The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
"NEW TOWERING TERROR!"
Having survived being shot by Baron Wolf von Frankenstein, Ygor finds the Monster in a sulphuric tomb in the depths of the castle. As villagers head to the castle to finally destroy it and rid themselves of the Frankenstein curse, Ygor and the Monster head off to find Ludvig Frankenstein, the second son of Henry Frankenstein, to help the Monster regain its strength. Ludvig originally wants nothing to do with them but the ghost of his father appears and tells him to cure the Monster’s insanity.
The fourth entry into Universal’s Frankenstein films, The Ghost of Frankenstein is content to rehash the exact same Frankenstein narrative as had gone before it, only with diminishing returns and dwindling excitement. By the time this rolled around, the Universal horror cycle was on the wane and after the boom of the 1930s with the likes of the original Frankenstein and Dracula, these films just weren't providing the same level of shock and horror as they once had. Audiences had grown accustomed, and tired, of the same monsters and with reduced budgets and less care and attention given to them, these films quickly become stale, almost parodies of what had come before. The Ghost of Frankenstein is a marked drop in quality from the third entry in the series, let alone the legendary first two, and is a sad indictment of a studio which had no creative direction to take the series anymore.
Even at a sleek sixty-eight minutes long, The Ghost of Frankenstein seems to drag its heels and doesn’t really tell an engaging story. Some attempts are made to link the film with the previous one, The Son of Frankenstein, but, like many horror sequels, if you try to fathom out real continuity, you’ll come away scratching your head. The film goes through the usual motions – Igor tracking down a relative of the Frankenstein family, the reluctant scientist getting drawn into the shady world of creating life, the Monster coming to life and causing havoc, and then the inevitable finale when the townspeople are sick of the problems caused and storm the castle to destroy the Monster. You know a film is struggling to pad out a story when flashbacks are used and footage from the original is included here to waste a few minutes of screen time.
There’s something lacking here – whether it’s the obvious budget reduction over the previous films or the general lack of attention to detail. The Frankenstein series clearly shifted from ‘A’ quality films to that of the ‘B’ movie variety within the space of two films and it shows. It’s the last time that the Monster played a significant central role in the Universal films, with the creature being reduced to a mere prop alongside the likes of The Wolf Man and Dracula in a number of ‘monster mash’ crossover films such as Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man and House of Dracula. Both of which, ironically, are far superior to this because they don't stick rigidly to the trademark story.
If there is one big plus about The Ghost of Frankenstein, it’s with the casting. Newcomers Sir Cedric Hardwycke and Lionel Atwill are both great in their roles of Ludvig and his disgraced doctor friend Bohmer respectively – classic moustache-twirling villains of yesteryear (though Ludvig is hardly a villain). Bela Lugosi has some fun in the supporting role as Ygor, the crippled servant who has survived from the previous film – arguably one of Lugosi’s best performances. This marks the first of the Frankenstein films not to feature Boris Karloff as the Monster. Lon Chaney Jr. would be more famously known as The Wolfman in later Universal horror films but he’s behind the Monster make-up here, turning the brute into little more than a walking, lumbering zombie with arms out-stretched and no real sense of the humanity that Karloff managed to imbue. In an interesting twist, it is Ygor’s brain that is put into the monster’s body and the crippled manservant was no slouch when it came to intelligence so it’s nice to see, albeit if briefly, the potential of the Monster with a clever brain, rather than a damaged or criminal one. These scenes allow Chaney Jr. to act more menacingly and with purpose.
And what would a Frankenstein film be without an angry mob of villagers desperate to burn something in the finale? Actually, we’re spoilt rotten here as there are two angry mobs, both of which bookend the film. Even this shows a lack of genuine ideas to breathe new life into the series.
The Ghost of Frankenstein goes through the motions fairly adequately (and it was made during World War 2 so there’s obviously going to some knock-on effects from that with finances, cast and crew) but it’s the worst of the first four Frankenstein films by far and is rather symbolic of how little manoeuvrability the original story has when you’re trying to put it on the big screen.
The Ghost of Frankenstein
Director(s): Erle C. Kenton
Writer(s): Scott Darling (screenplay), Eric Taylor (original story)
Actor(s): Cedric Hardwicke, Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, Ralph Bellamy, Evelyn Ankers, Janet Ann Gallow, Olaf Hytten
Duration: 67 mins