Sunday, July 12, 2009


James Whale's Frankenstein (1931) is the stuff that a Gothic horror film is made of. While it is loosely based on Mary Shelley's 1818 novel of the same name, it is by no means a faithful adaptation. In fact, it is probably closer to Peggy Webling's play. The plot is tweaked, names are changed, a distinctly German look and feel is added - but leaving all that aside, the movie is truly an impressive one. Frankenstein is one of my favourite books, and I can say that while Whale's movie is quite different from the original text, it is by no means nothing short of a cinematic achievement.

Frankenstein has gone down in history as one of the greatest horror films ever made, and while modern audiences like us may not run out of the movie viewing with shrieks and screams, all of us will feel a chill or two, up and down our spines, at Boris Karloff's amazing portrayal of the Monster. While Colin Clive puts in a great performance at Henry Frankenstein, the man obsessed with creating life, the show truly belongs to Karloff, and perhaps Jack Pierce, for his make-up effects. For how many of us can say that image of the Monster, with its flat head, drooping eyes, and neck-bolts, is not striking, to say the least?

This movie has endured the test of time, and is a favourite with us even after 75 years. Initially, though I felt a little sore because I expected the movie to stay absolutely faithful to the text, I got over my resentment quickly- after all, which director truly stays faithful to a text? And how can all of the touching story of Frankenstein and his monster be compressed into a film that is just an hour long? No, it is useless to dwell upon these trivial details - Frankenstein must be seen for what it is - a horror film that stands apart from the rest, one that despite being made 79 years back, would still give all the horror films of today great competition.

While Shelley's novel raises many thought-provoking questions about life and creation, parenting and childhood, nature vs. nurture - the movie too, makes one think, though in entirely different ways, because of the plot changes. Did the Monster become violent simply because he was given a criminal brain, or was he made into one by Fritz's constant torment and torture? Or was it both these factors? To think about all this, you must watch the movie, but not just because of the issues it raises in your mind - but because it is next to impossible not to admire such splendid direction, such classy acting, and such chilling horror.