Frankenstein’s monster. The original zombie.

Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) is brilliant but insane. He wants to be a god. His plan is to create life. Not having a womb he does, what he thinks is, the next best thing. Experiments on lifeless bodies have not bared fruit so now he decides to create someone from scratch. With the help of his hunchback assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye) he assembles a body from body parts he has stolen from morgues and cemeteries. After accidentally putting an abnormal brain in his creation he is ready to bring life to his masterpiece. He zaps it with electricity. Voila!

The 1930’s was a good decade for monster movies. “Frankenstein”, “Dracula”, “The Wolfman”, and even “King Kong”. The list goes on and on. The first “Frankenstein” movie stars Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein and Boris Karloff as the monster. Although technically a monster movie, with Boris Karloff as the monster, it plays more like a tragedy.

The credit to Karloff’s acting is highlighted by the wonderful human emotion he is able to express even under layers of makeup. He can portray a monster as a sympathetic character even though he never speaks a word. Everything about the movie is somber and foreboding. The overcast skies. The dead trees of the forest. The cold damp castle. The only lightness is the interaction between the monster and the child throwing petals into the water. Both innocents. Both children. Compare that to the wild insanity of Dr. Frankenstein who dares to play god. Trying to create something ungodly with bits and pieces of the dead that were stolen from their sleep to become part of something that only a mad man would conceive. Who is the real monster?

This version of Frankenstein is the first and the best. In this case over the top acting is (excuse the pun) just what the doctor ordered. The clarity of character in the movie is in part due to the extreme difference between Frankenstein and his creation. When first “alive” this “monster” is simple. Like a newborn everything is new and must be learned. The first dangerous stimulus is the torch that Fritz carries into the room. Because of his reaction he is chained in a dungeon. He is then tortured by Fritz with a lit torch. This child has learned fear and cruelty. I am not surprised that the monster, who can not communicate, can only react. And his reactions are the same as what he has learned. The lesson here is that we teach our children how to behave based on nurturing or the lack thereof. This is a lesson we still have not mastered.