New thrills as the monster stalks again!
Universal has stake in some of the most famous movie monsters in cinematic history. Some of their biggest hits included such classics as Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, and maybe the most famous of all, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. In 1931, Universal had a surprise hit with director James Whales' original Frankenstein starring legendary bogeyman Boris Karloff. In 1935, Whales came back to direct the semi-comedic sequel The Bride of Frankenstein. During the middle-to-late '30s horror movies waned in popularity, then had a resurgence a few years later. It was at this time that Universal decided to bring back their most popular horror series, with yet more sequels in the Frankenstein franchise. 1939 saw the release of the second sequel, Son of Frankenstein, followed in 1942 by Ghost of Frankenstein. Universal scares up a double feature of Son of Frankenstein and Ghost of Frankenstein on DVD!
WARNING!!! These story synopses contain plot spoilers!!
Facts of the Case
Son of Frankenstein picks up 25 years after Bride of Frankenstein. During these years, we learn that Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) has passed away and the monster (Karloff) has supposedly been destroyed. Dr. Frankenstein did leave behind a son, Wolf Von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone), now grown and also working in medicine as a research physician. Married with a child, young Dr. Frankenstein has inherited his father's land, castle, possessions, and the title of "Baron." Frankenstein, his wife Elsa (Josephine Hutchinson), and their son Peter (Donnie Dunagan) have decided to move to Village Frankenstein to set up shop in his father's abandoned castle. This would all be well and good except that the local villagers are not happy about yet another Frankenstein doctor residing in their village. Since the last descendant created a monster that wreaked havoc on their town, their concerns are deservedly valid. The local elders seem to think that having another Frankenstein in the village is also a bad idea. Even Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill) is against it, which only makes sense seeing as the monster ripped of his right arm.
Regardless of what people think, the new Frankenstein family moves into the castle with a very cold reception by the head Burgomaster. After settling into his new surroundings, Dr. Frankenstein starts to snoop around his late father's laboratory and finds his notes and diary on his experiments with reanimation. Curious about his father's experiments, Frankenstein stumbles across his father's lab assistant Ygor (Bela Lugosi), still alive and housing a very weak Frankenstein's monster. Apparently the monster did not die in the explosion at the end of Bride of Frankenstein; instead, he has been kept in captivity, used as Ygor's instrument to exact revenge upon those who tried to kill him (Ygor was sentenced to death for his crimes of body snatching, but survived the hanging). Dr. Frankenstein is fascinated by the creature, convinced that he can restore his health, tame his ravenous side, and clear his father's name. As the saying goes, those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. Not taking this advice to heart, Dr. Frankenstein restores the monster's health…and his powers of destruction!
Ghost of Frankenstein takes place exactly where Son of Frankenstein leaves off. Deeding the Frankenstein estate to the village, Baron Wolf Von Frankenstein and his family vamoose by train for an unknown destination. Ghost of Frankenstein reveals that apparently Ygor (Lugosi) did not die in Son of Frankenstein but lived, surviving in the ruins of the castle. When townsfolk complain that the Frankenstein legend has brought a curse upon their village, a group of locals storms the castle with plans to blow it to smithereens. While attempting to bring down the estate, Ygor starts jumping around, dropping rocks on them and being a general nuisance. Escaping the blast, Ygor finds the monster (played for the first time by Lon Chaney, Jr.) well preserved in the sulfur pit from the previous film. Brushing him off, Ygor and the weakened monster head into the local town of Vasaria. There they meet up with Ludwig Frankenstein (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), son of Henry Frankenstein and brother of Baron Wolf Frankenstein. Ludwig is also a doctor who specializes in the area of mental health. A genius in his own right, Dr. Frankenstein has figured out a way of removing a human brain from the skull and putting it back with 100 percent success.
Didn't any of these Frankensteins want to be lawyers or chefs?
Ygor tracks down Frankenstein and blackmails him into helping bring the monster back to good health—either that, or Ygor spills the beans on Ludwig Frankenstein's gruesome family history. Frankenstein abides, planning a brain-swapping operation with his shifty partner Dr. Theodor Bohmer (Atwill) that may curb the monster's murderous ways forever…or send him on an epic killing spree of mass proportions!
Next to The Creature From The Black Lagoon, Frankenstein is my favorite Universal monster series. From Karloff's pitch perfect monster to Colin Clive's manic insanity, Frankenstein and its sequel were some of the best horror films produced in the 1930s. Oddly enough, I'd never actually sat down and watched any of the sequels that came after Bride of Frankenstein. Pity, as I found both Son of Frankenstein and Ghost of Frankenstein to be vastly entertaining additions into the Frankenstein series.
The best of the two films is by far Son of Frankenstein. The writers came up with the perfect way to continue the storyline: bring in one of Dr. Frankenstein's sons. Though Son of Frankenstein may not have the tension and thrills of its predecessors, it still stands as a very tactile horror film. This time around Ygor is fully integrated into the plot, and with Lugosi in the role it makes the movie that much more electric. Of course, like any sequel some of the freshness has disappeared with the passing years. The monster is no longer as terrifying, and the ideas of reanimation seem to be somewhat redundant. However, these are really minor complaints for a classic horror film that is fast paced and very well executed. I especially enjoyed the banter between Inspector Krough (who also shows up in a different role in Ghost of Frankenstein) and Dr. Frankenstein as they're playing a tense game of darts. Whereas Colin Clive's Frankenstein was an obsessed genius, Basil Rathbone plays his son as a more mild mannered gentleman who seems more in control of his emotions. By 1939, Rathbone had already starred in such films as David Copperfield and Captain Blood, and would soon be known the world over in his signature role as detective Sherlock Holmes. Here Rathbone is thrust into one of his first horror features with excellent results. Though his performance sometimes borders on being over-the-top, Rathbone's Frankenstein is a worthy addition on the cursed family tree. For the third (and final) time, Karloff returns to the role that he'll always be remembered for: Frankenstein's monster. Though not quite as terrifying as previous films, Karloff still commands the screen as the hulking monster that'd just like to be accepted by humanity (or at least have a head that isn't shaped like a Rubik's cube puzzle).
Ghost of Frankenstein is also fun, if a little predictable. By this point the Frankenstein movies had finally run their course for finding new things to do with both the Frankenstein family and the monster, this time played by screen legend Lon Chaney, Jr. While the movie still has many enthralling qualities, it sometimes seems a bit stale. If you think it's pretty unrealistic how Freddy or Jason are revived in each of their movies, wait 'till you see how old Frank comes back again! And exactly how many children were there in the Frankenstein family?
All right, now I'm just nitpicking. I'm glad that Universal included Ghost of Frankenstein as the second feature on this disc. The idea that the monster survived the sulfur pit was a neat idea, and I'm always up for some brain swapping mayhem when the opportunity presents itself. In fact, I think that Ghost of Frankenstein probably includes my favorite ending in this whole series. By this sequel, I had also started to warm up to Lugosi's Ygor, a very dastardly character that I'd never seen Lugosi play before. His jaded speech and lumbering walk make both movies all the more enjoyable (even if I did have Dracula in mind every time I saw him). Because Karloff was busy doing theater, Universal decided to snag Chaney for the role of the monster. Chaney is the only actor to have played The Wolf Man, Dracula, The Mummy AND Frankenstein during the golden age of the Universal monsters. Chaney is capable in the role, but one can't help missing Karloff, as this was really his defining character. That being said, Chaney still brings unique pathos to the monster and does a winning job of filling some pretty large shoes.
Both Ghost of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein are presented in their original aspect ratios of 1.33:1 standard. Due to the age of these films, flaws are obvious, though not extensively horrible. Both films were processed to remove dirt and grain, though some still remains. Son of Frankenstein tended to be a bit darker than Ghost of Frankenstein, though this isn't surprising since Ghost of Frankenstein was produced three years later. Slight edge enhancement was spotted, but nothing too intrusive to the picture. For two movies that are over 60 years old, these are both very nice looking prints.
Audio for both Ghost of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono. Because of the age and recording limitations in the late '30s and '40s, neither of these tracks sound very stunning. Much of the music is somewhat distorted, and the dialogue and effects had moments where they faded in and out a bit. However, even with these imperfections, they are impressive for their age. Plus, it gives the movies that much more enjoyment to hear the little "inconsistencies" from yesteryear.
Light on extra material, the Son of Frankenstein / Ghost of Frankenstein double feature's supplements come in the form of having two films on one disc. Can't really complain about getting a nice two for one deal.
Universal has also included a very scratchy full-frame theatrical trailer for Ghost of Frankenstein, as well as production notes and cast and crew info for both features.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I can't even begin to tell you how many times I laughed out loud during Son of Frankenstein. It wasn't because the movie in and of itself was funny, but because it was the basis for Mel Brooks' hysterical spoof Young Frankenstein. Both Lionel Atwill and Basil Rathbone's characters were mercilessly skewered in Young Frankenstein, and it's pretty obvious from watching these movies that Brooks satire was dead on. I found it hard to sit with a straight face and watch Son of Frankenstein without laughing.
Otherwise, the only other complaint is the lack of supplements. However, you get two movies for the price of one, so really, what's there to complain about?
In the past I've praised studios such as Artisan and Fox for releasing some of their movie series in double feature editions. I have to give credit to Universal, for they too have done a terrific job on both of these titles. I'm guessing that with their large canon of monster movies we're going to see a lot more of these double feature titles on DVD. Both Son of Frankenstein and Ghost of Frankenstein are classic horror flicks that will be well worth your hard-earned cash. With decent audio and video portions (well, as good as you're going to get), the Son of Frankenstein / Ghost of Frankenstein double feature was worth resurrecting from the Universal film tombs!
No jail cell can hold Frankenstein's monster! Universal Double feature good! Fire bad! Grraahhhh!
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Scales of Justice
• Theatrical Trailer for Ghost of Frankenstein
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