Inspired by this week’s screening of James Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein at the Paramount Theatre (Thursday and Friday, July 22nd and 23rd at 713 Congress Avenue in downtown Austin), the Austin Classic Movies Examiner is examining the many sequels to the original Universal horror classics of the early ’30s. While The Bride of Frankenstein was the first of the sequels, it by no means the last.
One of the best is 1939’s Son of Frankenstein, starring Basil Rathbone as the title character, Bela Lugosi as Ygor, and Boris Karloff in his third and final appearance as the monster. Even if you haven’t seen the 1931 original or Bride, this movie stands on its own as a classic of horror. You may recognize the basic plot of this movie, which was played for laughs in Mel Brooks’ 1974 comedy Young Frankenstein.
When the son of the notorious Baron Von Frankenstein inherits the family castle, you can bet your last deutschmark it’s only a matter of time before he starts reanimating the dead, just like dear old dad. The premise is simple: the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, and, of course, Frankensteins will be Frankensteins. The sins of the father are visited upon the son, with angry villagers bearing torches and pitchforks also paying a visit.
This flick came about after Universal Pictures made a boatload of cash in 1938 by re-releasing Dracula and the first Frankenstein movie as a double bill. Figuring the public would pay to see a new Frankenstein flick, a script was ordered and the stars signed to do the movie, which was originally intended as a color film. Looking to maximize profits, Universal decided that color was too expensive, and their cheapness paid off: the black & white cinematography in this movie is awesome.
Boris Karloff was 50 years old when he made this movie, his final appearance as the moster. The heavy back brace he wore under his costume messed with his lumbago, so he hung up the neck bolts for good after this picture. After Boris, many actors tried to fill his size 19 boots: Bela Lugosi (who appears in Son in his iconic role as Igor), Lon Chaney Jr., Glenn Strange, Christopher Lee, Michael Sarrazin, Bo Svenson, and Robert DeNiro have all had a go, but none of ’em can compare to the original.
Son of Frankenstein has it all, horror, suspense, pathos, and laughs played by a stellar cast. It holds it own with its predecessors, and creates enough of its own mythology to take its place among the top Frankentein movies ever made.
When Universal had a big hit with The Bride of Frankenstein, it quickly turned out Dracula’s Daughter the following year. In 1939, the studio struck box office gold with Son of Frankenstein, so it was inevitable that they would produce a movie called Son of Dracula. It was made in 1943, directed by Robert Siodmak, starring Lon “Don’t Call Me Junior” Chaney as Count Alucard — That’s “Dracula” spelled backwards, kids. Chaney was the only actor to play all of the major movie monsters: Dracula, or at least the son of, Frankenstein, the Mummy, and of course the Wolf Man.
He’s a little too bloated for the part of Dracula, but he has some good moments in this movie. He may be a tad robust for the role, a shade on the porky side, he might not be as svelte as Bela Lugosi or John Carradine, but he can still throw a scare into you. And, as he proved in his performances as Larry Talbot, the reluctant werewolf in The Wolf Man, big Lon knew how to play haunted.
Also in the cast are Louise Albritton as a beautiful young heiress with a taste for danger and Lon’s Wolf Man co-star Evelyn Ankers, the self-proclaimed “Queen of the Bs.” Unlike other Dracula movies that take place in Transylvania or London, this one’s got a more down home setting: the Louisiana bayou, with the swampy locale adding a little cajun spice to the spooky goings on.
The movie drags a bit in places, and is a bit too talky, but is a worthwhile entry in the series. He’s no Lugosi or Christopher Lee, but Chaney’s one performance in the Dracula role made it possible for him to hit for the cycle, monster-wise.
This movie is not to be confused with the 1974 horror-musical of the same name released by Apple Films starring Harry Nilsson, Ringo Starr, and Keith Moon. That Son of Dracula was billed as the first Rock & Roll Dracula movie, it’s a drug-drenched mess with some good tunes and a lot of terrible acting, directed by Hammer horror veteran Freddie Francis. It’s never been released on video, but you can find a copy on the internet if you’re a huge fan of Dracula movies or of Nilsson’s music. If you’re not, you’re much better off watching the original.
Up next: House of Frankenstein vs. House of Dracula.
Son of Frankenstein is available on DVD as part of Universal Home Video’s Frankenstein: The Legacy Collection. Son of Dracula is available as a double feature with Dracula’s Daughter, and as part of Dracula: The Legacy Collection.
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