The Ghost of Frankenstein
Director: Erle C Kenton
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr, Cedric Hardwicke, Evelyn Ankers, Lionel Atwill, Ralph Bellamy
The lightning. It is good for you! Your father was Frankenstein, but your mother was the lightning!
Son of Frankenstein was a big hit restored popularity to the Universal Monster films. The studio decided to invest once again in the films. However, they would no longer be of the A-list variety. Budgets were moved down to B-level productions. And yeah, you can tell The Ghost of Frankenstein is of a lower quality than what came before it. The sets aren't as kooky, they feel more like a stage show and the direction is much more static. They also use clips and footage from the previous films within the story. But, this would allow them to crank out more movie and much faster ideally.
This is also the first time the series has a noticeable dip in quality. That doesn't mean that Ghost of Frankenstein is bad, it just isn't in the conversation on hanging out with the three that came before. Those films with Karloff are all legendary and ground breaking horror films. The fourth film in the series is merely "good" or "solid" and that's nothing to scoff at. Back then and over its legacy, people seem to have been pretty kind to it, but in today's "best ever" or "worst ever" and no in-between climate, I'm sure the film would have possibly torn to shreds.
Karloff hung up his electrodes and klonky boots for good (in the Universal films) and so it was onto the next actor to fill them. Of course Lon Chaney Jr. would be the first to jump at the chance. The man wanted to play every monster he could on celluloid. He's not bad, but he's much closer to that generic stereotype of the monster we have than the haunting humanity of Karloff's. The monster does have those personal moments, but they seem much more a product of the script than they do of Chaney's performance. Gone, also, is that mischievous sweater from that last film and back to the traditional clothing.
To note, this isn't some sort of reboot to the series, its a direct follow up to the previous film. The monster has to be broken out of the hardened sulfur from the last movie. Due to popularity (And probably adding another "name") is Bela Lugosi's Ygor. And that's awesome. We continue he and the monster's relationship. Things get into a bit of hokey'ville here as we have another son of Dr. Frankenstein and I realize that it sorta reminds me of my beloved Halloween series, with trying to find relatives for Michael to stalk. It is what it is, though and we have a very different kind of man here to find himself with an inner conflict of perfecting his father's work.
One thing that's terrific of Ghost is that its yet another film in the series, but its not a copy of what came before. There are tropes and things that we've seen before done again, but the greater conflict of this movie is wholly unique. We shift the story to the next time over, so we can leave the "cursed" disgruntled villagers in peace for this one. In this film, Dr. Frankenstein's other son is attempting to transplant a new brain into the monster to see if they can correct the confused violent being he's been. There's conflicts between doctors and families, and Ygor even gets in on it wanting a new body and even the monster going on trial. The film even comes down to a fun little devious twist followed by another to finish out. It also introduces what seems like it could have been a game changer with the Frankenstein monster, but with the brain and voice of Ygor. Like a mish mash of the best things from the last two films. That detail leaves a bit of excitement as to where the monster will go next with the new modifications.
Ghost of Frankenstein may not be the fanciest or best Frankenstein movie, but I think its still both fun and fascinating. Its definitely the most low key of the series at this point, and you can really chalk that up to the script trying to appease a lower budget. While Son would have perfectly wrapped up the story satisfyingly, going further would always be a gamble. But, I think they honestly did all right. Its not a masterpiece, its not really as arty and is more factory made. It still works, and is still a good time with the monster and Ygor. Its okay to be "solid" or merely "good" and that's something I really wish people would allow modern films to be. If you've not seen Ghost of Frankenstein, give it a look.
NEXT TIME: Frankenstein v Wolf man: Dusk of Fright