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DVD Pick: Frankenstein (75th Anniversary Edition)

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Frankenstein DVD Cover Art

Frankenstein DVD Cover Art

© Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Mix of Old and New Bonus Materials

The iconic horror classic Frankenstein (1931) features an unforgettable performance by Boris Karloff and was given a memorable visual style by director James Whale. The movie has been out on DVD before, but it has been digitally remastered for the 75th Anniversary Edition. While the new edition carries over the key bonus features from the earlier DVD versions, it also provides some excellent extras not previously available.

"It's alive! It's alive!"

The movie tells the tale of Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive), who uses cadavers and electrical energy to make the Monster (Boris Karloff). When the creature comes to life, Henry gloats, "Now I know what it feels like to be God!" (In the version of the film seen by many, this line was cut.) Soon the Monster goes on a rampage and begins killing people, including drowning a little girl. (The scene where the Monster tosses the child into a lake was cut in the version of the movie seen by many.) According to the film, part of the problem with the creature is that it was given the brain of a criminal.

In Frankenstein, Boris Karloff defined forever the way the Monster should look and behave. The actor makes the creature quite sympathetic, which is remarkable since the Monster doesn't talk in the movie. However, Karloff reprised the role in the sequel, Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and in that film, the Monster talks.

A Making-Of Documentary and a Documentary on Karloff

The Frankenstein 75th Anniversary Edition DVD set carries over the documentary "The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made a Monster" from previous DVD releases. It's an interesting 45-minute making-of that traces the story from Mary Shelley's 1818 novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus to stage versions to the 1931 film to the sequels and parodies. Originally, the thinking at Universal was that the Monster might be played by Bela Lugosi, who reportedly did a screen test in makeup rather similar to that of the title character in The Golem (1920).

There's also a new 38-minute 2006 documentary titled "Karloff: The Gentle Monster," which sketches the career of the English-born actor. For years he labored at odd jobs and played minor roles in scores of movies, and until he was 43 years old, his name was little known to the general public. Then Karloff got the role of the Monster in Frankenstein, skyrocketing him to immediate fame. For the last 38 years of his life, he remained successful, working in film, stage productions, radio and television.

Long Documentary on the History of the Horror Film

I was delighted to learn more about the early history of horror movies by watching the entertaining "Universal Horror," a one-hour-56-minute documentary narrated by Kenneth Branagh that was made in 1998. This is on the 75th Anniversary Edition DVDs for both Frankenstein and Dracula. However it was not on previous editions of Frankenstein.

Early horror films covered in the documentary include The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and Nosferatu (1922), both of which were made in Europe. Then Hollywood came out with The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925), dramas involving deformity and disfigurement, but lacking supernatural elements. Finally, in 1931 Universal Studios released both Dracula and Frankenstein, launching the great classic era of the American horror movie.

One of the experts in the documentary contends that World War I set in motion heightened interest in grotesquery and distortion, bringing about surrealism, dada and expressionism. The reflection of this in the world of cinema was the horror film.

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