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Critique • Text • Frankenstein at the movies

Frankenstein, first illustrated editionFrontispiece, first illustrated edition 1831
Publication details ▽ Publication details △

Original title
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus

First publication

Literary form

Literary, science fiction, horror

Writing language

Author's country

Approx. 78,000 words

Ghost of Frankenstein scene
Lon Chaney Jr.'s monster is led through the cemetery of Frankenstein sequels by Bela Lugosi's Ygor.

From the sublime to the ridiculous

The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942): Film, 1967; director Erle C. Kenton; writer Scott Darling; featuring Lon Chaney Jr., Cedric Hardwicke, Bela Lugosi, Ralph Bellamy, Lionel Atwill

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943): Film, 72 minutes; director Roy William Neill; writer Curt Siodmak; featuring Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi, Ilona Massey

House of Frankenstein (1944): Film, 70 minutes; director Erle C. Kenton; writer Edward T. Lowe Jr.; featuring Lon Chaney Jr., Boris Karloff, John Carradine, Lionel Atwill

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948): Film, 82 minutes; director Charles Barton; writer John Grant; featuring Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi, Glenn Strange

The second sequel to Frankenstein was still highly rated by classic monster fans. But after that the quality started falling off more dramatically and Universal Studios began to play around with its horror franchise, mixing together actors—and even characters—from their popular Frankenstein, Dracula and Wolfman flicks to produce some bizarrely stitched together but lifeless pictures.

Weary monster

The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) might better be called The Other Son of Frankenstein. Now that Henry and Wolf Frankenstein are gone, Ygor (again Bela Lugosi) attempts to get Henry's second son, the brain surgeon Ludwig Frankenstein, to fix the monster.

Lon Chaney as Frankenstein's monster
Lon Chaney as the monster.

Karloff had dropped out, so Lon Chaney Jr., takes up the role as the revivified monster. Having just come off a big success as the title character in The Wolf Man, Chaney is an inexpressive, sleepy-eyed monster and fails to evoke the pathos that Karloff brought out. He too appears to have forgotten how to talk, at least until near the end when another brain is implanted in his head.

Apart from a few early scenes of the villagers once again attacking the castle where the monster is kept and the monster escaping alongside Ygor, the atmosphere is leeched out of this film with its bright lighting and unimaginative camera work. Suspense is supplied by some already clichιd shots of scary shadows cast on walls by lightning, shadows that don't really match what's casting them.

The "ghost" of the title, by the way, comes from some cheesy scenes of Henry Frankenstein (obviously not Colin Clive, the original mad doctor) appearing to his second son, exhorting him to give the monster a new brain.

The monster mash

In the next year's sequel, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), Lugosi switches to the monster and Chaney is back in his furry role.

Chaney and Lugosi
Chaney and Lugosi switch roles.

But now the big, flat-topped fella evokes the audience's laughter more than fear or sympathy as it appears just too stereotypical in its clumsy lumbering around with outstretched arms. (The "Frankenstein walk" was actually created in this film because the monster was supposed to be blind, but the scene explaining this was edited out.)

The monster still doesn't talk and is back to grunting. (Again due to editing it seem. According to Hollywood legend, Lugosi's lines were cut because early audiences found his Transylvanian accent funny.)

But this is more a Wolf Man movie than a Frankenstein flick, as the monster comes in only about halfway through. Larry Talbot (the Wolf Man when the moon is not full) digs it out of ice to lead him to Dr. Frankenstein's diary which he thinks will give him the secret to ending his own eternal misery.

Along the way he recruits yet another obsessed scientist and Frankenstein's granddaughter (daughter of one of the Frankenstein Juniors—I couldn't tell you which one).

It all climaxes with crackling experiments in a castle, a mob of fearful villagers, and a showdown between monsters—curtailed by a watery deluge.

I understand for Wolf Maniacs, this movie is a decent sequel and it did okay at the box office. But for Frankensteinians it's a bust.

Monster meet-and-greet

Strange and Karloff
Strange and Karloff as monster and
mad scientist.

So in 1944 Universal Studios upped the ante and brought all three of its most famous monsters together in House of Frankenstein, perpetuating what became known as the "monster rally" genre.

The cadaverous John Carradine is the vampire now, Lon Chaney Jr. has his usual role as the Wolf Man, and Glenn Strange takes over the Frankenstein monster role.

And, here's a real switch, former monster Boris Karloff is back—but as the mad scientist who brings all three monsters back to life. He's aided by a hunchback named Daniel.

The story doesn't make much sense, production values are down, and everyone gets killed off by the end of House of Frankenstein. None of which kept the three monsters and the actors who played them from reuniting in House of Dracula the following year.


Moving from the ridiculous to the sublimely ridiculous, no kid should grow up without seeing Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) at least once.

Costello, Lugosi and Strange
Half of Abbott and Costello meet the monsters.

It's the last of Universal's monster rallies, with all three big guys on hand—and this time with Lugosi back as Dracula.

Chaney and Strange as the Wolf Man and Frankenstein's monster make up the rest of the fearsome threesome.

But the movie belongs to the duo whose names are first in the title.

It's a comedy naturally, with the monsters present just to provide some scary laughs, as they chase the comics around.

Nothing to do with Mary Shelley's and original novels and narratively little to do with all the previous Frankenstein and Dracula films.

Possibly the best of the Abbott and Costello movies.

Which is to say it's stupid, stupid, stupid.

But fun, fun, fun.

— Eric


Critique • Text • Frankenstein at the movies

1931, 1935, 1939, 1942–1948, 1957, 1958–1970, 1973–1996, 1994, 2014