Frankenstein: The Legacy Collection
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: various
Aspect Ratio: Full Frame (1.33:1) – All Films
Subtitles: French, and Spanish
Audio: English – Monaural 2.0 (All Films)
April 27th, 2004
Running Time: 71 Minutes
Much like Bram Stoker’s popular vampire yarn Dracula, Frankenstein is a literary classic that enjoyed a rich and diverse history before it became a feature film for the first time. Originally authored by the great Mary Shelley in 1818, the story was an immediate hit, and stage productions of the tragic tale were up and running within a few years. Interestingly, the tale was initially adapted for the cinema as early as 1910, in a short silent film starring Charles Ogle, and produced by an obscure fellow by the name of Thomas Edison.
Despite Edison’s pioneering attempt, and many subsequent renditions of Frankenstein over the years, James Whale's 1931 masterpiece arguably remains the most lauded version. The horror classic not only made Boris Karloff a huge star, but burned a characterization of Mary Shelley’s creation into the public’s mind that subsequent efforts could not outshine. Indeed, although a variety of other top-shelf actors have played the role, including Christopher Lee and Robert DeNiro, none have come close to resonating with filmgoers the way that “Karloff the Uncanny” (who played the monster in Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and Son of Frankenstein) did.
I suppose it is a lucky thing for us horror fans, and for Boris Karloff, that Bela Lugosi decided not to step into the monster's boots after he learned the creature would have no dialogue. Although Lugosi is simply awesome as Dracula, I just don’t think he was physically imposing enough to be convincing as the monster. In any event, director James Whale cast Boris Karloff in his place, and the rest is movie history. Ironically, Lugosi, who would be forever typecast as the Count, would later play the role of the monster in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)! On an aside, after sitting out of Ghost of Frankenstein, Boris Karloff would make a return to the “series” in House of Frankenstein, but not as the monster that made him famous.
Now what I really love about Frankenstein is that it is much more than a thinly written movie, as some of its “sequels” were, propped up by an iconic performance. Indeed, Boris Karloff's turn as the monster is only one of the many reasons that Frankenstein is one of the most revered horror films ever made, so many years later. One of the other key elements, James Whale, the mastermind behind this enduring classic, was a consummate artist who had an immense respect for the cinema, to go along with his talent as a filmmaker. It is this immense talent that he employed to craft a soulful, taut, and highly suspenseful interpretation of Mary Shelley’s story.
Granted, Mr. Whale was not exactly loyal to Mary Shelley’s tale. Indeed, several key plot points from the literature are missing in action, particularly the pursuit of the creature across the ice fields, the monster’s ability to communicate verbally, and the creature's desire for companionship, which would later be revisited in Bride of Frankenstein. As is the case with any adaptation of a famous literary work, the departures from Shelley’s tale will leap out at fans of the book, but as a film Frankenstein captures the spirit of the work very effectively, so these departures can be forgiven. Besides, given Whale’s budget, and the limited technology of the time, it is doubtful some of these excised ideas would have turned out very good.
Undoubtedly, the basic premise of Frankenstein is (or should be) well known to most of you, so I will not spend too much time on it. Suffice it to say that Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) is obsessed with unlocking the secret of life, a discovery he believes is within his grasp. However, since his peers in the academic world do not condone his morbid experiments on dead human bodies, Frankenstein has retreated to an isolated castle where he uses corpses exhumed from their final resting places, or even fresh from the gallows, to continue his gruesome research.
The story really beings in earnest, however, when Frankenstein succeeds in bringing life to a previously inanimate body, assembled from parts of various bodies that he collected. His jubilant celebration doesn’t last long though, for Frankenstein’s assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye) accidentally obtained an “abnormal” brain for the creature (Boris Karloff), which causes it to behave quite violently. Eventually, after Fritz’s continued torment of the monster, it kills him, and continues behaving in an animalistic manner, so Dr. Frankenstein resigns himself to the need to destroy his unholy creation.
Unfortunately, the plan that Frankenstein and his former instructor, Doctor Waldman (Edward Van Sloan), devise to kill the creature fails and he is able to escape the castle’s confines. Subsequently, his actions bring a great pain upon the House of Frankenstein, and on the local townsfolk, causing the good Dr. Frankenstein to regret his attempt to play god. After the creature pays a visit to Frankenstein’s stately manor on his wedding day, the fight to the finish ensues, with Henry trying to unmake the miserable monster that he had been so very proud of only days before. Sorry…no more plot details!
Perhaps now is a good time to talk about why it is that Frankenstein is such a memorable film. Well, one of the things that made this motion picture so effectively frightening was James Whale’s understanding of how to make sound a “character” in his films. Considering this film was made in the early days of motion pictures with soundtracks, Mr. Whale really did a marvelous job of using all manner of sounds, such as off-screen bumps in the night, thunderclaps, and the grunting of the monster in an attempt to scare audiences. To be sure, the use of sounds in this film probably will not traumatize the modern moviegoer, but audiences not yet accustomed to motion pictures with soundtracks must have been quivering in their seats.
Mr. Whale also proved to be no less talented at utilizing visual imagery to create appropriately grim environments for this tragic tale, including shadowy exterior sets, gloomy castles, and even a forsaken cemetery, which appears early in the film. Further, the monster's first on-screen appearance is one of the most memorable moments in all of cinema, not only because of how well Whale pulls it off, but because of the careful build up to the reveal.
Speaking of the monster, Boris Karloff was not listed in the credits that precede the film (which show the monster as being played by “?”), although his name does appear on the end credits. And even though Karloff is confined to uttering grunts and growls by the script, there is still a great deal of subtlety in his portrayal of the tragic creature, as the monster displays the capability to be as tender as he is fierce. It is easy to sympathize with the poor soul, at any rate, as he is a walking tragedy – a man-child rejected by his creator and left to fend for himself among those that would murder him as soon as look at him.
The sequence where the monster plays with the little girl by the lake is particularly telling. Responding to the first human being that does not scream and run away at the sight of him, he smiles at her, and sits down to play. Unfortunately, since he does not understand the rules of the world, he inadvertently drowns his new friend, but not because of any malice on his part. This haunting scene encapsulates the monster’s cursed nature perfectly. Though given life through artificial means, he was doomed by Fritz’s clumsiness before he drew his first breath. Yes, the monster lives, but he cannot really savor life, as he is both hindered by his abnormal brain and hunted by the villagers. Ironically, even when the creature tries his hardest to display his sensitivity, things turn out all wrong for him.
While Boris Karloff's portrayal may have been layered and subtle, Colin Clive's turn as Henry Frankenstein was deliciously over-the-top! I think his rendition of a genius driven mad by ambition is one of the other elements that make the film work, and that he really succeeds in conveying a richly complex and sympathetic character to the audience. I also like the way this anti-hero is eventually redeemed; after he realizes the havoc his creation has wrought on the local villagers, not to mention his own family. The supporting cast, which includes Mae Clarke as Henry's fiancée, Elizabeth, and John Boles, are also very solid in this film.
All in all, James Whale’s Frankenstein is a thoroughly entertaining, suspense-filled interpretation of Mary Shelley’s classic book. The writing, direction, set design, and cinematography are all first-rate, and the wonderful performances of Colin Clive, Boris Karloff, and Dwight Frye are beyond memorable. Indeed, they are the archetypes of types their respective characters. I’ll say it again: James Whale’s Frankenstein is a masterpiece.
THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN
Running Time: 75 Minutes
For many people, James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is that rare sequel that is every bit as good as, if not better than, its predecessor. Indeed, for some, this is the quintessential horror film. In the Bride of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley's infamous creations return, with the monster (Boris Karloff) and Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive), picking up right where Frankenstein left them.
Checking back in with Dr. Frankenstein, who is recovering from injuries sustained in battling the creature, we find him preparing to marry his fiancée, Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson). The monster, who the villagers attempted to flambé inside of a windmill, has survived, and is now bent on revenge. Completely alone and unloved, the creature understandably does not share in Henry Frankenstein’s happiness over his pending union, and wants a mate of his own. After the monster starts wreaking havoc on the countryside, Henry is blackmailed by a colleague, Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), into placating the monster by fabricating a mate (Elsa Lanchester) for him. Unfortunately, when the doctor’s newest ungodly creation lays her undead eyes on his original work, she is not terribly impressed, which further enrages the monster. This is not a good thing, as from the opening of the film, we see that the creature is now more ready and willing to commit murder than he was in the first film!
Given the positive reception and substantial financial success of the first Frankenstein film, director Whale was given a much larger production budget for Bride of Frankenstein, and it really shows. Specifically, the sets are even more elaborate in Bride, and the special effects are much more realistic (though obviously fake by today’s standards). Indeed, I have seen much worse special effects in recent films than Dr. Pretorius’ “miniature” people.
James Whale also took great pains to make his follow up to Frankenstein play differently from the first film. For example, Henry plays a rather minor role this time around. This movie is all about the monster, which is developed into a much more complete character over the course of the picture. For instance, in Bride of Frankenstein, although the creature is more quick to do violence, he also exhibits his softer side again, as well as learning to speak, interact with a friend, and enjoy fine food and drink.
Perhaps most impressively, at the end of the film, we even see the monster come to terms with his miserable existence, in a moment that helps generate sympathy for the poor, tormented soul. Indeed, the misunderstood creation of Henry Frankenstein might as well be any person dubbed “different” and cast aside by the status quo, and his frustrations serve as vivid reminders of a time when we all were outside of a group that we so desperately wanted to be in. It is almost heartbreaking the way this creature was born into an existence where a blind hermit (O.P. Heggie) is the only one who will accept him as a friend, largely because he can't see what he looks like, and because he is a friendless pariah himself. It is this hermit who teaches the monster the art of verbal communication (which he picks up awfully fast for having an abnormal brain).
Another interesting addition to the series is Dr. Pretorius, a devious scientist who is possibly more insane and irresponsible than Henry Frankenstein ever was. Not only do his own freakish experiments and creations bear this out, but he is not above resorting to kidnapping and blackmail to get what he wants. What is never made plain though, is why he is so hell bent on getting the monster a mate, and attempting to start a new race of creatures. Really, what would be in it for him?
Rhetorical questions aside though, Bride Of Frankenstein is a true gem, and something that should be appreciated by everyone who claims to love cinema. The film plays on many levels, and lends itself to countless interpretations of its religious and moral implications, by including scenes where the monster destroys religiously symbolic statues and declares his preference for the land of the dead. I hope I am not alone in this opinion, but I believe this film, which is laden with nuance and character, is one of the most beautiful motion pictures ever made regardless of genre. It has something in it for everyone – action, chills, humor, tragedy, and even the hopefulness of people (or “monsters”) in search of love and friendship.
Me…well I can’t wait to watch it again!
SON OF FRANKENSTEIN
Running Time: 99 Minutes
In Son of Frankenstein, the village plagued by Henry Frankenstein and his hellish creation is once again cast into chaos when the infamous doctor's son, Wolf von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone), moves his family into his father’s old castle. Once the Frankenstein family arrives, it is not long before Wolf learns of the hatred the townsfolk have for their family. It seems they did not take too kindly to his father’s experiments.
Coincidentally, right before Wolf and company took up residence in the castle, a number of mysterious deaths had occurred around the village. Unfortunately for the Frankenstein family, the townsfolk associate the killings with the family’s arrival, despite the fact that the monster is believed to have died when Henry Frankenstein’s laboratory was destroyed. Fortunately for the Frankensteins, the local police chief Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill), understands the irrational behavior of the townspeople towards their family, and promises Wolf that no harm will be done to his family.
Sadly, while the villagers may not harm Wolf von Frankenstein, he displays his father’s propensity for dragging himself down. To be more specific, while nosing around in his father's ruined lab, Wolf encounters an unusual man named Ygor (Bela Lugosi), who as it turns out, has a keen interest in the Frankenstein family. Eventually, Ygor reveals a secret to Dr. Frankenstein – the monster his father created still lives! Apparently, the creature is only in poor physical condition, slipping in and out of a catatonic state.
Further, Ygor tells Wolf that he has befriended the monster, and can control him with the musical woodwind instrument that he carries. Since Ygor is also just as lonely and hopeless an outcast as the monster, he also claims that they help each other deal with society’s mistreatment of them, and their resultant loneliness. That being the case, Ygor begs Wolf to use his medical skills and knowledge (Wolf is also a physician) to help revive his poor, misunderstood friend.
Initially, Wolf is apprehensive about this idea (which he knows is insane), but he has a bit of his father in him, so he decides to check the monster out, to develop an understanding of what it is that makes him live. As he conducts a comprehensive battery of tests on him, Wolf actually begins to feel a bit sorry for the creature, that has known nothing but rejection and hatred since “birth”. This is especially true after Wolf discovers that the abnormal brain given to the monster is the source of his violent tendencies. Indeed, he comes to believe that if it weren't for Fritz’s bungling (which he doesn’t know about), his father’s creations would likely be a very kind and considerate being.
As his sympathy for the monster’s situation grows, Wolf von Frankenstein finally agrees to fully revive his father's creation, and the creature’s good buddy Ygor is overjoyed when the attempt proves to be a success. It seems that Wolf is also pleased, as he hopes to rehabilitate the monster, and restore his family name. Unfortunately for the good doctor, he never realized that Ygor’s motives for having the monster revived involved more than friendship. Just what is he up to???
Moving on, Son of Frankenstein is noteworthy in that is was last time Boris Karloff would play the misunderstood and abhorred monster. Not to downplay the magnificent performances of his costars, especially Basil Rathbone, but Karloff was in top form here. I have argued this point with people before, but I think that Karloff was an amazingly under-appreciated actor. It really impresses me how he infused the virtually speechless, animalistic monster with an impressive emotional range. Indeed, even his movements are more refined and purposed than those of many of his imitators and contemporaries, for though Karloff moves as a body pieced together from corpses should, there is deliberation, purpose, and control behind his every movement or facial expression. Interestingly, however, the monster in this film does not jibe with its predecessors in one respect. Namely, despite being taught to speak by a hermit in Bride of Frankenstein, the monster is again mute in this film (which Karloff reputedly preferred).
All in all, despite not equaling the majesty of its two predecessors, Son of Frankenstein is a respectable installment in the franchise.
GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN
Running Time: 68 Minutes
The Ghost of Frankenstein picks up almost immediately where Son of Frankenstein ended. Of course, I cannot divulge how that film concluded, but suffice to say that Henry Frankenstein's reanimated (Lon Chaney, Jr.) monster lives on and is rescued from another predicament by his pal Ygor (Bela Lugosi). This time out, Ygor seeks out Wolf's brother, Ludwig von Frankenstein (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), and his colleague Dr. Bohmer (Lionel Atwill), to help repair the monster’s brain. Who better than respected neurosurgeons to handle such a daunting task?
As his brother Wolf did before him, however, Ludwig declines Ygor’s request for assistance. Indeed, he opposes the idea so completely that he purposes to rid the world of the monster by dismembering and destroying the body. His chance comes when the creature is subdued after it murders a doctor and assaults his daughter, Elsa (Evelyn Ankers). Unbelievably, however, his colleague Dr. Bohmer protests, citing that the monster is a living creature, and should not be killed in such a cruel, inhumane manner. I guess he forgot that this “living creature” just brutally murdered a colleague and assaulted a woman, huh?
Things also get even more complicated for Ludwig, when the ghostly image of his father appears, and informs him that the monster only behaves violently because of the criminal brain that was accidentally implanted into his head. Dr. Frankenstein's ghost goes on to request that his son cure his creation, with Bohmer's aid, by replacing the infamous “abnormal brain” with a normal brain. For two renowned neurosurgeons, it sounds do-able, but Ygor is still in the mix, and he has plans of his own!
In Ghost of Frankenstein, Lon Chaney, Jr. replaces Boris Karloff as the abhorred creation of Henry Frankenstein. While Chaney was no Karloff, his rendition of the slow-moving brute is acceptable, although it is worth noting that his shorter stature and less distinctive facial features are a sharp departure from the monster’s previous appearance. In terms of the character, the monster seems to have taken a few steps backwards since the previous film, now walking in a truly zombie-like fashion and being unable to speak, or even growl (what the hell?), as he did in the past.
While I am on the subject of performances, it would be completely remiss of me not to bring up the name of Bela Lugosi, who is incredible as Ygor. Although he is obviously known for his iconic portrayal of Count Dracula, Lugosi steals almost every scene he appears in here, with his insane facial expressions and sinister cackle. Forget the monster, for Lugosi’s Ygor is so delectably villainous that he is clearly the movie’s “bad guy”. Another great performance by an astoundingly gifted character actor, and a treat for horror fans!
I must admit, it is apparent at times during this film that the franchise was running on gimpy legs, but this is still an enjoyable film. As with most “classic” horror films, it is undeniably campy, but the element of suspense is effectively treated with, and the principal actors all turn in rather inspired performances, especially the incomparable Bela Lugosi. It is clearly not the masterpiece that the original Frankenstein is, but Ghost of Frankenstein still makes for good late-night viewing.
HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN
Running Time: 71 Minutes
In House of Frankenstein (1944), a twisted and morbid man of science, Gustav Niemann (Boris Karloff), has been imprisoned for performing experiments on the dead. Fortune smiles upon him though, and he is able to escape from prison, along with his hunchback assistant (J. Carrol Naish) and hides from the authorities by posing as the head of a traveling freak show. Late one night, he pulls the stake out of a skeleton that he had claimed to be that of a vampire, and wouldn’t you know it, Dracula (John Carradine) appears. Oddly enough though, Dracula is thankful enough for being revived that he agrees to Niemann’s request that he seek out and kill those who had imprisoned him.
Later, Mr. Niemann happens upon both Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange) and the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney, Jr.) in the ruins of the Frankenstein laboratory. Unfortunately for Mr. Niemann, these two creatures would prove to be more difficult to control!
Much like House of Dracula, House of Frankenstein is a good indication of how far the Universal monster movies has fallen from grace over the passage of fifteen years. In addition to being hindered by painfully slow pacing, the promised implied “monster rally” never really takes place, as Frankenstein’s monster is in a catatonic state for what seems like the entire film.
The lone bright spots in the film are, as you might expect, Boris Karloff (as Nieman) and John Carradine (Dracula). The presence of these fine actors lends some much-needed credibility to the film, especially given the silliness of its premise. Seriously, does this story make any sense at all? Even worse, director Erle C. Kenton fails to take any chances with the storyline, and simply rehashes elements from many of the earlier Universal monster flicks.
Bottom line, to me this film is not scary, not atmospheric, and not well scripted. And aside from the presence of Karloff and Carradine (who is not around for that long), the acting is not on par with that of the previous films in the series. Sorry, but this one just doesn’t do it for me!
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
Universal’s Frankenstein, offered in its original aspect ratio aspect ratio (1.33:1), looks just as it did on its previous DVD release – which is lovely! The film’s monochromatic color palette benefits from well-balanced contrast, which is surprisingly consistent throughout the film. Shadow delineation is much better than average for a film this old, and lighter colors/whites are crisply rendered (no blooming).
There is also astonishingly little print damage, and only a moderate amount of film grain, which never got to the point of diminishing my viewing experience. Finally, fine details are rendered impressively, and there is substantially less flickering than in Dracula. Honestly, I had not seen this film in a couple of years, but I was reminded that Frankenstein on DVD looks much better than it does on any other home video format. This was an excellent transfer of a bona-fide classic before, and it still is now.
I know you may be tired of reading by now, but we need to spend a little time on Bride’s transfer, because the previous DVD, to the dismay of many fans, was poorly framed. Check here for a recent discussion on this topic (thanks for the tip Michael Warner!!! ), which I have heard about many times in the past (from friends who own both the laserdisc and DVD). Most often, we talked about the scene in the graveyard where the monster topples over a statue, and some of the profile shots of characters talking, where the tops of their heads were lopped off. Strangely, however, the great piece of evidence provided by Andy Dursin (see below) is something that my pals and I missed!
Interestingly, despite Universal’s press release not mentioning anything about the transfers of any of these films being redone, it appears that is exactly what we have with Bride of Frankenstein, at least in some way! More specifically, in comparing this “Legacy Collection” release to the previous DVD, it appears that the image has been framed correctly this time around, in addition to looking even better than it previously did!!!
As is the case with all the films in this set, Bride is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and the image quality is outstanding! To begin with, the visuals are much more detailed than one would expect from a nearly 70-year-old film, and contrast and gray scale appear to be slightly improved from the “Classic Monsters” DVD. Moreover, although there are a few spots and scratches on the print, it looks remarkably clean overall. Yes, there is some grain visible, particularly in the lighter grays, but it seems to be much less evident this time around. Further, the deep, dark blacks give the image a tangible sense of depth, not to mention a wealth of shadow detail.
Don’t get me wrong, it does not appear that a complete restoration has been done, as the image still appears slightly soft in places, but this transfer boasts a cleaner image, and more balanced contrast than the last DVD release did, and there are still no compression artifacts to be found. Better yet, the framing issues have been corrected, so it can now be seen as James Whale intended it to be! As is discussed in the thread I linked above, there is a sequence where the monster is coming down the stairs to the laboratory (shortly after his “Bride” comes to life) towards Dr. Pretorius and Dr. Frankenstein. Checking the “Classic Monsters” DVD, Karloff’s face, from the eyes up, are not visible until he begins descending the stairs. When comparing this sequence to the “Legacy Collection” DVD, his entire face stays in the frame during the shot! There are other instances like this, but this one is probably the easiest comparison (and thanks should go to Andy Dursin for providing a point of reference)! I just can’t believe that in all of the chats I have had about this issue in the past, no one has referenced this shot before now. Good eye Andy!!!
On the whole, this is a splendid presentation, and fans should be very happy with it. I am just happy that Universal seems to have got it right this time! Strange that they would not draw attention to such a foul-up with a beloved film like Bride of Frankenstein, isn’t it?
Are we done yet??? Oh goodness, there are three more films to talk about! Are your eyes hurting yet? Good, then read on…
The image quality of Son of Frankenstein, Ghost of Frankenstein, and House of Frankenstein is as nearly as impressive as that of Bride of Frankenstein. Indeed, the transfers help bring forth the lustrous black-and-white cinematography of George Robinson (Son and House), and Elwood Bredell & Milton Krasner.
All three films are sharply rendered, with hardly any distractions caused by film grain and a surprisingly minimal amount of visible damage to the film stock. Gray scales for these films are also commendable, and do a fair job of revealing subtle gradations in the tone of sets, attire, and the like.
These classic horror flicks are strictly a B&W affair, so pardon the expression but color me impressed, especially with the job Universal has done with Bride of Frankenstein. As was the case with the Dracula[/i] collection, image quality was not too much of an issue with the previous “Classic Monsters” release of these films, so I can overlook the fact that Universal did not give them a full overhaul. Visually, the five films in this set still look very good, especially when taking their age into account!
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
Dealing with the soundtrack for the five films in the Frankenstein legacy collection is a far more straightforward matter than the discussing image quality. Presented in monaural (2.0), each of these films sounds better, and more vibrant, than one might expect from such antiques.
Of course, there are still issues, like constrained sound fields, weak dynamic range, and distortion during loud passages in the scores or whenever mobs are chasing the creature, but none proves terribly distracting. Since the dialogue is rendered very clearly, it is also easier to forgive the less pleasant aspects of these films’ soundtracks. Moreover, the ambient sounds are largely preserved, despite the soundtrack for Frankenstein being re-mastered to “restore its original clarity”. More than anything else, the ultra-clean nature of the previous Frankenstein pissed me off, so I am glad it has been corrected!
Overall, the audio for all of the films is clean, and largely free from disturbing crackling or hissing. In addition, if memory serves (some of my Classic Monster discs were stolen) the soundtracks for the later films in the series sound significantly louder, so I no longer have to crank my receiver up just to hear them. As a result of all these factors, the aural experiences provided by these films is quite pleasing, despite the limitations inherent in the source materials. In my humble opinion, these monaural tracks should not disappoint fans of the Frankenstein films.
Feature Length Commentary - Frankenstein
Frankenstein, on Disc One, features a truly enjoyable commentary track contributed by film historian Rudy Behlmer, which was also available on the previous “Classic Monsters” DVD. Behlmer is extremely knowledgeable about this film and pleasant to listen to, but better still, his passion for Frankenstein is evident all the while he is spewing out insightful information and anecdotes. Some of the topics covered by Mr. Behlmer are the creation of Mary Shelley’s book, its subsequent history, and a fascinating comparison of James Whale’s film to the shorts and theatrical productions that preceded it.
If you have even the slightest interest in classic horror, especially Frankenstein, Rudy Behlmer’s commentary track is a must-listen. It is just a shame it only lasts as long as the film, because he really has a lot to say!
Feature Length Commentary – Bride of Frankenstein
Perhaps my expectations were too high, but the audio commentary for Bride of Frankenstein by Scott MacQueen (film historian) was quite a disappointment, as it was very uneven. For instance, during the film’s first half MacQueen talks very rapidly, spewing out more information than most people can comfortably digest. The second half of his commentary is almost the polar opposite, as MacQueen gradually runs short of topics for discussion.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment, however, is how Scott MacQueen fails to provide insight into key sequences in Bride, such as the monster becoming disturbed when he catches sight of his image in a stream, or the capacity for human kindness he displays in his friendly interaction with the blind hermit. In my opinion, it is the complexity of the monster, and the subtle infusion of tragedy and irony into the Bride Of Frankenstein that makes it such an outstanding and memorable piece of art. And since James Whale was such a master at burying hidden messages throughout his films, they can easily go unobserved if you are unsure of what it is search for. Sadly, MacQueen does not take advantage of his opportunity to reveal all of these intricate details to viewers like me, who have not been formally educated in cinema.
Now I cannot tell you that MacQueen’s commentary is not worth listening to, and it certainly is not the worst I’ve heard, but I am unable to shake the feeling that it could have been much better.
Bride of Frankenstein Archives
“Bride of Frankenstein Archives”, which runs for thirteen-minutes, gives viewers the opportunity to review the marketing materials for Bride of Frankenstein. These materials are seen over a piece of music from the film, so you will have to hit the pause button to get a real good look at any particular item that interests you. All in all, a nice extra!
The theatrical trailers for Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein are included.
She’s Alive: Creating the Bride of Frankenstein
Also available on the previous DVD release of Bride of Frankenstein, this 39-minute long documentary is highly entertaining and extremely informative. After watching the “She’s Alive!” documentary, which features interviews with Boris Karloff’s daughter, Dwight Frye’s son, and a cavalcade of historians, you should be an expert on the creation of this early horror masterpiece!
Indeed, this highly detailed documentary, put together by David J. Skal, comprehensively covers the process of creating Bride of Frankenstein, and is a fountain of information and interesting anecdotes. As was the case when it was included on the “Classic Monsters” DVD for this film, the “She’s Alive!” documentary is a wonderful addition to this Legacy Collection set.
The Frankenstein Files – How Hollywood Made A Monster
The “Frankenstein Files”, an approximately forty-five minute documentary on the creation of Frankenstein[/i], offers excellent insight into the process of making the film. Directed by David J. Skal, this documentary consists mostly of interviews, which are very informative and detailed. It is evident that all of the participants have a special place in their hearts for Frankenstein, and Mr. Skal deserves a great deal of credit for how well put-together this documentary is! If you’re a fan, and you missed it on the “Classic Monsters” release, make sure to give this one a watch – it really is well worth your time!
“Frankenstein Archives”, which runs for nine-minutes, gives viewers the opportunity to review the marketing materials for Frankenstein. Like the gallery for Bride, these materials are seen over a piece of music from the film, so you will have to hit the pause button to get a real good look at any particular item that interests you.
“Boo!”, a short film put together in 1932, is a whimsical little film that puts the monsters under the microscope, and features some of the most campy tunes and voiceovers you are likely to hear anywhere. It is brief, but “Boo!” is both entertaining and humorous enough to be well worth a look!
Stephen Sommers on Universal’s Classic Monster: Frankenstein’s Monster
Essentially, this short piece serves to promote Stephen Sommers’ upcoming action vehicle Van Helsing, although the director does talk about his fascination with the classic Universal monster movies and their influence on his own work. Actors Shuler Hensley, who is playing the monster in Van Helsing, and Samuel West, who plays Victor Frankenstein, are also interviewed about the latest interpretation of the classic character.
NOTE: There are NO “forced” trailers on either disc!!! Hopefully this is a sign of things to come (fingers crossed)…anyway, my thanks go out to Universal for not mucking up this release with forced trailers. The menu system could be a lot more intuitive though!
(on a five-point scale)
Frankenstein and Bride:
THE LAST WORD
Unlike the Dracula “Legacy Collection”, this set technically does not offer anything new to fans (except packaging and the fluffy Stephen Sommers promo, of course). However, considering the visual improvements bestowed upon the Bride of Frankenstein, and what seems like more easily audible soundtracks for some of the films, I think fans will feel more than justified in “double-dipping”.
As with the other “Legacy Collections”, they will only set you back a little more than the previous standalone disc for each film did. As such, I consider them to be a tremendous value, and let’s face it, we don’t get much of that from the studios these days. To be honest, about the only criticism I have involves the confusing way the menus are laid out, and the amount of disc juggling required to peruse the special features. Other than that, acquiring this set is an absolute no-brainer!
If five films, the retention of all the bonus materials from Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, and a secretive enhancement to Bride’s visuals doesn’t have you ready to pick this set up, than nothing else I can say will! Highly recommended, and doubly so because Bride of Frankenstein has finally been done right!!!