Sunday, October 18, 2009

“Your father was Frankenstein, but your mother was the lightning!”

A Frankenstein movie without Boris Karloff? Believe it, reader. 1942 brought another sequel, and this one was linked to the previous films, though The Ghost of Frankenstein had a big job filling the big, clunky shoes of its predecessors.

The villagers finally get fed up with Castle Frankenstein, and with Ygor, who’s managed, like Rasputin, to survive things that should have killed him in the last movie (i.e. bullets). The angry mob blows up the castle, hoping that Ygor would die in the blast. After the explosion, Ygor digs the Monster out of the dried out sulfur pit he was knocked into and decides that its time for a road trip to find another scion of Frankenstein in a different village to cure the Monster, who’s still in a weakened state. They make their way to Vasaria (aha! So that’s where the name of the region in House of Dracula comes from).

Upon entering town, the Monster wanders off and tries to befriend a little girl who’s lost her balloon, but this of course ends in two casualties (not the little girl this time) and the poor wretch gets arrested because poor Monster just can’t catch a break. The Dr. Frankenstein of Vasaria, a son of Heinrich and brother of Wolf, an expert in “diseases of the brain” is called in to examine the creature and then, thanks to Ygor, is drawn into examining the Monster.

Dr. Ludwig von Frankenstein: Sir Cedric Hardwicke is our Dr. Frankenstein du jour, and an expert on the brain. He really just wants to live quietly as a man of science in his village, but when Ygor comes calling, he finds himself staring at his family legacy in the face, haunted, you might say (quite literally at one point), by the Ghost of Frankenstein (dun dun Dun!). I have to say, compared to Rathbone and Clive, this is a much blander Dr. Frankenstein than before.

Dr. Bohmer: Lionel Atwill (yes, as a completely different character than what he was in the last movie) is the more morally questionable doctor of the film. He used to be Ludwig’s mentor, but after a miscalculation during an operation in the past, Bohmer’s been something of a disgrace to the scientific community. Or something like that. Bohmer gets called in by Ludwig to try and destroy the Monster, but Bohmer refuses, since he claims it would be murder. Eventually, Bohmer gets wrapped up in events that go horribly, horribly wrong by the end of the movie, and honestly, he’s a more interesting character than Ludwig.

Elsa von Frankenstein: Evelyn Ankers is Ludwig’s daughter and a nice girl who’s seeing a local prosecutor. She’s just kind of there a lot of the time and frequently wanders haplessly into danger.

Erik Ernst: Ralph Bellamy is Elsa’s love interest, a guy who’s really devoted to the idea of law & order, but he’s also kind of a dick, like when he’s trying to interrogate the Monster during a court hearing and he tries maybe three questions before he gives up on the interrogation and concludes that the Monster’s just a crazy guy and needs to be shipped to a mental institute (right before Ludwig shows up to conduct his professional examination).

Dr. Kettering: Barton Yarborough is the poor unfortunate doc who gets clobbered by the Monster when Ygor & he come calling on the Frankenstein residence. Still, dead doesn’t mean dead necessarily, and Ludwig finally determines to give the Monster a good and proper brain to help fix him; Kettering’s brain.

Ygor: Bela Lugosi returns as the creepy, broken-necked hunchback. He’s still really good and the film’s badass, but just not quite as good as he was in Son of Frankenstein. He has different ideas as to who’s brain should be put in the Monster, though. His own.

The Monster: Lon Chaney, Jr. is in the big shoes this time, and he gives a pretty good performance. There’s not a whole lot of subtlety in the Monster this time, given his deteriorating brain, but he tries to bring some subtlety to the role.

Erle C. Kenton (who also directed House of Dracula and seems to be Universal's go to guy for late period horror movies) does all right in terms of visuals, but there’s not a whole lot that pops out of the movie as a whole aside from the angry mob blowing up Castle Frankenstein in the beginning and the Monster’s arrival in Vasaria. The visual pacing’s all right, but the distinct lack of much going on in the second half of the movie until the climax hurts it as well.

Scott Darling and Eric Taylor tie into the previous films nicely, what with carrying over with the sulfur pit and Ludwig going through Heinrich & Wolf’s journals, but the character’s just don’t really pop out compared to previous films. There’s no Pretorius, no Fritz, no Krogh, no real personality for the Monster. We do have Ygor though, and that works fairly well, but the rest of the characters are just…there.

Hans J. Salter’s score is good in that sweeping old school Hollywood style. Nothing bad, just nothing truly memorable.

I will admit that I didn’t really like The Ghost of Frankenstein. It wasn’t that it was a badly made movie, but really, it wasn’t populated by truly memorable characters that leave an impression on the viewer. I’ve seen worse, but this one’s just…kind of boring.

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