Sunday, October 13, 2002


The first two Frankenstein movies, both stylishly directed by James Whale, are much-praised and have probably been written about more than any other classic horror films (except maybe KING KONG). I watched the third and fourth in the series yesterday, for the first time since I was a teenager in the 70's when they showed up regularly on "Chiller Theater." Though SON has the bigger budget and a better critical reputation, I found GHOST to be more exciting and more fun.

SON definitely looks better than any of the other Frankenstein movies, with its vast expressionistic sets and creepy jagged shadows. Basil Rathbone plays Wolf, the, duh, son of Frankenstein who, after the death of his father (it's not clear how much time has passed since BRIDE), comes to town to clear up his father's estate. The townspeople, never having quite gotten over his father's terrifying antics with artifical life, are not happy to see the son, even though he claims to have no interest in his father's ideas. Eventually, however, he meets up with broken-necked Igor (Bela Lugosi), discovers the creature (Boris Karloff) still exists, and gets sucked into tampering in God's domain. Rathbone is a bit hammy; the best performance is by Lionel Atwill as the inspector with the wooden arm--the monster tore off his real one years ago. But above and beyond the performances, I had two problems with the movie: 1) It's hard to take much of it seriously after Mel Brooks' YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, which actually draws more inspiration from SON than from the original. In the opening scene on the train, I kept expecting Rathbone to look out the window and ask, "Pardon me, boy, is this the Transylvania station?" 2) The movie, at around 100 minutes, is too long and lacks momentum. It's not like it's hard for anyone who's seen any other monster movie to figure out exactly every twist the plot takes. Rathbone is the only person with any energy here. His son (Donnie Dunagan) is whiny and irriatating, and his wife (Josephine Hutchinson) is a zero. Lugosi gives a good performance, but he can't compensate for the long, dull patches. However, the sets are always interesting. Lugosi's plot to use the monster to kill off the men who hanged him may have inspired the writers of the Dr. Phibes movies.

GHOST is short and, while still awfully predictable and not nearly as impressive visually as SON, moves along at a good clip and is finished in a little over an hour. The plot seems to pick up right after SON; even though Rathbone has left and the monster is supposedly dead for sure, the villagers still feel under a curse (almost literally, as even the barren fields are blamed on the Frankensteins). The townspeople destroy the castle, but Igor escapes with the creature, alive but weak. Conveniently, there's another brother, Ludwig (Cedric Hardwicke), a "doctor of the mind," as we're told two or three times, living in another city. Igor's plan is to get Ludwig to nurse the monster (Lon Chaney Jr.) back to health. Hardwicke gets the Frankenstein bug in his system and decides to transplant a "healthy" brain into the monster's skull, but his treacherous assistant (Lionel Atwill, playing a different character than in SON) helps Igor to subvert the plan. Evelyn Ankers is Hardwicke's daughter and she's good in her limited role; Ralph Bellamy, as her boyfriend, has even less to do and barely registers at all. Chaney isn't bad as the monster; he's not as expressive as Karloff, but at least he looks the part. Ultimately, I would judge GHOST to be the better movie simply because it's easier to sit through. The title, BTW, is justified by a scene in which Hardwicke's father (played by Hardwicke) "haunts" him, causing him to tackle his father's project.

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