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  • Aspen Lee

Frankenstein 1931: Review

Before I dive into whether or not I found the movie Frankenstein scary, I find it interesting to note this film found it necessary to preface itself with a word of caution. It felt not only like an aside for a play, but like a warning sticker. It seemed like older audiences preferred the warnings, while I believe modern audiences find pleasure in the shock of jump-scares and dramatic gore of new horror films (often replacing substance).

That being said, regardless of whether the aside was effective, I didn’t find Frankenstein scary. I’ve seen a few modern iterations of Frankenstein's Monster in other visual mediums before (Van Helsing, Penny Dreadful, to name a couple), and this has inextricably linked Gothic horror with a certain brutality of practical-effect violence in my mind. I don’t find it essential or fantastical or mythological horror to have blood in it, but it certainly doesn’t hurt, especially when a character like Dracula is either devil spawn or literally sustained by murder. I found this version of Frankenstein to be beautiful in black and white. It’s a few decades too early in film history for me to find film performances not canny, but for what it was worth, I loved Colin Clive’s Dr. Frankenstein; in certain moments he's absolutely transcendent.


I don’t mind the “coferized” version, but I wish I could’ve seen the original without an added soundtrack. Soundtracks are an essential aspect of horror films especially, so I would’ve loved to see the original in its music-less glory. In terms of the audio itself, there are a lot of pretty jarring audio cuts (such as clipping reverb tails), and some editing errors throughout the movie drove me a bit crazy. I think the more developed film language becomes throughout the years, the less, older, films can be excused as being “old” or rudimentary.


I think the soundtrack also greatly contributed to me sympathizing with Frankenstein’s monster, especially the scene when he (it?) basks in the sunlight for the first time. I stopped being scared of him (though I never was, maybe a little creeped out) the moment he conveyed empathetic emotions of wonderment, curiosity, joy in being alive. Dr. Frankenstein and his colleagues were far more monstrous (a theme of the novel, as I understand). If I were to be scared, I’d be scared of their carelessness in handling life they’re responsible for.


I see horror as one of the most difficult genres to successfully pull off, and it as a genre that has improved over time and is probably beginning to taper off in quality with every Blumhouse production. This movie feels like an ancestor of horror, so it has value, but it’s simply not as sleek as modern horror, especially in the portrayals of monsters.


An effective monster is different than an effective villain. We cannot sympathize with a monster like we can a villain; otherwise, we stop feeling terror or fear as we should, and our minds start writing stories of the monster to humanize it. I’m not saying effective villains can’t be scary (Hannibal Lecter, Anton Chigurh, and Norman Bates are plenty terrifying), but monsters dig deeper into the brainstem in order to be effective. I think they play on our irrational phobias and instincts. That’s why the Thing or the Xenomorph are continuously so effective and why Freddy Kreuger ages horribly. They plague our drives to understand our surroundings and feel safe. Monsters defy understanding. They deny us privilege to understand them and would rather kill us. That’s why I still love zombies, despite being so overused.


I see Frankenstein’s Monster more like Lenny from Of Mice and Men. He’s a giant with the mind of a child. He’s more allegorical of the arrogance of mankind. While he may be difficult to understand, he’s not impossible.