Welcome to the first of five weeks, counting down to Halloween, in which I turn to classic American horror films! I gotta come clean and share: This is NOT my genre. I do not pay to be made uncomfortable. But here I am, unable to avoid the impact horror has had on cinema. I figure this project is as good as any excuse to finally check these films out, so I thought I’d start classic (and easy!).
"Frankenstein", adapted from Mary Shelley’s classic book of the same name, is the story of a monster brought to life through the demented experimentation of scientist Henry Frankenstein. Sequestered from the world and unaware of his strength, the monster escapes and unintentionally terrorizes the local town. After learning about the drowning of a young girl, the town’s citizens erupt into anger and embark on a witch-hunt for the monster in a climax that will eventually pit Frankenstein against his very creation.
In alignment with the book (which I have actually read, and liked), film tackles some pretty classic themes: parenthood, obsession, the search for knowledge, the inability to control nature, the nature of life and death, man’s relationship with creation (and therefore his god), and the perils of science unchecked by ethics. But watching from a modern perspective, I couldn’t help but see new takes on the story. From the influence of environment on criminality to the destructive privilege of the wealthy—after all, Henry Frankenstein skirts responsibility and is saddled with little more than a need for bedrest and the ironic irritation of a father yearning for him to produce a grandchild. With this poignant end, film plays like a modern, two-act Twilight Zone episode (or "Black Mirror", for the younger folks).
The influence this film had on all film to follow is evident in every frame. As the move played, I kept seeing seeds that would lead to films from "Back to the Future", to "The Prestige"; from E.T. to Age of Ultron (and of course "Young Frankenstein", but that doesn't count!). The slow cuts and relatively score-less scenes meant the film relied less on jump-scares and more on the fear of the unknown and Boris Karloff’s fantastic character-work. The Monster was terrifying, not for his wrath, but for childish and uncontrollable nature. But perhaps as expected, I’d argue it was the humans who were most scary in this film. From a cavalier relationship with the power of creation to straight-up mob mentality, for 87 years, Frankenstein has forced its audience to reflect on the true nature of monsters.