Synopsis of Movie
“It's alive! IT’S ALIVE!!”
Arguably the most famous of the early movie monsters, the hulking, brooding Frankenstein’s Monster has become a cinematic icon. The face that launched a thousand nightmares, the Monster starred in seven Universal horror films of the 1930’s and 40’s, but his influence stretched across the rest of the century, through nearly every creature feature that came afterward.
Based on the 1818 novel by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, 1931’s Frankenstein brought the Monster to feature films. James Whale (mv1608 Invisible Man, The Bride of Frankenstein) directed, with Colin Clive in the title role as the movies’ definitive mad scientist, Dr. Henry Frankenstein. But the real star of the show was a little-known actor named Boris Karloff, picked to play the non-speaking (but grunting) role of The Monster (credited in the opening titles only as “?”).
Dr. Frankenstein starts the film as a young scientist obsessed with creation. After dropping out of school, Henry retreats into his spooky castle to continue his disturbing work. Together with his assistant Fritz, Henry begins pilfering bodies from a local graveyard, patching them together into a homemade man. When Fritz is dispatched to grab a brain, however, the less-than-bright assistant ends up returning with an abnormal mind, which is placed into the creature’s flat-topped skull.
On a dark and stormy night, with an energizing blast of lightning, Dr. Frankenstein’s work finally comes to life, right before the horrified eyes of Henry’s fiancée, Elizabeth, and his former mentor, Dr. Waldman. Henry is mad with power, but the monster proves too difficult to control, eventually killing Fritz. Henry and Waldman attempt to destroy the Monster, but the large creature escapes into the outside world, innocent and curious, but unintentionally lethal.
Frankenstein was a monster hit for Universal, helping fuel a boom of horror films that had begun earlier that year with Dracula. The film also made a star out of Boris Karloff, who went from a “?” title card to top billing in the 1935 sequel, Bride of Frankenstein. The new film added a few scenes from Mary Shelley’s novel that hadn’t been included in the original film, along with a prologue featuring fictional versions of the author herself, husband Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron.
In the sequel, both Dr. Frankenstein and his Monster recover from the dangerous events at the end of the original Frankenstein. While Henry’s injuries mend, the Monster escapes into the night. That evening, mad alchemist Dr. Septimus Praetorious arrives at the Frankenstein home, proposing a partnership with Henry. Henry simply wants to end his ordeal and marry Elizabeth, but Praetorious shows how far he has come on his own: from seeds, Dr. Praetorious has grown six miniature humans, called “homunculi.” With Frankenstein’s help, he can create full-grown humans, a male and its mate.
Meanwhile, the Monster goes on a frightened rampage, killing several villagers before entering the woods. There, he finds an old, blind hermit, who unknowingly takes him in as a friend. The Monster learns both compassion and a few English words, but the two new friends’ happiness is rudely interrupted by a pair of hunters. The Monster once again runs off into the night, where he is discovered by none other than Praetorious. The madman uses the Monster to kidnap Elizabeth and force Henry to work with him, building a shock-haired Bride of Frankenstein.
Bride of Frankenstein was another horror classic, considered by many to be the best of the series. With Elsa Lanchester in the dual role of Mary Shelley and the Monster’s Bride, the movie added another horrifying face to the franchise. In 1939, Karloff returned for a third film, Son of Frankenstein.
This time, Wolf Frankenstein travels to his father’s estate to claim his inheritance. There, the gnarled shepherd Ygor urges him to revive his father’s experiments. Wolf, like his father, is fascinated by the challenge, but he soon discovers that Ygor has sinister ideas about how the revived Monster should be used.
Fellow horror icon Bela Lugosi (who had turned down the Monster’s role in the original) joined Karloff in this installment, playing Ygor. Lugosi reprised the role in 1942, playing opposite Lon Chaney, Jr., as the Monster in The Ghost of Frankenstein.
In this fourth film, Ygor again persuades a Frankenstein to resurrect the Monster. Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein does so, hoping to put a more stable brain into the creature’s head. Unfortunately, others (like Ygor) have ideas of their own about whose brain should be used.
Lugosi took over the Monster’s role in the next installment, leaving Lon Chaney, Jr., free to don the hair and fangs of another horror icon in 1943’s Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. This was only the beginning of the monster team-ups, however. Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolf Man and Dracula all showed up in 1944’s House of Frankenstein and its 1945 sequel, House of Dracula.
In each of these films, Chaney’s Wolf Man is simply seeking a cure for his werewolf condition (from Dr. Frankenstein, then Dr. Edelman) or a quick death, but the unlucky beast keeps running into his fellow monsters, setting off a two- or three-way battle for the “King of the Monsters” crown.
Karloff returned in House of Frankenstein, but as Dr. Niemann, an escaped asylum patient who plans to use the monsters to exact revenge. Glenn Strange became Universal’s fourth Frankenstein’s Monster, taking over the part for the two House of… movies.
Universal’s original Frankenstein series ended with House of Dracula, but no one really believed the Monster could ever die. Surprisingly, the high-forehead creature moved into comedy next, starring with old partners-in-fright Wolf Man and Dracula in 1948’s Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein, the first of several Abbot and Costello Meet… comedy/horror films.
Since then, the Monster has been a teenager, met Space Monsters, and even learned to sing. Frankenstein’s Monster continues to appear today in everything from horror films to cartoons, largely thanks to the image of Boris Karloff and the chilling, unforgettable legacy of the original Frankenstein series.
Movie Release History1931 - Frankenstein
1935 - Bride of Frankenstein
1939 - Son of Frankenstein
1942 - The Ghost of Frankenstein
1943 - Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
1944 - House of Frankenstein
1945 - House of Dracula
Movie Sub Categorieslive-action
CastDr. Henry Frankenstein Colin Clive
Elizabeth Mae Clarke
Victor Moritz John Boles
The Monster Boris Karloff
Dr. Waldman Edward Van Sloan
Baron Frankenstein Frederick Kerr
Fritz Dwight Frye
Burgermeister Lionel Belmore
Little Maria Marilyn Harris
Bridesmaid Arletta Duncan
Wounded Villager Francis Ford
Ludwig, Maria's Father Michael Mark
Bridesmaid Pauline Moore
Maid Cecilia Parker