Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, John Boles, Edward Van Sloan, Dwight Frye and Marilyn Harris

James Whale

Running Time:
71 mins

"It's alive, Alive!!"

Dr Henry Frankenstein

Hidden away in his laboratory, Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Clive) was about to make a scientific breakthrough that could change mankind forever. His experiments into the reanimation of dead tissue have lead him to believe that he can create life within a man forged from numerous different body parts. On a night of a huge storm he prepared to history. Worried for his well being Henry's fiancÚ Elizabeth (Clarke) begs his best friend Victor (Boles) and his mentor Dr. Waldman (Van Sloan) to take her to the lab but they arrive just as the experiment is taking place. The creature (Karloff) is alive.

If there were one movie that defined the horror genre it would have to be James Whale's 1931 adaptation of Frankenstein.

Way ahead of its time, the movie deals with issues like stealing body parts, illegal research and transplanting organs, all of which are even more relevant today with the human organ black market, stem cell research and every kind of transplant you can think of. This is all down to the magnificent source material, Mary Shelley's book and the play by Peggy Webling, but it is the adaptation by the filmmakers that made this film all the more memorable and set the standard for every version that followed.

James Whale's Frankenstein made changes to the story that you would have thought all part of the mythos. It was this film that incorporated the storm, the mad scientist laboratory, the use of electricity or lightening to reanimate the creature and the hunchbacked assistance. None of these elements where in either the original book or stage play. What the film is most famous for however is defining the look of the monster. Before this movie, Dr. Frankenstein's creation looked like a normal man; in fact he looked like the doctor himself. James Whale and makeup artist Jack Pierce created the look of the creature and redefined the story forever. Throw over a blanket of gothic, grandiose sets and you have a template that would be used forever more when it came to classic horror adaptations.

With the look and scene set, strong performances were needed to bring this tale to life and for the most part the director got them. This was an era when stage actors were moving into cinematic roles and their slightly over-the-top and extravagant style made the films of the 1930s and 40s seem unnatural and forced when it came to performance. Frankenstein had two actors that changed all this however.

Firstly we have an outstanding performance from Colin Clive as Dr. Henry Frankenstein. A man consumed by his work, who only realises what he has done, when it is too late. This is a realistic portrayal of obsession for the time in a role that would be compared to in every single version that followed.

The same can be said of Boris Karloff. This version of the creature would become the standard and define the role for every actor that tried to follow in his illustrious footsteps. Karloff made you feel sympathy for the monster by bringing a childlike innocence to him and you emphasised with his feeling of not fitting in.

While the movie does have its flaws, especially after the monster escapes, that raise a few unanswerable questions like how does he know where Henry lives, this is still the defining version of Mary Shelley's original book. Nothing has come close to capturing what James Whale and his cast and crew achieved in bringing this story to life, making this the ultimate version of Frankenstein.


Presented in Full Screen 4:3 with a Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack, the transfer is good if you take into account how old the film actually is. The picture quality varies with scratches throughout but it is very good seen as the movie was made in 1931. The mono sound isn't too bad with the dialogue been very clear throughout and the storm effects really setting the scene.


Feature commentary by Rudy Behlmer
Noted film historian Rudy Behlmer provides an insightful and extremely interesting commentary for the movie. He reveals interesting facts about every aspect of the film, from the background of the movie to director James Whale's style. He also reveals some interesting original casting details (Karloff wasn't the first choice) and what was cut out of the movie during the editing process.

The Frankenstein Files (44.50 mins)
Film historian David J. Skal takes us into the Universal archives to look at the phenomenon that was Frankenstein. Revealing the how the story came to be adapted and the different filmmakers and stars that were attached to the project, we are given an insight into the making of one of the most influential horror movies of all time. Special effects makeup artist Rick Baker talks about Jack Pierce's creation of the monster and Boris Karloff's daughter Sara talks about her father's defining role. There is also a look at all the cast members of the movie and the inevitable sequels that followed the films unparalleled success.

Frankenstein Archives (9.23 mins)
Watch a montage of posters and publicity shots accompanied by the haunting music from the film.

Boo! (9.02 mins)
A comedic short from 1931 that combines archive footage from Frankenstein, Nosferatu and The Creeps with a voice over that comments on the so-called funny situations. Very strange.

Theatrical Trailer (1.38 mins)
Watch the original trailer that promoted the film in 1931.


Universal has done a good job in bringing one of the most influential horror movies of all time to DVD. The bonus features are also good with the documentary and the excellent commentary track only adding to the value. While the picture and sound quality might not be the greatest, the film is still a must see for all cinema aficionados.


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