After the rather salacious business yesterday’s selection traded in, snap back to reality/oh, there goes gravity because it’s a viewing of the horror classic(?) The Ghost of Frankenstein. I’m not very familiar with the original Universal horror film library in general, but since Frankie’s story has been made over and over again literally hundreds of times, due to cultural osmosis its tropes, basic story outline, and visual rhetoric is well-known enough to be stock by now: Mad Scientist spits in God’s face by creating a monster, which wreaks havoc while also a tragic figure in itself, mucho destruction follows, hombres. After catching about twenty minutes of this movie one night, and after covering a grim, weird trilogy and another piece of demented genius, thought that this sort of lighter fare may just be the ticket out of Yucksville.
With the glitziest logo reel 1942 could afford (there was a war on), The Ghost of Frankenstein starts with the credits, an old-fashioned affair whose score features ominous bassoons and crashing cymbals and people’s names who are long-dead.
“A Universal Picture! Buy war bonds.”
Right in Transylvania town hall, the villagers bitch about how crappy their town is and pin it on the curse of Frankenstein. Ygor (AKA Igor) went Rasputin on them and took six bullets and a broken neck from a hanging and still lives, playing some sort of wind instrument that will eventually summon the creature back(?). Anyway, the town’s esteemed elders say fuck the castle and the rabble go to blow it up. But Ygor’s squatting there and starts tossing down parts of the castle to smash puny human. Ygor barely escapes, and Castle Grayskull gets blown up real good.
Rebuilding an actual castle costs about the same as a mint version of this play set, anyway.
In the rubble, Ygor is delighted to find a hand sticking out of some cement that’s come loose from the blasts. Frankenstein wakes from his cocaine daydream and gets hauled out of Studio 54 by Jerry Rubin.
“But Andy said he wanted to take my picture!”
The villagers are just fucking raging around Eureka’s exploding castle, and Frankenstein’s Monster© stands in a lightening storm and gets a lightening bolt right in the neck. As Ygor said: “Your father was Frankenstein, and your mother was lightening!” Yowza! Sing it, sister!
In beautiful Elsewhere, we zoom in on Dr. Victor Frankenstein–looking like a British Walt Disney–who runs a hospital for the diseased mind. The docs gab together, Dr. F and Dr. Bohmer, and it turns out that Bo had worked with his father…the guy that made the monster. And this is the son of Frankenstein. But his other son, because there was already a movie before this called Son of Frankenstein. Got that? We’re following Frankenstein’s other son, making it the monster’s brother. I think?
Anyway, Frankenstein and Ygor get to the Doctor’s hood and start asking around. He lives in fancy digs at the end of town, but Ygor can’t keep his goddamn eyes on our friend, the monster. Biggie Frank goes up to an adorable little girl and they become fast friends. This is the kind of Frankenstein I like: a friend to children, helper of getting stuff off of roofs, and a big strong remorseless abomination rolled into one. Anyway, more panicked idiot villagers try to salt Frank’s game, leading to two deaths, but he’s like look, I’m just helping her get her goddamn ball your fucking rotten kids threw up there, and brings her down with no problem whatsoever. But these sick twists beat the shit out of him after promising that wouldn’t happen, and our poor science experiment gets an F in Freedom.
“Look, they either beat you, or they beat me. And I’m too wormy for that!”
Anyway, this place is a 1940s film with a lot of the tropes involved, including well-heeled young suitor for the daughter. Speaking of which, the Patriarchy is pretty strong with this movie: Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s comely daughter is like his doting wife more than a daughter that’s about to marry. I’m keeping an eye on you, 1942.
So Doctor Victor receives a visitor, and aw fuck it’s Ygor! I thought I left that shit back in ‘nam! Ygor says you wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts! and proposes they make the monster strong and healthy again. Victor’s like GTFO and Ygor leers at his daughter on his way out, just so we get that he’s evil or something.
Down at the village, panicked idiots crowd the courthouse to put the monster on trial. Dr. Frankenstein’s coming soon to examine it (how convenient!), but they start the trial anyway. Frankenstein pleads the fifth, but that little girl shows up to stick up for her cool friend who would probably help her pick apples and stuff. So she goes up to him and is like, sup? And the monster’s like, can you get me out of this? And she’s like, gotta go.
She named names.
The Doctor shows up, stares down Frankie Steins, denies him like Peter, and Frankenstein’s about to ice the doctor with his giant chain, but Ygor plays a jam on his horn and Frankenstein just walks out the goddamn window like he owns the place. Ygor and Franks champagne jam out of there with those shit villagers in pursuit.
Back home, his daughter paces and worries, rifles through her dad’s stuff, reads some shit from grandpa’s notebook, and we’re treated to classic footage from the original film. It’s like a little film history lesson tucked into this movie! It’s all very iconic and pads out the running time a little (the entire film is only 67 minutes long). Then Frank & Beans goes up to the window, wondering if he could just come in from the storm, but he books it when Daughter screams. Fortunately, daddy shows up to make it all better.
“They do have a strange father/daughter relationship. Freaks.”
Ygor and FM burst into the doctor’s lab and Frankie goes straight into kill mode, cracking the neck of the nice young doctor. Ygor tells Monster Mash to cool it, but he ain’t buying it. Fortunately, a conveniently placed airtight chamber that the Doctor could release knockout gas through while keeping him completely safe is right there, so he gasses the room (which includes his daughter, whose head is right next to one of the vents with the gas coming out). Daughter is whisked away, and Dr. F starts feeling like he better start toying with the laws of God and man alike.
His daughter’s concerned about this whole defying the laws of nature business, but daddy mansplains everything away. He flaps his gums a bit about whatever, the monster, and she says something dramatic about something terrible coming out of their past to threaten their happiness.
The moment Evelyn Ankers realized how little her character does in this movie.
So Dr. Victor checks it out at the library with his dad, who appears out of focus to him. Frankenstein Senior says the way to fix this monster’s murder problem is to give him a new brain. Say, that nice young doctor that was recently murdered had a newish brain rattling around in there! Let’s make him an abomination! Dads run the show in this movie.
Ygor wants his brain in the monster, but Dr. Frankenstein’s like, yeah, we’re going with the doctor’s brain instead of your creep ass. So the scientists get to work by playing around with Tesla coils and other wonderful mad scientist props while a John Cage track plays in the background.
Dr. Bohmer gets convinced by Ygor the Goat to put his brain in there and Bohmer likes the idea of double-crossing his long-time colleague to thrown in with this strange graverobber’s plan to become a conquering monster. Was “Doctor” just a nickname they gave people that wore white coats often back then?
So the daughter’s beau shows up in gray flannel because it’s the early 1940’s, and the police begin snooping around for the dead young doctor. It’s kind of a beat-for-beat retelling of the first movie, and I suspect a lot of Frankenstein movies follow the same basic pattern. The cops stick their snouts in the doctor’s secret catacomb business, but Ygor and Frankenstein stepped out to get fraps.
Frankie decides to visit that littler girl he became friends with at her home, because nobody ever taught him to call ahead first before dropping by. This kid is super-sweet towards this lonely abomination, so FM swaddles her in her blanket and takes her with him. Dude should get a cat or something. But the clumsy oaf knocks over a lamp and sets fire to her house, so I guess that’s his bad.
Ygor lets Frank know his plans for them to do the old brain switcheroo that night, and Frankenstein’s Monster’s like, fuck that, and crushes him behind a door. Anyway, Frankenstein wants the little girl’s brain, but once she hears this, she asks if she could please go home. Frankenstein’s pretty good about the whole thing and hands the girl over because he’s not a monster, after all.
“Phew! Sorry about that. It’s been a long day, my blood sugar’s dropping…”
So in the lab, the two doctors hop on the good foot to do the bad thing and gets this fucking operation underway. Dr. Bohmer lets Ygor know that this operation may not be successful, but Ygor’s ready to die anyway so he’s cool with that.
Time Passes, thanks to a quickly rotating clock and a vague montage, and Ygor’s brain is wheeled over in a jar (though Dr. Victor thinks it’s still the nice young doctor brain). So LATER, Frankie Avalon is sleeping off the operation and the village’s torch-and-pitchfork crowd have another meeting about the whole “rampaging monster” thing. Apparently, the little girl is still missing(?). So they decide, what the fuck, and storm Victor Frankenstein’s chateau. I bet getting homeowner’s insurance as a Frankenstein is tough.
Oh! The town’s prosecutor is the daughter’s boyfriend. I didn’t get that until they explicitly stated it right now. So he says, I’m gonna talk with Mr. F and see if I can’t straighten this out, but if I can’t, you villagers can storm the house and kill everybody inside, because this was the law in 19th century Europe, I suppose.
Anyway, daughter’s boyfriend figured out that the nice young doctor is dead, and Victor Frankenstein’s like, I gotta show you something. They leave the daughter behind because it’s man talk.
So Victor reassures the prosecutor that he’s fixing the problems that his father and brother created and thinks that he restored the good name of Frankenstein. The villagers get antsy and decide to storm the house anyway. I bet they were going to do this, whether things went well or not inside with the prosecutor and Victor.
“RRRGGGGGNNNAAAAHHHHow about some coffee?”
But oh shit, Ygor’s in Frankenstein’s body now, and he’s happy as a pig in shit. Dr. Baumont is hanging out in the background looking pretty thrilled about this as well, and Ygor revels in his new crazy power and tosses Victor around like a ragdoll (livin’ in a movie/hot tramp, daddy’s little cutie OK that’s enough).
The villagers storm in like panicked idiots and Frankengor gasses the lot of them from that convenient little room in the basement. They get the kid (that kid was still there?) and the daughter out of the house. But Ygorstein goes blind, and Victor reveals that this is because of incompatible blood types. Traitorous Bohmer gets the zap from the electrical equipment and Frankengor does some modern interpretive dance around the lab that blows the whole fucking place up like the goddamn goon he is.
Dr. Bohmer would later team up with Shabba-Doo to B-boy in the streets.
The villagers’ bloodlust sated (for now), we watch Ygorstein get crushed and perish in the fire, and New Dad/Husband and Daughter/Wife walk off in some bullshit Gone with the Wind ripoff final shot.
As stated before, the basic beats of these old horror films are such established tropes in horror films that there is very little that’s surprising in these movies. Considering how long ago this movie was made (3/4 of a century at this point), modern eyes used to feasting on gallons of blood and the goriest details in their horror films will find this tamer than Sesame Street. Although the monster is played with real pathos, the rest of the plot is pretty thin soup, and heavily recycled soup at that.
For historical purposes, the film is definitely a product of its times, especially in regards to its portrayal of the daughter, who was such a wisp of a character that her name didn’t register even once with me. Then again, she’s little more than 1) Frankenstein’s daughter, 2) the girlfriend of the prosecutor, and 3) potential damsel in distress. She displayed no agency of her own, from attempting to talk her father out of his awful plan, to having any sort of affect, positive or negative, on the proceedings of the plot.
At best, in 2016 this sort of horror film could be seen as charming, or retro, or even as part of genre film history, but it can no longer be called horror, simply because there’s nothing scary about it now. Even the many, many, many re-tellings and updates of the Frankenstein myth produced in the decades after this film have lost their edge. This may be due to the advancement of science in the ensuing decades since this film’s release; one of my main thoughts while watching this is, “Well of course this isn’t going to work! Look at their methods, they’re so crude.” I could imagine a much better way to go about the business of reanimating the dead in modern times, mostly because our science has developed so much since the production of this film. And even that might be a reason why it no longer seems scary: that the history that has been created since 1942 is itself so horrific that next to an atom bomb or a terrorist attack, one little ol’ reanimated monster isn’t that scary; it would almost be a relief. Especially if the monster is as sweet as ol’ Frankie was in this one.
Frankenstein/Little Girl 2016
It’s part of the classic Universal horror movies that brought us Wolfman, Dracula, and, uh, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the mad scientist lab sets were fun. Additionally, the film still looks clean and sharp, even today. Heck, I even enjoyed the sympathetic portrayal of the monster in this film. In the realm of “classic horror,” this is pretty solid fare, but as a horror movie itself, it’s just not scary or unnerving enough to rate well in my jaded eyes. It gets two Frank & Beans out of four. Sorry, FM; better luck next time.