Autumn has fallen and it’s time once more to celebrate the primal, compulsive instinct of fear. Rainestorm finishes its horror trilogy and goes to the well one last time to highlight 31 days of spooky scares that season the eerie atmosphere of Halloween. In this week’s Serial Thriller, we focus on the classic Universal Frankenstein series.
Hex cast: 1931
The charm: By no means the first horror movie ever made (nor, in fact, the first Frankenstein movie ever made) but James Whale’s eternal classic is the fountainhead from which has sprung the modern horror movie. Though he would later go on to make the deliberately silly Bride of Frankenstein, here Whale constructs an elegantly tragic frightener that taps into the timeless theme of man playing god. It can be interpreted a number of different ways: a cautionary tale of mankind interfering with nature; a paranoid rant against medical advancement; a sociological parable on the way societies treat those who are different. It never seems to lose its relevance, particularly now that cloning is an established reality.
Frankenstein is the definitive haunted castle movie, with black and white photography heightening the shadows. A twilight grave robbery with a statue of the grim reaper holding vigil provides gothic ambiance. Before Bela Lugosi came along as Igor, Dwight Frye embodied the prototype, Fritz. Topping it off are the creaky corridors of Frankenstein’s castle, complete with crashing thunder and lightning, as well as torch-wielding villagers who pursue the creature to a fiery windmill.
Focal point: The monster’s innocent disport with a young girl turns inadvertently tragic.
Entrancing trivia: The famous Castle Thunder sound effect, used in countless films since, was created for this movie.
Speak the words: “Oh, in the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to be God!”
Companion spell: Frankenstein (1910). It’s worth having a peek at the first attempt to bring Mary Shelley’s tale to cinematic life. The protracted creation sequence is really quite clever, if a bit simple and alchemic. And at a mere thirteen minutes, director J. Searle Dawley does a fairly efficient job of distilling the story down to its most basic components.
Cursed by: sequels that, while possessing their own charm, have given the original film an unfair reputation as cheap schlock.