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: 1939
The charm: After Bride of Frankenstein, the series delved into equally campy territory, with a slightly straighter face, for this second sequel. Basil Rathbone is perfect as the disdainful Wolf von Frankenstein, unwelcome heir of the now completely redesigned Castle Frankenstein. Bela Lugosi makes his first appearance as the nefarious Ygor, and Lionel Atwill is bafflingly protective as onetime monster victim Inspector Krogh. Though Frankenstein’s grotesquely “adorable” little boy shatters the proceedings whenever he opens his mouth, the interaction between the three main characters is gleefully engaging. Lugosi, in particular, hams it up to his utmost, clearly relishing his ridiculous role. Rathbone, who had reported contempt for the B movies in which he was obliged to star, lets it show through in his performance. Atwill is unflappable in his turn as Krogh. And Boris Karloff makes his final appearance as the monster, playing him as a muted, childlike creature who shares a special bond with Ygor.
For an air of Halloween fright, it’s back to Castle Frankenstein for more haunted proceedings. This time, the castle is stripped bare, favoring an angular, minimalist German expressionism with stark shadows. The monster ventures into a fog-layered cemetery during a lightning storm to revivify himself. Frankenstein’s laboratory is detached from the main castle this time around, enclosed in a concrete dome that now sits atop a sulphur pit.
Focal point: Ygor’s hilariously absurd testimony to the village council, defiantly refusing to cooperate with them since they botched his execution and he is now, for some reason, pardoned of it.
Entrancing trivia: Recurring Frankenstein player Lionel Atwill, who appears in no less than four Frankenstein sequels, each time as a different character.
Speak the words: “I scare him to death. I don’t have to kill him to death.”
Companion spell: Young Frankensein (1974). More than any other film in the series, Son of Frankenstein inspired Mel Brooks’ hilarious sendup of the genre. Atwill’s Krogh provides the best fodder for Kenneth Mars’ priceless Inspector Kemp, and his and Gene Wilder’s spoof of the darts game is classic.
Cursed by: That kid. Dear god, that kid.