Tonight at the Heights Theater, we continue our celebration of Universal Horror classics, with a wonderful double feature, the likes of which you won’t soon see again. James Whale’s classic Frankenstein paired with Rowland V. Lee’s unheralded Son of Frankenstein–and you get two-for-the-price-of-one!
Trylon volunteer Michael Popham weighs in on the lesser known of the two monster movies:
For much of its 99-minute running time, Son of Frankenstein plays a bit like Young Frankenstein without the jokes. And in fact Son is an almost archetypal Universal horror movie of the 1930s. We have a dark castle, a lumbering monster and a crook-necked assistant. We have a village filled with grouchy peasants who will, at the drop of a hat, seize pitchforks and torches and rush to destroy whatever’s handy. And we have a member of the Frankenstein family reluctantly lured into the monster-building trade, something that would happen again and again as the franchise wore on.
But look more closely and you’ll see a father-and-son drama that’s Shakespearean in ambition, if not execution. Basil Rathbone is splendid as the arrogant young Wolf, golden child of the Frankenstein clan, who believes that the simple villagers just don’t understand what a genius his father was. He has decided to convince them the hard way, by reviving the dreaded creature that everyone believes is dead. In this task he is assisted by his father’s former assistant Ygor, delightfully played by Bela Lugosi.
Wolf makes his fateful career decision after discovering the Frankenstein family crypt. He is distressed to find that his father’s casket been vandalized: someone has scrawled “MAKER OF MONSTERS” below his father’s nameplate. This sobriquet cuts Wolf more deeply than any of the stories he’s heard about his father’s monstrous deeds, and he immediately alters the graffito to read “MAKER OF MEN”, doubling down on his family’s disastrous project.
This was the third movie in the Frankenstein series, and the last to feature Boris Karloff. The monster was later played by other horror stars (Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Jr) and later still it was deemed unnecessary to cast an actor at all–stuntman Glenn Strange stumbled around under the green makeup in later installments. As you might expect, the quality of those later entries ticked steadily downward as well.
But a great deal of care and craftsmanship is evident in this opus, one of the last great horror film from Universal’s so-called Golden Age; and aside from the three principals, we get a winning performance from Universal stalwart Lionel Atwill, who appears as the charming one-armed police chief Krogh.
Frankenstein (1931) plays tonight at 7:30, and Son of Frankenstein (1939) shows immediately afterward at 8:50, and one ticket gets you in for both. They are available at the box office or online.