Son of Frankenstein
Director: Rowland V. Lee
Written by: Willis Cooper
Weapon of Choice: Hands
Based upon: Original
Other movies in this series:
The Bride of Frankenstein
The Ghost of Frankenstein
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
House of Frankenstein
House of Dracula
Rish Outfield's reviews
Basil Rathbone plays Wolf von Frankenstein, the titular son of the deceased Henry Frankenstein, who returns many years after Bride to his inherited mansion with his wife and son. He is greeted by hate and fear from the villagers, who are sure he'll bring disaster back on all their heads. When he discovers the misshapen Ygor (and a certain comatose Monster) among the ruins of his father's laboratory, he becomes increasingly obsessed with vindicating his father's name and carrying on his father's work. When townspeople start turning up dead, the local inspector suspects that Doctor Junior is to blame.
Rathbone's son of the doctor is much calmer and even-tempered than his father, but is the most interesting the closer he parallels him. It's cool how Wolf Frankenstein becomes increasingly consumed with his work. Bela Lugosi steals the show as Ygor, a very cool killer and manservant, and surely the inspiration behind the "Igor" we all think of as the iconic mad scientist's assistant. Rathbone is a likable actor, as is Lugosi, even though his character is the main villain of the piece, using the Creature to eliminate the jurors that convicted him. A nice young child actor played Rathbone's young son Peter. He was good. Dwight Frye returns again in a small role. Karloff no longer gets first billing, and the creature actually looks a bit different. If I didn't know better, I'd say it wasn't Boris Karloff at all. This Monster has lost the ability to speak and think and is a roving killer as in the original. This had to be due to Universal's desire to continue the series without acknowledging the difficult strides Bride of Frankenstein made. Or maybe someone just didn't like the melancholy, thoughtful, sad creature, and wanted the two-dimensional brute that could grunt and destroy through countless sequels. The nobility of the Creature is also gone, and though he is devoted to Ygor, he demonstrates it with violence. It's muddled, actually–-sometimes we're to root for him, sometimes against him–-sometimes Frankenstein is mad, sometimes sane. It's not consistent, and ultimately less satisfying because of it. Who DO we root for? The Doctor? The Monster? Ygor? The Inspector?
Son of Frankenstein was slower and talkier (duller?) than either of the previous two films, including a lot of technobabble mumbo jumbo pretending to give a scientific explanation to the Monster. Already people must have been getting in the habit of calling the Monster by the name of its creator, because it's mentioned in the film.
It began with a matte painting–-is that unusual? I always thought matte paintings were a relatively recent development. The architecture throughout the film was similar to that seen in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, with sharply angled walls and ceilings. The Inspector (Lionel Atwill) had his arm ripped off by the Monster years before-–that's a cliche that has been used many times since. There is an interesting relationship between the Inspector and Doctor Frankenstein. There's a nice scene where the two of them play darts together. Somehow, not even looking at the board, he nails it dead center.
But most of the film is flatter than the first two, certainly with less emotion than the others. I felt sad watching this, knowing that the Frankenstein series kept going, film after film, each one distancing itself more from the others. But this isn't a bad film, no, just not on par with the original two. I loved the way Bride carried the story forward in a way that felt genuine and organic. I'm sure it had a lot to do with the fact that James Whale directed both of them. Here, with a new director and no more inspiration from Mary Shelley's book, it's only natural that it's different. Also, Colin Clive, who played Henry Frankenstein died in 1937 (in only his late thirties), necessitating this departure down the family line. But had he been alive, or had they persuaded Whale to direct, the series might have followed a very different path than it did.
Note: As I said in my Frankenstein review, it's hard to condescend to give this Skulls, as most of the cliches we like to point out were either not invented yet or not allowed in cinema when this was made.
Note 2: This was Karloff's last turn as the Monster, and it would never look as good as it did in the first two films. He had such a unique face in his everyday life (with sunken cheeks and imploring eyes), that the makeup never looked right on anyone else.
Posted: April 23rd, 2001
The tyranist's thoughts
As Rish is wont to tell you, I'm not the big Universal horror fan that he is. My horror bent comes later in the history of horror and generally that means I'm much less forgiving of these early sequels. I do have to admit that Son of Frankenstein wasn't really that bad of a movie, but as far as I'm concerned the franchise started dying here.
Let's start with the things I liked about this movie. Well . . . I found it relatively entertaining in spite of all the problems it had. The script wasn't terrible leading to decent dialogue. I liked Benson.
Really, I found the movie to be inferior. Karloff's monster was less convincing than before and even started to be comic relief, something they never would have thought about earlier. In fact, the look he has in this movie is pretty much what got carried forward to become the classic, cartoon Frankenstein monster look. As much as I like Basil Rathbone, I found his madness to be less convincing and more grating than Colin Clive's ever was. And Mrs. Frankenstein needed to be slapped seven or eight times in the movie. I loathed Ygor as I suppose is correct since he is the villain. The villagers seemed barbaric. Little Peter Frankenstein should have been killed by the monster. They should never even have had the character in the movie. I found the performance terrible and every time the kid spoke I grabbed at my ears trying to make the insects go away. It was all high pitched, southern twanged buzzing as far as I could here.
And lastly for my biggest problem. The score. It was as if they thought they could insert some terror into the movie by playing the music a little louder. It interfered with almost every scene with its unsubtle hints. After about half an hour I wanted to turn the volume down, but couldn't because the dialogue wasn't so terrible that I didn't want to hear it either.
You can stop after the first two. Honestly. Nothing to see here folks.
Posted: July 18th, 2002
Total Skulls: 5
|Rips off earlier film|
|Horror film showing on TV/in theater in movie|
|Future celebrity appears|
|Former celebrity appears|
|Girl unnecessarily gets naked|
|Death associated with sex|
|Unfulfilled promise of nudity|
|Characters forget about threat|
|Power is cut|
|Phone lines are cut|
|Someone investigates a strange noise|
|Someone runs up stairs instead of going out front door|
|Camera is the killer|
|Victims cower in front of a window/door|
|Victim locks self in with killer|
|Victim running from killer inexplicably falls|
|Toilet stall scene|
|Car stalls or won't start|
|Cat jumps out|
|Stupid discovery of corpse|
|No one believes only witness|
|Crazy, drunk, old man knows the truth|
|Warning goes unheeded|
|Music detracts from scene|
|Death in first five minutes|
|x years before/later|
|Dark and stormy night|
|Killer doesn't stay dead|
|Killer wears a mask|
|Killer is in closet|
|Killer is in car with victim|
|Villain is more sympathetic than heroes|
|Blood hits camera|
|Poor death effect|
|No one dies at all|
|Little kid lamely survives|
|Dog/Pet miraculously survives|
|"It was all a dream" ending|
|Unbelievably happy ending|
|Unbelievably crappy ending|
|What the hell?|