"It's alive! Alive!" shouts Colin Clive's triumphant Dr. Frankenstein as electricity buzzes over the hulking body of a revived corpse. "In the name of God now I know what it's like to be God!" For years unheard, this line has been restored, along with the legendary scene of the childlike monster tossing a little girl into a lake, in James Whale's Frankenstein
, one of the most famous and influential horror movies ever made. Coming off the tremendous success of Dracula
, Universal assigned sophomore director Whale to helm an adaptation of Mary Shelley's famous novel with Bela Lugosi as the monster. When Lugosi declined the role, Whale cast the largely unknown character actor Boris Karloff and together with makeup designer Jack Pierce they created the most memorable monster in movie history: a towering, lumbering creature with sunken eyes, a flat head, and a jagged scar running down his forehead. Whale and Karloff made this mute, misunderstood brute, who has the brain of a madman (the most obvious of the many liberties taken with Shelley's story), the most pitiable freak of nature to stumble across the screen. Clive's Dr. Frankenstein is intense and twitchy and Dwight Frye set the standard for mad-scientist sidekicks as the wild-eyed hunchback assistant. Whale's later films, notably the spooky spoof The Old Dark House and the deliriously stylised sequel The Bride of Frankenstein
, display a surer cinematic hand than seen here and add a subversive twist of black comedy, but given the restraints of early sound films, Whale breaks the film free from static stillness and adorns it with striking design and expressionist flourishes. --Sean Axmaker
is James Whale's first stylish, expressionist film (Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein
) to grace the Universal horror cycle of the 1930s and 1940s (Dracula, The Mummy
). Scientist Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and his hunchbacked assistant, Fritz (Dwight Frye), embark on an unholy mission by stealing a body from a graveyard and a human brain from a medical college. Unbeknownst to Frankenstein, however, Fritz takes a violent and murderous abnormal brain. Henry's strange letters about his experiments worry his fiancee, Elizabeth (Mae Clark), and friends Victor (John Boles) and Dr. Waldman (Edward Van Sloan). They arrive at Frankenstein's laboratory to find the spectacular scene of creation under way and Frankenstein intoxicated with his own godlike power. Frankenstein
is in many ways the original horror classic, virtually creating the genre itself, leading to numerous sequels and myriad imitators. Whale's ability to give humanity to the Monster is one of the film's most stunning successes.