John Ary here with the first installment of Ain’t It Scary Reviews. Today we’ll be taking a look back at an overlooked sequel in the Universal Monster stable.
When horror fans talk about Frankenstein movies, they usually mention Boris Karloff in the original and James Whales’ excellent directorial work in Bride of Frankenstein. Both of those films are iconic. Rarely, and I mean RARELY does anyone mention the third film in the series Son of Frankenstein, and that’s a real shame. 4 years after Bride, Universal produced a big budget sequel featuring 3 genre heavyweights and a strong performance from Lionel Atwill as Krogh the police inspector.
This film changes up several of the plot details of the first two. For one, the name of the town has changed from Goldstat to Frankenstein, the monster can no longer speak, and we find out the lighting that originally granted him life was actually cosmic rays giving him near invincibility. Who knew the Frankenstein monster and the Silver Surfer have something in common?
Also there is the addition of Bela Lugosi who brings the character Ygor to the screen for the first time ever. He’s a scruffy broken man who was hung by the town’s people for his role in helping the original doctor, but survived and now walks around with a broken neck. This is Lugosi at his best. He’s cunning, tortured and vengeful, yet portrays himself to those around him as the total opposite. He’s the type of bad guy you root for.
This is also Karloff’s final film performance as the monster. He did some public appearances and showed up in the make up later in his career on TV, but that doesn’t really count. No one can blame the guy for not wanting to continue in this iconic role. It took makeup legend Jack Piece 4 hours every day to get him ready for work. If there was one thing that disappointed me about the film was the lack of screen time for the monster. Under the direction of the evil Ygor he kills a couple of people, but otherwise he’s used on screen as a tug o’war rope, constantly being pulled between Ygor’s deadly agenda, the research work of Doctor Frankenstein and the safety concerns of Inspector Krogh.
And speaking of Doctor Frankenstein, Basil Rathbone plays the son of the original doctor. He returns to the community that his father’s monster help destroy a hated man by the town’s people. Rathbone plays his role without the slightest hint of camp. The film takes itself very serious, and prefers to think of itself more as a dark drama than a horror movie. His relationship with Lionel Atwill on screen is fascinating as each man constantly tries to the measure the other up without tipping their own hand. They are intellectual adversaries and friends at the same time. Atwill captivates Doctor Frankenstein and the audience as he tells the story of how he received his wooden arm thanks to an attack during his youth by the monster. Now you know where Mel Brooks got his inspiration for Inspector Kemp.
I can’t confidently proclaim that Son of Frankenstein is as good as the first two installments, but it boasts big shadowy sets, a beautiful score and brilliant performances from its leads. It’s a film that deals less in grandiose themes like the creation of life and the soul of man and focuses more on revenge and a son dealing with the sins of his father. Universal seemed to have set its sights on making a solid picture that lives up to the Frankenstein name. They definitely succeeded.
Son of Frankenstein is currently streaming on Netflix. It’s also available on DVD with Ghost of Frankenstein HERE.
Check back in tomorrow for another Ain’t It Scary Review as we fast forward to the 70’s with an alternate take on the vampire mythos.
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Also check out Ambush Bug’s top 31 horror film countdown of the year here on AICN.