Son of Frankenstein [1939]

Son of Frankenstein Basil Rathbone comes to Transylvania to inherit his father's estate in this second sequel to Frankenstein. The townspeople are suspicious, but young Frankenstein has no interest in reviving his father's work--until he discovers the monster hidden away in the castle, inert but very much intact and watched over by Ygor (Bela Lugosi), a sinister, snaggletoothed peasant with a broken neck. Convinced to revive the creature and vindicate his father's name, Frankenstein toils away in the lab not realizing that Ygor plans to use the monster to revenge himself on the jury that sentenced him to hang. Boris Karloff makes his final appearance as the Monster, now little more than a mute, lumbering robot under the hypnotic control of Ygor. Rathbone is a dignified, suave scientist and a marvelous match to Lugosi's mad Ygor, a richly malevolent performance that dominates the film. Lionel Atwill makes a marvelous addition to the Frankenstein gallery as the wooden-armed constable, a legacy of the monster's rampage 25 years before. (Mel Brooks's loving lampoon Young Frankenstein, a veritable remake of this film, features the constable and his lumber limb in a major role.) Universal abandoned horror films in 1936, but the success of this sequel single-handedly revived the genre. Though lacking the gothic splendor and macabre humor of James Whale's originals, Rowland V. Lee's handsome production remains an intelligent, well-made classic of the genre and Universal's last great horror film. Lugosi returns as Ygor in The Ghost of Frankenstein. The Ghost of Frankenstein The monster lives! Again! Picking up where Son of Frankenstein left off, Bela Lugosi's gnarled Ygor survives yet another rampage by angry, torch-carrying villagers and frees the monster (The Wolf Man himself, Lon Chaney Jr., taking over from Boris Karloff) from his sulfur grave. The latest cinematic Frankenstein scion, brain surgeon Ludwig (Cedric Hardwicke), wants to dissect the creature, but the ghost of his father convinces him to save it by giving it a new, "good" brain. Ygor has his own devious plan and enlists Ludwig's shady assistant (Lionel Atwill) in a brain-switching scheme. Ably directed by the pedestrian Erle C. Kenton, The Ghost of Frankenstein gives up the gothic mood and moral quandaries of the original films for the busy, action-packed plots that defined Universal horror films of the 1940s. The human characters are all rather dull (except for Lugosi's animated, eye-rolling performance), and Chaney has none of Karloff's pathos or subtlety under the make-up, but the film opens with a spectacular bang as the villagers dynamite the castle, and skips from one inspired scene to another. The monster rejuvenates himself during an electrical storm with a jolt of lightning, mutely undergoes a courtroom cross-examination (by a ridiculously intent Ralph Bellamy), and finally goes on a blind rampage in the fiery climax. Frankenstein's monster returns (this time with Lugosi as the creature) in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. --Sean Axmaker

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