A click from the start of the Mayfair engagement, holding a crowd out on a rainy opening night. “Frankenstein” establishes itself as a notable box-office subject.
Looks like a “Dracula” plus, touching a new peak in horror plays and handled in production with supreme craftsmanship. Exploitation, which dwells upon the shock angle, is also a punchful asset with hair-raising lobby and newspaper trumpeting.
Appeal is candidly to the morbid side and the screen effect is up to promised specifications. Feminine fans seem to get some sort of emotional kick out of this sublimation of the bed time ghost story done with all the literalness of the camera.
Maximum of stimulating shock is there, but the thing is handled with subtle change of pace and shift of tempo that keeps attention absorbed to a high voltage climax, tricked out with spectacle and dramatic crescendo, after holding the smash shivver on a hair trigger for more than an hour.
Picture starts out with a wallop. Midnight funeral services are in progress on a blasted moor, with the figure of the scientist and his grotesque dwarf assistant hiding at the edge of the cemetery to steal the newly-buried body. Sequence climaxes with the gravedigger sending down the clumping earth upon newly-laid coffin. Shudder No.1.
Shudder No.2, hard on its heels is when Frankenstein cuts down his second dead subject from the gallows, presented with plenty of realism. These corpses are to be assembled into a semblance of a human body which Frankenstein seeks to galvanize into life, and to this end the story goes into his laboratory, extemporized in a gruesome mountain setting out of an abandoned mill. But first our scientist must have a brain, which leads to another sock touch of the creeps, when the dwarf crawls into a medical college dissecting room to steal that necessity. If you think these episodes have exhausted the repertoire of gruesome props they are but preliminaries.
Laboratory sequence detailing the creation of the monster patched up of human odds-and-ends is a smashing bit of theatrical effect, taking place in this eerie setting during a violent mountain storm in the presence of the scientist’s sweetheart and others, all frozen with mortal fright.
Series of successive jolts continue through the moment when the monster creeps upon the scientist’s waiting bride, probably the prize blood-curdler of the picture, and its final destruction when the infuriated villagers burn down the deserted windmill in which it is a prisoner. Finish is a change from the one first tried, when the scientist also was destroyed. The climax with the surviving Frankenstein (Frankenstein is the creator of the monster, not the monster itself) relieves the tension somewhat at the finale, but that may not be the effect most to be desired.
Subtle handling of the subject comes in the balance that has been maintained between the real and the supernatural, contrast that heightens the horror punches. The figure of the monster is a triumph of effect. It has a face and head of exactly the right distortions to convey a sense of the diabolical, but not enough to destroy the essential touch of monstrous human evil.
In like manner the feeling of horror is not once let go past the point at which it inspires disbelief, where out of excess it would create a feeling of makebelieve. This is the trick that actually makes the picture deliver its high voltage kick. The technique is shrewd manipulation. After each episode of dealing with the weird elements of the story there is a swift twist to the normal people of the drama engaged in their commonplace activities, a contrast emphasizing the next eerie detail.
Playing is perfectly paced. Colin Clive, the cadaverous hero of “Journey’s End” (1930), is a happy choice for the scientist driven by a frenzy for knowledge. He plays it with force, but innocent of ranting. Boris Karloff enacts the monster and makes a memorable figure of the bizarre figure with its indescribably terrifying face of demoniacal calm, a fascinating acting bit of mesmerism.
Mae Clarke makes a perfunctory ingenue role charming, and John Boles is satisfying as a family friend, playing with neat elegance a part that loses much with the alternative finale.
Photography is splendid and the lighting the last word in ingenuity, since much of the footage calls for dim or night effect and the manipulation of shadows to intensify the ghostly atmosphere. It took nerve for U to do this one and “Dracula” all of which may track back to the gruesomeness in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” which was also produced by this company. The audience for this type of film is probably the detective story readers and the mystery yarn radio listeners. Sufficient to insure financial success if these pictures are well made.