Monday, October 26, 2015

The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
"The Ghost of Frankenstein" is the fourth film in Universal's Frankenstein series, but it is the first to not star Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's Monster.  Without Karloff, I was expecting this film to be a dud, but I ended up enjoying it quite a bit.  Bela Lugosi's reprises his roll as Ygor from the previous film, "The Son of Frankenstein," and Lon Chaney Jr. steps into the oversized shoes of Karloff as The Monster, and he turns out to fill those shoes quite well.

Towering Giant
Before I go any further, I think a quick recap from the previous films is in order (click on the titles to see my reviews of those films):
  • Frankenstein (1931) - Doctor Henry Frankenstein and his assistant Fritz build a monster from body parts.  The monster goes on a killing spree, and kills Fritz, and attempts to kill Dr. Frankenstein.  Dr. Frankenstein survives and goes on to marry his fiancĂ©e Elizabeth.  The Monster is chased by villagers into an old windmill, and they set fire to the mill, killing the Monster by burning him alive.
  • The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) -  It is revealed that The Monster has survived the fire.  He meets another mad scientist, Dr. Pretorius, and the two kidnap Elizabeth to force Henry Frankenstein to continue his experiments, this time building a female to be The Monster's Bride. However The Bride rejects The Monster, and The Monster, no longer wishing to live, triggers an explosion in the laboratory, killing himself for a second time, along with The Bride and Dr. Pretorius. Meanwhile, Henry and Elizabeth flee the scene and survive.
  • Son of Frankenstein (1939) - Many years have passed, and Wolf Von Frankenstein, the son of Henry and Elizabeth from the first two films, returns to his father's home, along with his wife Elsa and his young son.  Wolf wishes to continue his father's experiments and redeem his family name.  Wolf meets Ygor (played by Bela Lugosi), a madman with a neck twisted out of shape after he survived a hanging for graverobbing.  The pair discover The Monster's body, still intact, and decide to revive it.  However, after bringing The Monster back to life, Ygor gains control of him by playing a weird wooden flute, and uses him to commit a series of murders.  Wolf shoots and kills Ygor, and The Monster plunges to his third death, this time in a pit of molten sulfur.  The Frankenstein family decides to leave the village behind and return to their old life. They abandon the castle and give the keys to the villagers.
Ygor Digs The Monster Out of the Sulfur
This brings us to 1942's "The Ghost of Frankenstein."  As the film begins, we learn that four years have passed from the previous film.  Although there have been no more monster attacks, the villagers are still leery of the Castle Frankenstein, and decide to blow it up, to rid themselves of the last traces of Henry and Wolf's monster-making legacy.  However, it turns out that Ygor survived being shot by Wolf Von Frankenstein, and still lives in the castle, spending his days playing his flute to the pit of sulfur, which has now solidified and entombs The Monster.  When the villagers blow up the castle, the explosion cracks the sulfur.  Thus, rather than destroying The Monster once and for all, they end up freeing him.  Ygor and The Monster flee through the tunnels underneath the castle, and decide to seek out Ludwig Frankenstein, a heretofore unmentioned second son of Henry Frankenstein, to help make the Monster stronger.


The Monster on Trial
The pair arrive in the village of Vasaria, home to Ludwig Frankenstein and his daughter Elsa (curiously, Ludwig's daughter has the same name as his brother Wolf's wife, what's that about?).  There The Monster befriends a little girl.  When the girl loses her ball on a  rooftop, The Monster picks her up and carries her to the roof to retrieve it, killing several villagers along the way when they try to stop him.  The Monster is then captured by the townspeople, but soon escapes.  Ygor visits Ludwig Frankenstein and convinces him to hide The Monster and operate on him.  Ludwig resists the idea at first, but gives in when Ygor threatens to reveal his family's monster-making history to the town.

Mad Science at Work
Ludwig decides that the problem with The Monster is that he has a defective brain.  His solution is simple: discard the old brain and transplant a new one it's place.  But who's brain to choose?
  • Ludwig wants to put in the brain of Dr. Kettering, his assistant who recently died after contracting a bad case of choked-to-death-by-the-monster-itis.  
  • Ygor, however, wants his own brain transplanted into the monster.  It seems that Ygor is tired of his twisted, bullet-ridden, crippled body, and would much rather have a powerful, immortal body like The Monster's.  Plus that way, he and his friend The Monster could be together forever.
  • Finally, The Monster himself has his own idea, and this one is the best yet.  He kidnaps the little girl he befriended, and wants her brain removed and implanted in his head. This is the point where I realized that this was kind of an awesome movie.
The Monster Wants the Brain of a Tiny Little Girl
In the end, Ygor corrupts Ludwigs lab assistant, and has his own brain removed and switched with that of Dr. Kettering, which Ludwig then unwittingly implants in The Monster's skull.  And at this point, the movie just gets flat out demented.  The Monster's body language completely changes, and he gleefully leers as he gives a monologue detailing his evil plans, and it is all spoken using Bela Lugosi's voice!  The combination of Lon Chaney Jr.'s physicality and Bela's voice is just nuts!  It Frankenstein's Monster like we've never seen him before.  Previously, the Monster was always somewhat sympathetic, he was confused and misunderstood, a victim of Frankenstein's experiments.  But now, he becomes a full-fledged villain!  Evil, intelligent, murderous, and possibly a wee bit insane.

The Monster With Ygor's Brain is an Evil Madman
However, Monster Ygor's success is short-lived, because after a few minutes, he goes blind!  Ludwig explains that while Dr. Kettering was the same blood type as The Monster, and thus his brain would have been able to be successfully transplanted into The Monster's skull, Ygor's blood type does not match, and thus his transplant is failing.  Then the townspeople storm Ludwig's mansion and burn it to the ground, killing The Monster for the fourth time by burning him alive for the second time.  The End.

The Frankenstein Estate Burns to the Ground
I really enjoyed this movie, it got better and better as it went on.  Plus, the ending takes The Monster in a totally new direction.  But did they follow through with that direction in subsequent movies?  We'll find out next time, when I look at the next movie in this series:  "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man!"


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