has to be the least-surprising bit of Hollywood gossip ever. He may have been an alcoholic but he’s as nervous and scratchy as Jamie Foxx doing his delightful impression of Ray Charles’s heroin withdrawal, always looking like he’s about to burst out laughing and crying at the same time. I mean, he IS British.* Clive didn’t live a long life, but in just two movies (three if you count Mad Love, and I’d count Werewolf of London, except he wasn’t in that) he managed to etch his personal acting style into the minds of millions. The dude is coming undone from the first second he’s on-screen, and he doesn’t let up. I don’t know what Elizabeth sees in the guy.
* No, I don’t know what I meant, either, but I seem to have this need to bust on the English, mostly because they think they’re funny and Americans aren’t, never considering that everyone everywhere thinks THEY have a sense of humor and You Guys are stuck up and/or stiff.)