Tagged 1935

Victor Frankenstein: The Emperor in His Same Old Clothes

Victor Frankenstein. 2015. Directed by Paul McGuigan. Screenplay by Max Landis.
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy, Jessica Brown Findlay, Bronson Webb, Daniel Mays, Spencer Wilding, Robin Pearce, Andrew Scott, & Callum Turner. Davis Entertainment/TSG Entertainment/MPC/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.
Rated PG. 110 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Sci-Fi

★★★
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As a fan of Mary Shelley’s groundbreaking novel Frankenstein, the various adaptations throughout the years, as well as stories giving homage to the original while taking liberties with its thematic elements, are always of interest to me. Then there’s Paul McGuigan who was announced to direct this film, which grabbed my attention. I love several of his movies, most of all Gangster No. 1 and the underrated Willem Dafoe-starred The Reckoning, so to imagine him doing some sort of retelling of this science fiction/horror classic seemed exciting. However, in comes Max Landis. He’s a guy many enjoy hating, but I don’t, I never enjoy disliking anybody. It isn’t because of his attitude so much as it’s a disdain for his narcissism in light of his abilities as a writer. He constantly blames studios and anyone else other than himself for the failure of the films he writes to make big box office numbers. His screenplays are often cliche-ridden, though, somehow he insists on being this original thinker of some sort. To be honest, Chronicle and Deer Woman (a short for Masters of Horror directed by his father John Landis) are the only things of his I’ve felt were actually top notch – the former an awesome subversion of the superhero genre, the latter a hilarious take on horror and folklore mixed into one. Unfortunately, the writing in Victor Frankenstein is no better, and it is one of the biggest problems of the film. With a creepy monster that is certainly unique in its own right, a couple good performances (most of all Daniel Radcliffe), this could’ve been a retelling that worked. Only the writing drags this down to a barely mediocre romp through beat down territory, masquerading as if it’s something better.
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The look of the film is certainly dark and full of wonder. McGuigan and D.P. Fabian Wagner certainly capture a gritty aesthetic, which helps a great deal. If this looked like any other period piece I wouldn’t have much to enjoy. Particularly, I love some of the gruesome imagery when Victor and Igor are first trying to bring things back to life. The monkey thing they manage to resurrect, then have trouble with, is downright terrifying! Dig it, so hard. Even the body parts Igor works on, as Victor brings them to him “piecemeal”, are nasty and hideous to look at. These elements really take us to the time, like sitting in on the early days of modern technique in medicine. Overall, though, it’s the dreary and bleak aesthetic, the creepy atmosphere and dreadful tone which makes the look and feel of Victor Frankenstein the best part of this whole experience. Lots of nice looking visuals, on the opposite end of the spectrum there are all the shadowy and also disturbing scenes/shots. These two opposing elements make the film great to look at. The sound design and the score are also well worth their work, I really liked the music – favourite part is the piece playing when Igor finds Victor in the massive lab working on resurrecting his Prometheus; lots of good horns, of which I’m a fan.
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Max Landis can harp on all he wants about this movie not succeeding as well as planned. Ultimately, his supposed knack for writing eludes me. I was a huge fan of Chronicle, still am. Other than that I’m not exactly sure why anybody thinks he’s anything special. Not trying to rag on the guy. I’m a published author in the short story realm, I know it isn’t easy. But he simply can’t take any criticism, or else you’re labeled someone who “doesn’t get it”, or whatever. Case and point re: his poor writing, some of the quips Victor makes throughout the film are impressively lame. Such as the whole “Its alive” scene when the success arrives. I get it, Landis tries to be oh-so-clever and subvert a well-known scene concerning Frankenstein. It simply doesn’t fly, it is lame and he can do better than that. Another thing I don’t like is the tone. At times there’s a playfulness which detracts from all the darkness; the dark I love, Landis pulls out the grittiness of the period, especially all the horrors of burgeoning medical practices (think: draining of abscess). I’m not opposed to comedy. There’s a time and a place for it, and Landis forgets each of those things.
In many parts, Victor Frankenstein is a fun amalgamation of Mary Shelley’s original novel, as well as both the 1931 film Frankenstein and its 1935 sequel The Bride of Frankenstein. The reason it falls short is because there are too many reaching qualities that never get where they intend to go. First, there’s the heavy handed in vitro fertilization remark Landis tosses in, as if Victor is some champion of women. Only that’s just a one-off bit of dialogue for Victor to spout instead of it playing further into his advances in modern medicine (maybe Landis is trying to boost his credibility with women; who knows). The screenplay could’ve done something with this bit, instead it comes out to make Victor look crude instead of it being a testament to his visionary qualities. Second reason for this movie’s failure to be what it ought to – another movie that has an artificial, manufactured love story tossed into the middle of it. While the Kenneth Branagh directed Frankenstein did have a love interest that part of the story helped to further the torment of Frankenstein’s creature, the relationship in this screenplay only serves to fill in spots where nothing else is happening. Really, I don’t understand why so many movies have to include a love angle, as if it’s written into the rulebook somewhere. If it’s organic, sure, but why does there have to be one in here? Why does Igor have to fall for a woman in order for us to watch him develop? Yes, he’s living life now outside of the circus and everything is different. There are enough things going on, though, and adding the love interest in only muddies things, taking away from the main relationship between Igor and Victor. The bit of time spent on this other relationship could’ve been spent strengthening everything else happening.
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The finale is exciting, if you like loud bangs and sparks flying, yells, those types of things. Other than that I wasn’t too impressed. This is a 3-star film at best. Shelley’s original story is one I love, and there are absolutely some excellent revisions here, making parts of the film fun. But in the end, Victor Frankenstein has tonal issues and drags on due to a lack of focus. The efforts of McAvoy and Radcliffe are not enough to save this picture, which is too bad because they are talented actors with plenty to offer. Everyone here tries, I can’t even fault Landis for not trying. Simply put, a swing and a miss. Entertaining enough to watch some night with the lights down low, but don’t expect any sort of classic in the making. Because this is only a relatively decent popcorn flick.

The Bride of Frankenstein is a Horror Sequel Classic

The Bride of Frankenstein.  1935. Dir. James Whale. Screenplay by William Hurlbut.
Starring Boris Karloff, Elsa Lanchester, Colin Clive, Valerie Hobson, Ernest Thesiger, Gavin Gordon, Douglas Walton, and Una O’Connor. Universal Pictures.
Rated G.  75 minutes.
Comedy/Drama/Horror

★★★★ (Film)
★★★★ (Blu ray release)

For my earlier Blu ray review of James Whale’s original Frankenstein click here.

I can tell you one thing off the bat – I really could have done without Gavin Gordon’s eloquently rolling speech as Lord Byron in the opening scene. Really love how the film starts, I just cannot handle his dialogue. It nearly prompted me to fast forward, but I rarely ever do that.
Plus, if I did that I would’ve missed a beautiful shot I love: as the present day gives way to the story’s plot, starting after The Monster has apparently died and fire burns, the camera pulls away from Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Mary Shelley while they all talk about her story Frankenstein. This shot slays me. It is as beautiful as anything you could ever see. The camera hauls back, transitioning to the story, and while it does we see the room grow larger and larger, looming around Byron and the Shelleys. There’s a haunting quality to it.

The Bride of Frankenstein - Poster - American - 1935The Bride of Frankenstein for me is almost better than its predecessor. It has to do with the fact I didn’t particularly care for a lot of the changes the first film made to Shelley’s original novel. Where The Bride of Frankenstein is itself a new story, inspired by parts of the original novel and of course the film before, it thrilled me more because it was James Whale taking on fresh material; essentially, building on his vision of Frankenstein further.

There is a little bit more hamming in regards to acting. You can’t let that take away from this film. In 1935 there was still, naturally, a lot of reference to the stage. Film was not exactly an old medium. Many actors no doubt relied on their training as stage actors in plays or musicals, whatever, to guide their performances on film. The one performance which I really can’t stand (aside from the irritating portrayal of Lord Byron in the opening scene, which I can forgive as it isn’t long) is that of Una O’Connor who plays Minnie. She was apparently a favourite of Whale’s, and supposed to be comic relief from what I gather. However, this film could have, and would have, worked just as well with no overbearing comedy, which is exactly what O’Connor provides. Her shrieking and wailing does nothing for me. I hated every minute of it. I particularly hate her overreaction to meeting The Monster, just moments after he has grimly dispatched a couple people (that part is actually crazy for the time). O’Connor’s reaction to The Monster is so over the top it pains me to watch. It could’ve been a really frightening moment. Instead they go for a real gag almost. May as well have been Curly, Larry, or Moe instead of Minnie.
Aside from O’Connor, however, I really enjoy a lot of the other performances. Clive, again, is a good Frankenstein, albeit still named Henry of course. Ernest Thesiger comes as a great addition to this sequel. He plays the part of Doctor Septimus Pretorius, who is the former mentor of Henry Frankenstein. His performance is more than adequately creepy and quirky.
MBDBROF EC119Not only that but the inclusion of the character provides a particularly memorable scene for The Bride of Frankenstein when Pretorius shows his protege a bunch of miniature people he has created, homunculi, such as a king and queen, and more. For the time, especially, this one scene was incredibly innovative. Today we take those things for granted. In 1935, showing a doctor displaying a bunch of tiny people in snowglobe-like encasements, moving around and talking, et cetera, was incredible. It looks flawless. On Blu ray this scene looks really incredible, the picture is beautiful and it would be hard to imagine someone not being able to appreciate it.

One of my other favourite scenes from The Bride of Frankenstein is the meeting of The Monster and the blind hermit. The Monster wanders into his home because the man is playing the violin; he does a beautiful rendition of “Ave Maria”. This scene looks wonderful, as does most of the film, but it’s also emotional. The two meet and become friends. The blind man identifies with the grunting man-monster; neither of them are working with their full faculties. Of course it doesn’t last long. While it does, though, it is spectacular. Karloff again does a great job of subtly portraying The Monster as a misunderstood and confused character. He truly was one of the greatest actors. In the first film he did a magnificent job, here he is able to expand upon that characterization, and really makes The Monster a good tribute to what I believe were Shelley’s intentions for him in the original novel. They fit very well together. Also, this pairs well with Elsa Lanchester’s portrayal of The Monster’s eventual life partner, which is a sight to behold.
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Though The Bride of Frankenstein Blu ray doesn’t have as many features as the first film’s release by Universal Pictures, there is still a great featurette (featuring the ever-knowledgeable Joe Dante) called “She’s Alive! Creating The Bride of Frankenstein“, which examines all sorts of aspects related to the film. This includes interviews with a bunch of people, such as Bill Condon and  and great narration by Dante. I really enjoyed this small documentary.  The focus honed in on James Whale in particular. Everyone discusses The Bride of Frankenstein, but touches on his other horror films, and the incredible visionary outlook he had. Also included on the Blu ray release is some nice commentary by film historian Scott MacQueen, as well as “The Bride of Frankenstein archives” which is a lot of production stills from the film set, posters, artwork, and so on.
1935-bride-of-frankensteinAs a film, I would have to give The Bride of Frankenstein a 4 out of 5 stars. I really wish some of the outright comedy didn’t find its way in here. They say Whale is known for his playfulness in that sense, and in other films I can totally jive with it, but here it feels out of place to me. Or maybe it’s only out of place for my taste, and that could be because of O’Connor’s performance. Regardless, there is a still a ham-ish quality to The Bride of Frankenstein which I don’t feel totally belongs. I know the concept is a bit out there, and perhaps due to that the slight bit of comedy in here works for some. I just don’t necessarily believe that in a horror film an out there concept needs to be treated with any sense of comedy. It’s not as if the laughs are dripping out of every scene, not even many really, but it is there, and if the whole film were played with an even more deadly serious tone it would have worked. It works as is, but that’s just my opinion on something it may have lacked.

The Blu ray release also gets a 4 out of 5 stars. I really did like the special features included, but I feel like for a Universal Pictures film, one that is so adored according to most sources, there’s a lack of extras. The featurette narrated by Joe Dante is awesome, but really – they couldn’t find anything else except a slideshow of pictures over music and a film history’s commentary? I just find it strange. The Blu ray restoration of Whale’s 1931 Frankenstein has a lot of great stuff, and this just seems like they didn’t have much. Maybe there wasn’t much, but still – I find it hard to believe. Enjoyable features included nonetheless, though not as much as I would’ve liked.
The picture itself is unbelievable. Whale’s film uses setting and atmosphere, as well as makeup and lighting, to really make its story work. There are beautiful and horrifying moments, sometimes all wrapped into one, throughout the film. The mood is set completely through how Whale makes everything so grim and gloomy. The Blu ray definition makes this classic truly worthwhile. Especially if you have never seen the film, you will be blown away at how gorgeous the picture quality looks here in this release. You’re able to capture all the shadows and the creepy lighting and the terrifying makeup in such beauty here. Really an incredible job.

Anyone who has yet to see this film, do check it out as soon as possible. It is no doubt a classic. However, don’t feel like it’s untouchable. Classics aren’t perfect just because they’re classics. No matter, The Bride of Frankenstein is a beautiful horror film worth watching, and will always remain a classic.