October Horror Month
I‘m doing short run of the Universal Classics and since I reviewed Frankenstein it’s time for one of the best sequels ever. The director James Whale never wanted to do a sequel but when promised full creative control he agreed and though it has element taken from Mary Shelley’s novel this really is Whale’s film.
The film opens with three infamous libertines Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon), Percy Shelly (Douglas Walton) and his wife Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester), the author of Frankenstein and after Byron comments on contrast her delicate nature with the horror she wrote. Percy says that the story left him wanting more so Mary starts her tale where the last one left off.
The villagers are all still at the burning remains of the windmill which was set on fire with creature inside and the Burgomaster (E.E. Clive) is trying to convince the excitable Minnie (Una O’Connor) that the man they called a monster died in the fire. They take the body of Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) back down to town. The burgomaster makes everyone leave until only an old couple are left. The man is called Hans and he wants to make sure the creature is dead because it killed their daughter Marie. Hans is looking for the Creature’s body in the remains of the windmill and he falls into a flooded cellar. The Creature is down there in the mud and when he sees Hans he grabs him and drowns him. Hans’s wife can’t find Hans and she hears the noise of the Creature climbing out of cellar and she thinks it’s Hans and she gives him her hand to help him out of the cellar. When she sees the creature she screams and the Creature throws her down into the cellar. The Creature lumbers through the graveyard and it surprises Screaming Minnie and she runs away.
Down in town they take Frankenstein into his castle and there is a lot of over-dramatic weeping and wailing from the staff as the men lay his body on the table in front of his fiancée Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson). Minnie also arrives and tries to warn the butler about the Creature not being dead but he doesn’t believe her. Anyway they all think Frankenstein is dead until Minnie sees his arm move and she squeals and I will never hear that frequency again. Frankenstein recovers consciousness before Minnie screams again and Elizabeth weeps with joy.
That night Frankenstein is resting in bed and Elizabeth is there with him. Frankenstein talks of being cursed because of what he achieved and this a theme that Elizabeth takes up while Frankenstein goes on to get excited about what he did and speculates that perhaps he is part a some divine purpose. Then just when you think Frankenstein is the crazy one in the room Elizabeth starts raving about seeing the shadowy figure of death approaching. There’s a knock on the door of the castle and Minnie answers it to a very curious old fellow called Dr Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) who insists he has to see Frankenstein on a secret matter of grave importance. He greets Frankenstein as Baron which means that Frankenstein’s father died between the two films in an unfortunate case of death by sequel. Pretorius used to teach philosophy at the university that Frankenstein but he was booted out because he knew too much according to Pretorius. He’s here to try to persuade Frankenstein to work with him. He makes a threat about Frankenstein being really responsible for everyone the Creature murders. What finally persuades Frankenstein to come with him is when Pretorius tells him that he has created life himself.
Frankenstein goes with Pretorius to his rooms and Pretorius pours them both a gin and he makes a toast “To a new world of gods and monsters.” He brings in a box that looks a lot like a small coffin. Inside are several glass cylinders. He brings out the first cylinder and removes the cloth covering. Inside is a miniature humanoid creature that he has dressed up as a queen. His other cylinders contain a king, a bishop a devil, a ballerina and a mermaid. This fascinates Frankenstein but also confuses him because this does not seem to have anything to with science and Frankenstein thinks it’s closer to magic. Pretorius claims that he grew these creatures. He wants to work with Frankenstein to create a woman.
The Creature is wandering through the countryside and stops at a pool next to a waterfall and has a drink of water. The creature also sees his own reflection and is upset at how ugly he is. He sees a young shepherdess but when he tries to approach her she screams at the sight of him and falls into the river and gets knocked out. The creature jumps in and rescues her but when she recovers and sees him again she screams and tries to fight him off. A couple of passing hunters hear the commotion and they shoot at the Creature who runs off, so the hunters return to the village to warn the people that the Creature is still around.
Back at the village the hunters tell the Burgomaster about seeing the Creatures he organise an angry mob to chase him down. The mob through run through the woods and chase down the Creature from sheer number they easily overpower him and tie him to a large stake. When they raise the stake with Creature tied to it there’s a momentary Jesus Christ pose before they dump him into a wagon full of straw. They take him back to the village and chain him up in a dungeon. Minnie and other locals stare in the window at him but the Burgomaster chases them. Once he’s alone he pulls at the chain and within minutes he’s got free and he smashes his way through the doors killing several guards. He gets out in to the street and people are feeling in panic and somehow a little girl call Freda is found dead but I really can’t remember seeing her.
The Creature escapes into the woods and he comes to family of Gypsies who are cooking meat over a fire. The Creature tries to indicate that he wants some food but the family flee screaming. The Creature tries to grab the meat but burns himself on the fire and runs off whimpering. Deep in the woods the Creature hears music coming from a cabin and is enchanted by it. The music comes from an old blind hermit who is playing a violin. The Hermit hears someone outside and goes out to find out who it is. He invites the Creature inside. He realises the Creature and cannot speak and he’s injured. He has the Creature sit down and gives him a bowl of food from a large cauldron he has cooking over a fire. After the creature has been fed he speaks with creature and manages to begin communication. The Hermit praises God for bringing him a companion to ease his loneliness.
The Creature really settles in happily with the hermit who has been teaching the Creature to speak and The Creature is having a great time learning the words “food”, “wine” and “friend”. The Hermit shows him how to smoke a cigar and the fire freaks him out a little but he really enjoys the cigar. Both of them are really happy but the creature is not destined for happiness. Those two hunters from earlier appear at the cabin and when they see the creature they attack it and drag the Hermit out of the cottage. Soon the cabin is in flames and the Creature is on the run once more with the angry mob chasing him.
He gets to a graveyard and throws open a tomb and climbs inside to hide from the mob. By an amazing coincidence Dr Pretorius has chosen to raid the same tomb for parts to make his woman and he’s got two criminals with him, Karl (Dwight Frye) and Ludwig (Ted Billings). After he’s got what he wants he send the two men back to his lab with the body while he says behind for a picnic among the dead with food and wine and a cigar. The creature come out of hiding and Pretorius’s reaction is like mild surprise, “Oh, it’s you,” and he invites the creature help himself to the food and drink. Pretorius agrees he is he Creature’s friend and thinks he will come in very useful in persuading Frankenstein to co-operate. Pretorius tells him that he plans to create a mate for him.
Pretorius goes to Frankenstein to tell him that it’s up to him to complete his half of the project. Pretorius has grown a human brain and now he needs Frankenstein to put it in a body and give it life. Frankenstein refuse to do it so Pretorius brings in the Creature and it demands he create a woman for him. Frankenstein is freaked out just by the Creature’s presence never mind the fact that it can talk and refuses to discuss anything while he is there. Pretorius sends the Creature away and continues trying to persuade Frankenstein to co-operate. While he’s keeping Frankenstein talking the Creature breaks into Elizabeth’s room and kidnaps her. Pretorius promises Frankenstein that Elizabeth will be returned unharmed.
Frankenstein and Pretorius go to Frankenstein’s laboratory in the tower and work on creating a woman. Frankenstein is working on the heart but it’s an old organ that’s not up to the job and they can’t get it to keep going. Frankenstein needs a fresh heart and Karl agrees to get one for 1000 crowns. Karl finds a heart in the body of a young woman he murders in the street and Pretorius probably knows how he got it but Karl tells Frankenstein that he bribed a coroner. The heart works fine and since the brain is already in place they are ready to finish. Frankenstein is getting tired but the Creature is impatient and insists he finishes. Pretorius takes the Creature and gives him a drugged drink to keep him out of Frankenstein’s way. Frankenstein is starting to fear that Elizabeth is dead but Pretorius lets him to speak to her over an anachronistically early telephone.
There’s a convenient storm coming and they get the body ready on the table and there’s a lot of messing about with the electrical apparatus with Karl and Ludwig assisting him up on the roof. Frankenstein has a couple of kites that he launches into the storm. Once they are ready he raises the table with the body to the roof. The Creature appears, hoping to see how they are getting on with making him a woman and he goes up to the roof. Karl must remind him of Fritz because the Creature grabs him and throws him off the roof to his death.
The table gets lowered back into the lab and once more Frankenstein has succeeded but his cries of “She’s alive, alive,” doesn’t quite have the same manic passion of his first success. They unwrap the bandages and apart from the scar around her neck she’s a very striking woman with the ultimate in scare hair.
Pretorius calls her the Bride of Frankenstein. The Creature appears to see his woman and he say ‘”Friend” to her softly and she screams in horror at his appearance and ruins to Frankenstein. He tries a bit of tenderness which fails. “She hate like all the other,” he says dejected and the Creature goes to pull a lever Pretorius warns him it will blow them all up which is what the Creature wants. Just then Elizabeth bangs on the door calling for Frankenstein. The Creature tells him to go and live but to Pretorius he says, “You stay. We belong dead,” then he pulls the lever and the whole tower blows up, completely destroying the Creature, Pretorius and the woman.
This film really is fantastic and in many ways it is better than the original. The creature is even more of a victim in this one too, of people prejudices and fears and of certain other people’s despicable schemes. Colin Clive is not as passionate in this film but Ernest Thesiger as Pretorius is outrageously evil and he loves it.