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Default Frankenstein: Special Edition




Reviewer: Styx
Review Date: October 10, 1999

Released by: Universal
Release date: August 17, 1999
MSRP $29.98 (OOP)
Region 1, NTSC
Full Frame 1.33:1



"It's alive! It's alive!" With those legendary words spoken by Colin Clive, the horror genre gave birth to what is commonly considered the greatest horror classic ever. James Whale's immortal film adaptation of Mary Shelly's novel introduced us to one of the greatest horror icons of all time as well as one of the greatest actors of all time Boris Karloff "The Uncanny". Filmed in 1931 on a $300,000 budget, Frankenstein became a crucial success for Universal and greatly contributed to the horror genre's "Golden Age".

Even with the films age Frankenstein is an important part of our culture. Everyone is familiar with the story of Frankenstein, his desire to create life and the dire consequences he faced as a cruel and misunderstanding world tormented his creation. Universal Studios has now released an extensive Collector's Edition of Frankenstein, the first in its "Classic Monster" line. Now fans old and new can enjoy this film like never before and learn about its creation and impact.

The Story

inline Image Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive), a one time student of medicine who mastered in Chemical Galvanism and electrobiology, is obsessed with the idea of creating life from the dead. Together he and his hunchback assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye) plunder graves, morgues and gallows for dead tissue to use in his experiments. Stitching the parts together, Frankenstein creates a body made by his own hands. Having believed to have discovered the ray that "first brought life into this world", Dr. Frankenstein believes he can bestow life to his creature. Henry's fiancée Elizabeth (Mae Clarke) is terribly worried about him after receiving a letter from Henry that seemed unnatural.

inline Image Elizabeth confides her fears to Victor Moritz (John Boles), who also has noticed Dr. Frankenstein's strange behavior. Together the two visit Henry's teacher Dr. Waldman (Edward Van Sloan), who reveals to them Dr. Frankenstein's frightening ambitions. Elizabeth asks Dr. Waldman to talk to Henry and convince him to return home. Reluctant at first, Waldman finally agrees and on a stormy night the three travel to an old watchtower that is serving as Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory for his grotesque experiments. There they witness the realization of Frankenstein's dream. Through the strange machinery in his laboratory and use of the storm lightning, Frankenstein succeeds in bringing his creation to life.

inline Image The creature has trouble adapting to its newfound life. Aided by Fritz's tormenting, the monster quickly turns violent; Frankenstein and Waldman are forced to restrain him. This just serves to fuel the monster's rage and alienation. Dr. Frankenstein succumbs to exhaustion and is brought home by his father and Elizabeth, leaving the task of destroying the monster to Dr. Waldman. Before he can begin the procedure the monster regains conscious, overpowers Dr. Waldman and escapes the tower and ventures into the countryside. Seeking refuge and perhaps vengeance from a cruel world that made him, but at the same time can't accept what he is.

inline Image I can't express enough how much I enjoy James Whale's Frankenstein and many other of Universal's classic monster movies. There's something about them that I find infinitely appealing for me. As a young kid when I first saw them the images story and characters had a profound impact on me and have stayed with me ever since. Frankenstein, shot in glorious B&W, is full of stark and striking images. The film's sets are nothing short of spectacular and have a sense of beauty and awe. The laboratory set, for example, is probably the most memorable and my favorite of the bunch. All the gadgetry and machines whizzing and whining and the operating table which lays Dr. Frankenstein's creation have a larger than life quality.

inline Image Based more on Frankenstein plays than Mary Shelly's novel, many of the characters and situations are radically different, but overall the moral and characters still come through. I really like the performances from Mae Clark and Colin Clive, and of course Boris Karloff as the monster is sensational. Boris Karloff gives the monster a frightening but sometimes innocent presence. The story of Frankenstein is a sad one, unlike many other classic horror films the Frankenstein monster is a sympathetic one. We're usually expected to root for the good guys in a film, but Frankenstein pulls the carpet under us and tells us the monster is the good guy, not the villagers or Henry Frankenstein. I've always found that paradox fascinating. However you view the film I think what you take from the film is just a matter of what you bring to it.

Image Quality

inline Image Universal present's Frankenstein in its original ratio of 1.33:1 and the B&W transfer is quite good. One must consider the films age before being too critical of the transfer's flaws. In this case the film is 67 years old. Naturally time hasn't been too kind to this film and the transfer exhibits signs of age. The print is a bit faded and visible nicks and scars show up every so often as well as some speckling. Thanks to a pretty good restoration most of these imperfections are subtle and not distracting.

Sound

The sound is presented in 2 channel Dolby Digital mono and like the image the sound has aged considerably. There is noise in the audio and an occasional "pop". However dialogue is very clear.

Supplemental Material

inline Image Wow! Where should I begin? If you thought the fact Frankenstein was made so long ago and the fact many of the key players have passed on would make for a skimpy special edition, think again. In fact this collector's edition disc is so full of cool stuff it puts many others to shame. The disc contains a very insightful commentary by Rudy Behlmer. Behlmer talks a lot about the people behind the film and various elements of its production as well as comparing the different Frankenstein adaptations, from the novel to various plays and the film. It's very good and never boring. There are also hardly any gaps in the commentary Behlmer has a lot to say and the commentary stops at only a few key scenes (for example when Dr. Frankenstein starts screaming "it's alive").

inline Image The disc also contains a documentary titled "The Frankenstein files" directed by David Skal. I didn't time it, but I'd have to say it's at least an hour long. The documentary focuses on the various Frankenstein adaptations as well as the development of Frankenstein and the actors. It features interviews with Boris Karloff's daughter Sara Karloff, Rudy Behlmer, Rick Baker, Bill Condon and a lot more; unfortunately I forgot their names. There's also an interesting featurette titled "Boo". It's kind of a spoof on various horror films like the silent Nosferatu and Frankenstein. Although some of it is funny I found it a bit insulting as it seems to mocks these films. Maybe I took it too seriously, I don't know.

inline Image The disc also features a photo gallery interesting enough is that in the gallery is a montage of pictures from the film in sequence with various audio bits in the movie. Rounding all this out is the usual theatrical trailer, production notes and cast/crew bios. The things some studios like Buena Vista dare to call "special features" (ha!). All in all a very impressive array of supplements which are both educational and fun to watch. High marks go to Universal for creating such great supplements.

Final Thoughts

Frankenstein is the first of many Universal classic horror films coming to DVD with first class treatment. Needless to say, Frankenstein is a gem from Hollywood's golden age of horror. I believe that films like Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy and many others are the backbone of any decent horror enthusiast's collection and it's great to have it on DVD. The disc's supplements are amazing and very educational. A definite must buy. Next up is Universal's The Mummy collector's edition...I can hardly wait.

Rating

Image Quality - B+
Sound - B-
Supplements - A+

Technical Info.
  • Running time - 1 hour 11 minutes
  • B&W
  • Not Rated
  • 1 Disc
  • 16 Chapter stops
  • Dolby Digital Mono

Supplements
  • Animated Menus
  • 2 page insert
  • Audio Commentary by Film Historian Rudy Behlmer
  • Frankenstein Files" Documentary directed by David Skal
  • "Boo" Featurette
  • Still Gallery
  • Trailer
  • Production Notes
  • Cast & Crew Bios

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