Son of Frankenstein – Classic Horror Week

Son of Frankenstein is currently available on instant Netflix.

Son of Frankenstein (1939)

“When Wolf von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone), son of the infamous madman, returns to the estate to claim his inheritance, he finds the deranged Ygor (Bela Lugosi) hiding in the castle with the comatose monster (Boris Karloff). On Ygor’s pleading, Frankenstein revives his father’s creation. And Ygor takes his revenge on those who condemned him. Lionel Atwill and Josephine Hutchinson also star in this third tale in the classic horror franchise.”

“One doesn’t easily forget, Herr Baron, an arm torn out by the roots. “

By 1938, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi were in terrible career slumps. In spite of, or perhaps because of, the wonderful horror movies of the early 30s, Britain imposed an embargo on Hollywood horror films in 1936. This caused Universal and other studios to not make horror movies and Karloff and Lugosi were left with little to do.

Thankfully, in 1938, there was a double-bill re-release of Dracula and Frankenstein that was phenomenally successful. Son of Frankenstein was quickly rushed into production with both horror stars.

The third of Universal’s eight movie Frankenstein series is the last one that can be taken seriously. It is also the last time Karloff would portray the monster in a movie. Basil Rathbone is fun as the titular son of Frankenstein but is easily upstaged by Karloff, Lugosi, and even Lionel Atwill.

Bela Lugosi is simply riveting as Ygor and is more of a reason to watch the film than Karloff. Lugosi’s Ygor would be almost as iconic as his Dracula even though he would only play him twice. Karloff is just fine as the monster but they have dumbed him down a bit in both senses. With Ygor being evil and Frankenstein (Rathbone) being misguided, the monster ends up being more of a force of nature and plot device than an actual character. Lionel Atwill steals the show as the suspicious Krogh.

This is the fun Frankenstein – the first two films are better but don’t hold up well to repeated viewings (too many long plot stretches and endless fiddling with scientific machinery) and the ones that follow this descend into camp. Digression – the same can be said of Alien. Alien is a better movie than Aliens – a whole new world is developed from scratch and explored in a stately manner but Aliens is undoubtedly the more fun movie as the initial concepts do not need to be explained at length.

Set design is also quite wonderful. The rooms are ridiculously tall, angles are often skewed, stairways appear to go nowhere, and doors appear to be medieval siege gates.

If you have not seen this but feel a sense of deja vu that is because Mel Brooks drew most of his inspiration for Young Frankenstein specifically from this film with Kenneth Mars doing an uncanny Atwill.

Sequel-itis: The Monster would appear again in The Ghost of Frankenstein with Lon Chaney Jr. as the monster, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman with Bela Lugosi as the monster, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, and, ultimately, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. The monster was played by Glenn Strange in the final three movies.