31 Days of Horror Cinema

31 Days of Horror: Son of Frankenstein

son of frankenstein 31 days of horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature of Shame:
Forgotten (?) Universal Horror.

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade – 1930’s
Classic Universal Horror


The Advance Word: Who can keep track anymore? I’ve seen Frankenstein many times. I’ve seen Bride of Frankenstein many times. I don’t remember Son of Frankenstein. Basil Rathbone! Bela Lugosi in a mop!

#7. Son of Frankenstein

son of frankenstein poster

I have to write 26 more of these; therefore, I’m going to recycle the opening paragraph from my She-Wolf of London writeup because it works as an intro to this review as well. Submit your gripes to the 30Hz Complaint Department. Your complaint will be logged, filed and ignored in the order in which it was received.

I watch and enjoy Universal horror movies indiscriminately. They’re comfort cinema. Therapy through high-contrast black and white cinematography. German Expressionism for the Moviewatcher’s Soul. My parents introduced these movies to me as a wee lad; The Invisible Man being the one that hooked me. The films aired non-stop on AMC (if I remember correctly) during the week of Halloween, and I’d cram as many as I could onto a stack of VHS tapes. As a result, I could hardly be expected to keep track of what I’d seen.

Beyond Frankeinstein and Bride of Frankenstein how well do you know your Universal Frankensteins? This is the question I asked myself when I needed an entry point into the new Frankenstein Universal Horror Collection Blu-ray. I recall watching House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula not too terribly long ago so I sampled the Blu-ray upgrade for a bit and moved on. Yet Son of Frankenstein felt like hazy memory. Trace notions of preferring it to Frankenstein popped up as I stared at the contents of the set.

If I needed to be bold enough to suggest something as offbeat as SON OF FRANKENSTEIN > FRANKENSTEIN, I needed first-hand, recently-viewed ammunition to defend this claim. Good news, gentle #31DaysOfHorror viewers; Son of Frankenstein confirmed all of my decaying notions of superiority. Plus, I know for a fact that the film never looked this good.

son of frankenstein rathbone, lugosi, karloff

Basil Rathbone plays Baron Wolf von Frankenstein, son of Henry Frankenstein, creator of “the monster.” Wolf moves back to his father’s castle, wife and son in tow, and aims to restore his father’s name. The villagers, however, greet Wolf with some resistance. Off camera, they’re sharpening pitchforks and readying torches with lighter fluid. Fire hazards be damned. Poor Wolf’s only friend is Lionel Atwill’s Inspector Krogh, who never fails to remind his friend about how his father’s monster ripped off his arm.

Wolf investigates the castle grounds, stumbles upon the old laboratory and meets the comatose body of the monster. Here he also becomes acquainted with another friend who’d like him dead. Ygor (Bela Lugosi, having just gone to the barber and asked for “the shaggy John Lennon”) plays coy after throwing some skull-crushing rocks down upon poor Wolf. (Honestly, with friends like these… ) In short order, Baron Wolf von Frankenstein becomes obsessed with reviving the slumbering monster. Finishing his father’s work consumes him. Ygor supports him, propelled by his own agendas. Wife and son remain casually oblivious to Wolf’s decaying mental state.

Son of Frankenstein represents arguably the best of the second wave of Universal horror. For two years, between 1936 and 1938, the studio removed horror from their lineup. Both Carl Laemmle, Sr. and Jr. (the originators of the horror cycle at Universal) had been forced out of the company after a number of financial duds.

In 1938, a struggling Los Angeles theater showed a Dracula/Frankenstein/King Kong triple feature (per Wikipedia). The box office success of that triple bill reminded Universal that they’d been sitting on a goldmine. Universal immediately put a new Frankenstein sequel into production starring Lugosi and Karloff. James Whale opted out (thinking his success in horror had initiated his career decline), opening the door for veteran director Rowland V. Lee. Another interesting note: Universal planned to shoot Son of Frankenstein in colorbut abandoned the notion midstream. Behind the scenes clips of Karloff in green makeup survive, if not the actual color film footage.

Son of Frankenstein marks a drastic leap forward in stateside filmmaking ability to borrow and regurgitate the teachings of the German Expressionists that inspired filmmakers during the first wave of Universal horror. The whole production leans toward artificiality. The more grotesque sets have been designed specifically to cast long, otherworldly shadows. As the final A-production Universal horror film, design and cinematography remain striking, especially for this brand of genre film. Critics cited the film’s lack of actual “terror,” but from our vantage point none of these films really provide many frights. Therefore, I deem these critics irrelevant. (Don’t tell them.) It’s precisely this high-contrast, unnatural setting that draws us into this film as something far more proficient than a simple horror film.

son of frankenstein 31 days of horror

Even more interesting to note is that Son of Frankenstein clearly served as Mel Brooks’ primary inspiration for Young Frankenstein. The haphazard behavior of Rathbone’s Baron Wolf von Frankenstein and his “frenemous” relationship with Ygor speak directly to the character dynamics of Gene Wilder’s Dr. Frankenstein and Marty Feldman’s Igor. You’ll note at least a dozen smaller instances of carryover between the films.

Technical Notes:

After comparing specific scenes from both the DVD Legacy Collection and the Blu-ray Legacy Collection, I can confirm, with 100% confidence, the necessity of upgrading Son of Frankenstein. While the 4K scans of both Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein exist elsewhere, Son of Frankenstein becomes the real treat for fans of the franchise. Never has the stunning black and white contrast been more pronounced. While the DVD looked good, a side-by-side contrast reveals how profound the difference really is. Look specifically at the scene where Wolf first arrives at the estate.

Final Thoughts:

Call me crazy, but I think Son of Frankenstein rivals Bride of Frankenstein, at least as pure entertainment. While Whale’s Bride clearly remains the superior film, Son of Frankenstein offers a visual feast of chiaroscuro to go along with the thrill of watching three legendary stars — Rathbone, Karloff and Lugosi — do battle in a “silly” little horror flick with Grade A technical achievement.

30Hz Rating:


frankenstein legacy collection blu-rayBlu-ray Verdict: Doesn’t get much better than this for fans of classic Universal horror.

Availability: Universal’s brand new Frankenstein Complete Legacy Collection Blu-ray is available everywhere. And this here linky connects to Amazon.


Earlier 31 Days of Horror entries: #1. Vampyros Lesbos / #2. A Chinese Ghost Story / #3. The Haunting of Morella / #4. Delirium (1972) / #5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / #6. She-Wolf of London



30Hz Bl-g Life @ 30Hz

That’s nice. Now stop.

Living in Pittsburgh, I have achieved a sort of placid comfort normally reserved for retirement communities and making plans around post-season runs for Cleveland pro sports teams. I don’t mean that I’m hitting the early bird specials, only that when I make plans to do something, in Pittsburgh, I’m rarely inconvenienced. Movies sell out, but generally not the movies I want to see. Concerts sell out, but there’s never a rush to buy tickets to any of the bands about which I wax poetic. I don’t want the secret to get out, but Pittsburgh boasts many of the things that larger cities claim as their own… a stunning cityscape, a thriving arts community, a busy concert calendar (at least lately), three professional sports, a very good symphony with A-list conductors, etc. I don’t want to profess delusion; I daily long to live in Boston again, but for a town of only 400,000, Pittsburgh offers more than your average mid-level metro area for a relatively few number of people.

Frankestein Double Feature presented by TCM

So imagine my surprise this past Wednesday when I was on my way to the Frankenstein double-feature, and when stopped a light, I tried to buy tickets in advance and the Fandango app told me the show was sold out. Sold out? Surely, Fandango was just full of shit. Of  course there are m’f’ing tickets. Nevertheless, I was concerned. On one hand, when I went to see Ghostbusters last year at this same time, the theater still had plenty of seats remaining. On the other, Frankenstein was just one night,Ghostbusters played on at least two consecutive Wednesdays.

Packed 3D movie theater

After parking the car in a pretty empty parking lot at the Settler’s Ridge Cinemark, I’d again convinced myself that there would still be tickets. I hurry in to the lobby, still with 20 minutes to spare. There’s Frankenstein Double Feature. 7:00. And there’s the flashy flashy SOLD OUT. Dismay. I’d planned my entire week around this event. I’d chosen Frankstenstein and Bride of Frankenstein over the Dinosaur, Jr. and Shearwater show. It was planned. This was my trip out for the week. I’d gleefully thrown the three-year old into my wife’s arms and run out the door with visions of a big ass popcorn bag, a tub of Coke and corpse reanimation.

I stood in the lobby of the theater staring at the movie times. There were plenty of movies I wanted to see but it didn’t matter what I chose, not really. It was all going to be something other than an angry mob hunting a walking hulk of mismatched appendages.

On one hand, I’m thrilled that people in Pittsburgh are supporting these special repertory screenings. (I wish more of them would support the films, not promoted by the TCM muscle, at the Hollywood Theater.) On the other hand, stop going to see my shit and leaving me, stunned, in the lobby while I decide whether to wait an extra 15 minutes to see Argo or go see The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Perks of Being a Wallflower
The Perks of Being a Wallflower Wallflowers

For those that care, at best maybe three of you. I saw Wallflower because there’s a kind of backwards pride associated with seeing our little town on the big screen — even though it is happening with increasing regularity.  I found much to like about the movie, even if the final act seemed a little rushed. Seeing my primary commute through the Ft. Pitt tunnel become a repeated and primary plot point for the film felt a little out-of-body. And speaking of the The Hollywood Theater, the Dormont establishment (less than a mile or so from my house) even makes a brief appearance as the setting for a Rocky Horror Sing-a-long. The movie could have been terrible (it wasn’t, go see it) but I would have enjoyed it for one stupid reason alone. When the high school kids in the movie had nothing better to do, they went to Kings. Facepalm for truth.

Hey Emma. Welcome to Pittsburgh. Oh, and you’ll be spending all of your time in Kings.

I always consider Pittsburgh to be this void of cultural taste. Its possible that having spent so much time in Kings during my high school years has irrevocably tarnished my impression of this city. Honestly it’s like Waffle House, only less happy. My relationship with this town can be a little patronizing. I admit. It only grew more so in the decade we were apart. But maybe it’s time I gave the people here a little more credit. After all, those non-cultured bastards prevented me from seeing Frankenstein on the big screen for the first time.

Anyway, after Wallflower, I went home. Put on the Frankenstein DVD and promised myself the next time I rearrange my schedule to do something, I’ll actually buy the tickets in advance… because there are at least a few hundred people just like myself out there, and goddammit, they’re going to steal my ticket.