The Universal Monster Marathon – Frankenstein (1931)

How different this movie could have been – Bela Lugosi was originally intended to play the part of the monster, and indeed the actor even filmed screen tests in a make up that was far less effective than Jack Pierce’s groundbreaking final make up. It is believed that the footage of Lugosi as the monster has been destroyed, but film historians live in hope that one day this footage will turn up. What we know about Lugosi’s monster comes from an advertising poster that was produced before he left the project,and it is clear from this poster that it would have been a very different movie had Lugosi remained with the project.

These days the Boris Karloff make up has become so universally recognised that this monster remains the definitive version of Frankenstein’s creation. This is partly due to the effective make up as well as Karloff’s excellent performance which made the monster sympathetic as well as terrifying. The famous lightning eyes poster can be seen to the left – not the monster does not have the now famous flat head and seems to resemble the creature from an earlier stage play.

“We are about to unfold the story of Frankenstein, a man of science who sought to create a man after his own image without reckoning upon God. It is one of the strangest tales ever told. It deals with the two great mysteries of creation – life and death. I think it will thrill you. It may shock you. It might even – horrify you. So if any of you feel that you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now’s your chance to – uh, well, we warned you.

Those words were spoken by actor, Edward Van Sloan before the movie played – this was done for two reasons – firstly Universal were building anticipation in the audience, but also there was some genuine concerns that much of the imagery in the movie would prove too much for the audience. Indeed there were reports in the New York press after the premiere of several audience members fainting and more than one person was reported to have fled the cinema screaming.  The movie received universal acclaim from critics and is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1931, and indeed it is listed (rightly so) among the best movies ever made. Even today the film hasn’t aged, apart from Colin Clive’s overly theatrical performance, and it rewards viewers with a still stunning cinematic experience. Today’s gore soaked, CGI horror movies could learn a lot from this little masterpiece.

Over the years the film has suffered much censorship – most famously the scene where the monster innocently tosses the little girl into the lake, was not show fully until 1986 when the movies was fully restored by Universal.

The cuts originally made to the movie were:

  • Frankenstein’s line, “Now I know what it feels like to be God!”, was obliterated by a clap of thunder on the soundtrack.
  • Some footage of Frankenstein’s assistant Fritz taking sadistic glee in scaring the monster by waving a lit torch near him while the monster is shackled in chains.
  • Close up of needle injection was removed.
  • In the scene of the monster and the little girl tossing flowers into the lake, the second part of the scene was cut, beginning at the moment he extends his hands to pick her up

The version currently available on DVD as part of the Universal Creature Features Collection is the complete movie with all cuts reinstated. The film is part of a double pack with the sequel, Bride of Frankenstein. Both movies are all time classics and belong in the collection of any self repsecting horror fan.



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