The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Frankenstein (1931)

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When the idea hit me to review some of the old horror classics for Halloween, I was especially excited to watch Frankenstein again. This is one of my all time favorite horror films, and in my personal opinion, one of the best. I wasn't surprised to see it listed on AFI's initial 100 greatest films, but I was extremely disappointed to see it removed in favor Shawshank Redemption on the new list. Bad people.

Frankenstein is the 1931 film adaptation of Mary Shelly's novel starring Boris Karloff as "the Monster". Dr. Frankenstein has discovered the key to making life, and he plans to use that to animate a body he's put together from pieces of dead bodies he's found around the neighborhood. He slowly becomes obsessed with seeing his project to fruition, much to the chagrin of his fiancee and friends. Finally, he brings his creation to life, only to find out the brain he used was from a convict, meaning his creation's mood swings could turn violent, and they do. He tries to stop it, but can't, and now the town's people have to burn it alive in the watchtower.

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This movie is amazing. With a 71 minute running time, it does a better job in that short a period of time in exploring what it means to be human, than Battlestar Galactica did in almost an hour longer. It's more than just a horror film, it's a drama about a man not only playing God, but trying to figure out what made God play God in the first place. Then, the monster, like Dr. Frankenstein, tries himself to figure out why he was created, the way a two-year-old tries to understand the world she's just beginning to realize exists around her. The only problem is, when a two-year-old has a temper tantrum, it's not a dangerous as a fully grown, very large man.

I was disappointed to see this film removed from AFI's top 100 films, especially in favor of Shawshank Redemption. First off, if, when the list was first made in 1998, Frankenstein was number 87, and Shawshank wasn't on the list, how, in ten years, did one get cut completely removed, and the other enter the list at 72? How did one movie get that much better than the other? And the idea that Shawshank has had a bigger impact on popular culture since then is an erroneous conclusion in my mind too. Let's go back to Battlestar Galactica. The whole premise of that show is based on the idea that the Monster isn't killed on the watchtower, but escapes, evolves, and comes back to punish us for what we did to it. You're talking about a critically acclaimed television show based on Frankenstein. And that's just one example. Shawshank doesn't have that kind of influence, and probably never will.

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If I say to you, what is the oddest rendition of Frankenstein, the first thing that probably comes to mind is that Kenneth Branaugh film with De Niro that ended up just being Branaugh's way of showing us the results of all the time he'd spent in the gym. Well, you'd be wrong, at least in my book. For me, it was Small Wonder, that weird sitcom with the family that had a sister/maid robot that the father created to do their house work. Even as a ten-year-old, I never felt comfortable when I watched it: she was the sister, but they dressed her like a maid, and she cleaned for them, so the dad essentially made her as their slave, but not... thinking about that show after seeing the new Battlestar Galactica, I realize that Small Wonder should have been the prequel.

One thing people will love is the warning at the beginning that it's not for the faint of heart. They couldn't have fathomed that 70 years later, the average Disney movie has more violence in it with bullies picking on kids than this did. I would argue that Frankenstein is much scarier, yet much more enjoyable, than a Hostel. Though the warning sounds silly to us now, it also serves as a reminder that brutality doesn't always equal good horror. In fact, it seldom does.

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Now, with the new Twilight film coming out, I thought I'd examine what a third film with Frankenstein in it would be like. I see him as a robot, first of all. Maybe Data, from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the main girl would turn out to be a Spiner Femme. No, that's just not CW enough (even though before they were all teen dramas, they were Star Trek shows). Perhaps a big brooding new kid, like Luke Perry in 90210. Yeah, okay, he shows up in the high school, and the story is he's adopted by some local scientist. But what is he hiding? And why is he so childlike in his fascination with everyday things? And how does he deal with his jealousy when the vampire comes back around? Who does she take to the prom, the vampire, the werewolf, or the brooding new kid Frank? I'm so excited, I can't wait for that to come out.

Do I need to recommend this for you to watch it? God, I hope not. I would say, if you haven't seen it already, it's a must see, for fans of all genres of film. And if you have, but not recently, you should look at it again. It really is a classic that belongs on the list of AFI's top 100 movies.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0021884/

6 comments:

  1. Mary Shelleys Frankenstein and this film have been so influential, its not even funny!

    I could even argue that Robocop was influenced by this, its all about a man trying to cheat death, and becoming a monster and trying to get accepted by society for what he is!

    Other films influenced directly by Frankenstein are Wes Craven's Deadly Friend about a guy who wants to resurrect his dead girlfriend and she ends up coming back as a killer robot.

    And also Tim Burtons Frankenweenie, about a kid who cant deal with his dogs death, so he turns him into a little Franken dog.

    Basically any movie that deals with people who cant deal with death and try to bring their loved one back to life is influenced by Frankenstein.

    I like this Universal film, its so dark, gothic and the character of Dr. Frankenstein...he is just insane! THe famous "its alive!" scene, it truly is memorable.

    Still, I find myself enjoying Bride of Frankenstein just a bit more.

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  2. I think the bringing the loved one back from the dead is more The Mummy, and Frankenstein is about playing God. Creating life when there was none. Robocop, and Darth Vader too, have that element, though, of creating life from death that is a de facto playing God, yet not exactly creating it from nothing.

    The one thing the Battlestar Galactica movie focused on was this idea of humans creating something so human it thought it was human. For me, that's the crux of Frankenstein: the doctor created life from nothing, like God, and then couldn't handle the consequences.

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  3. Oh yeah, I just want to make clear, I'm not getting religious, just referencing the metaphors in both Frankenstein and Battlestar Galactica to God and the Genesis book of the Bible.

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  4. Theres no problem with getting religious when talking about this movie, Frankenstein has always had religious overtones to it.

    I mean, yeah, Dr. Frankenstein is playing God of course. He is trying to bring somebody back to life. His full purpose of course is to bring back his dead wife, so in a way its Dr. Frankenstein refusing the notion of death, like saying "no! I wont have it! This cant end like this!"

    But at the same time, he is going against the christian idea of God. Because he is trying to cheat death, in many ways, the Frankenstein films are complaining to God and asking the question: "Why do we have to die?"

    Its challenging the notion of death that according to the bible, God so lovingly bestowed upon humanity.

    Another famous movie for criticizing this and asking God why we die is Blade Runner, where the creations are asking their creator, begging him to cure them of death.

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  5. Blade Runner is a definite remake of Frankenstein that I never considered, so thank you for bringing that up. Hauer's whole deal plays out exactly like Frankenstein's at the end of the film, when he escapes and roams the countryside, looking for his creator. Interesting, too, that Blade Runner was one of the films that was added to the new AFI's Top 100 list, after Frankenstein was clipped.

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  6. That whole sequence where Roy Batty (Hauer) goes up to his creators home, to question him about why they die, thats very Frankensteinish. In the end, same as in Frankenstein, the creation dies anyway.

    Weird thing is the novel was nothing like that, I read "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" and if a film was made as a direct translation of that book, it would be an entirely different film!

    The book is a good read too, and it dives more into religion then the movie did. Highly recommend it, it makes for a good read. Helps you to see just how much can change from book to film adaptation.

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