The History of Universal's Frankenstein Part Two
I return from beyond the grave for The History of Universal's Frankenstein Part Two! If you haven't checked out Part One, you can view it here. History of Universal's Frankenstein Part One.
For your education and entertainment your resident Frank-o-phile, Matt Simon, will fill you in on all the shocking details regarding the third, fourth and fifth appearances of Universal's popular monster. Tread lightly as you explore Son of Frankenstein, The Ghost of Frankenstein and Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man.
Son of Frankenstein
Son of Frankenstein (1939) casted an Olympic dream team of horror greats including the aforementioned Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone and Count Dracula himself, Bela Lugosi. Lugosi and Karloff famously feuded but in this film Lugosi is clearly the star. Playing Ygor, a grave robber who miraculously survived a hanging to become the creature’s only friend, Lugosi shines in a demented, wonderful way.
The rest of the film is par for the course, angry townspeople and the latest Frankenstein family heir defending his good family’s name.
If you’ve ever wondered where Young Frankenstein’s (1974) Inspector Klemp came from, here he is. Lionel Atwill portrays Inspector Krogh, complete with an artificial hand, his original torn off by the creature. He is responsible for the villagers but sympathetic to the Frankenstein family and assists in the capture and destruction of the monster.
The creature dies the most definitive death in the series, drowning in a sulfur pit. Like Han Solo frozen in carbonite, it seems we will never see him again. Missing from Son of Frankenstein is the creature’s ability to speak and most of the character traits the audience had come to recognize him by. The result is an interesting time capsule for horror fans but not the greatest film.
The Ghost of Frankenstein
The camp attitude of Son of Frankenstein continues in 1942’s The Ghost of Frankenstein. Bela Lugosi returns as Ygor and once again delivers a ghastly, devilish performance. Lon Chaney, Jr. who was riding high on the success of The Wolf Man plays the monster. His portrayal of the monster in uninspired and unimaginative; he is clearly just going through the motions. Chaney’s paunchy face just doesn’t lend itself to the gravity required for a tortured monster. On the other hand, The Ghost of Frankenstein doesn’t seem to reaching for the drama of previous Frankenstein films; it is simply entertaining. What’s wrong with that?
The Ghost of Frankenstein picks up shortly after Son of Frankenstein. Ygor is shuffling around Frankenstein’s castle attempting to revive the monster. Townspeople, who, of course, blame all misfortune on the curse of the monster, decide to storm the castle and destroy it. The explosion free the monster from his sulfur pit grave and Ygor escapes through the catacombs. The monster is badly depleted until he is struck by lightning in the countryside. Realizing that the creature can be fully restored, Ygor embarks on a quest to find Ludwig Frankenstein, the son on Henry and younger brother of Wolf. With Ludwig’s expertise as a physician, surely he can heal Ygor’s only friend.
Ludwig’s work concerns the success of a brain surgery in which a brain is removed, fixed and then re-implanted. Of course, Ygor demands Ludwig heal the monster’s broken mind, which can only be achieved through a full brain transplant. Through maniacal scheming, Ygor manages to have his own brain implanted into the monster’s body and promptly goes on a wrath-filled killing spree.
The film ends, much as all the Frankenstein films, with the creature in a burning building and apparently dead. Apparently Ygor and the creature had different blood types, which caused the monster to go blind and cause the fire that would kill him. It’s not as grand as the ending to Bride of Frankenstein, but it’s an ending.
The Ghost of Frankenstein solidified the B-movie zaniness that the series now encapsulated. For just the price of one ticket audiences could see the monster’s new exploit’s, Bela Lugosi, and a new member of the Frankenstein family, which had a seemingly endless number of sons in the medical field.
The best way to view the film is with an open mind. Just forget about plausibility and view mind-boggling scenes of the monster with Lugosi cackling voice poorly dubbed over another actor’s image. It’s not the finest film in the series but boy is it entertaining.
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
Long before Alien vs. Predator there was Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. A shameless ploy to squeeze the last bit of money from the Universal monsters, the film is surprisingly good and keeps the continuity of both film series intact.
It has to be said that Bela Lugosi was an amazing actor. He swallowed his pride and finally took on the role of the monster. Interestingly, the monster does not speak with Ygor’s voice, as the effects of the previous film seem to have been reversed. Even though Lugosi’s voice was chilling, it was simply too surreal to be taken seriously when emitted from the monster’s throat. Originally Universal had planned the role as a speaking part but cut out all of Lugosi’s lines. However, Lugosi makes the role his own but trashing all of the relatable, kind expressions of Karloff and replaces them with sly, squinting eyes and a knowing stare. Some may say it is against everything the character stands for but I’ll be darned if Lugosi as the monster isn’t the second best portrayal of him in the entire series.
Larry Talbot, the Wolf Man, has found that a silver bullet will not kill him and seeks Ludwig Frankenstein to find a way to end his cursed life.
During one of his canine episodes, the Wolf Man plunges into an icy cave where he discovers the body of Frankenstein’s monster. How did the monster get there? It is never really explained. Talbot hopes the monster will be able to locate Ludwig’s notes but is unable to.
Next Talbot seeks out the Baroness Elsa Frankenstein, in hopes that she can locate the notes. Eventually the monster attacks the townspeople and so the Baroness gives the notes to Talbot and Dr. Mannering, a local physician. Mannering becomes obsessed by the idea of seeing the monster at his full strength and decides to rejuvenate him. Once rejuvenated, the monster breaks free and kidnaps the Baroness leading to a slug-out with the Wolf Man.
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is more of a Wolf Man film than a Frankenstein one. Although the footage of Lugosi as the monsters is electrifying, the massive cuts around he speaking parts render the monster’s total screen time to only a few minutes. Considering this massive overhaul the film performs well. It is great fun to watch two of horror’s big baddies fight on the big screen, even if it is only for a few minutes. Forget the plot holes, such as the monster suddenly appearing frozen in a cave, and just let yourself enjoy it.