Thursday, 23 October 2014

31 Days of Horror: Frankenstein (1910)

Frankenstein (1910)
Director: J. Searle Dawley
Starring: Mary Fuller, Charles Ogle, and Augustus Phillips
Running Time: 14 min

  This was the first film adaptation of one of horror's most prominent monsters, Frankenstein.  It is an incredibly short take on Mary Shelley's classic but back then, this was probably considered to be a long film and not for the faint of heart.

  Frankenstein leaves his fiance and family to go to college.  Then, after 2 years, he has discovered the secret of life. Beer!  Wait, not beer, but with some help from his helpful skeleton buddy, Frankenstein with malice in his heart literally stirs together the magic potion of life and pours it into a cauldron.  Like any good baker, he watches his creature rise in his scientific oven and hopes it doesn't crap out like his past souffles of fear.  After he hears the ding of the timer, kidding, his monster is created.  Unfortunately, since Frankenstein had malice in his heart, the creature is evil.  I wonder if there is a non evil glutton free recipe for monsters?  Anyway, the monster ends up roaming around terrifying Frankenstein until Frankenstein decides to moves back home.   
  Although he created a monster out of nothing, Frankenstein returns home a beaten man but with the help of his fiance and family, he is on the road to recovery and becomes a happier man.  He also gets married and shortly after that the monster returns, probably wondering why he didn't get an invitation to the wedding, they were so close in college.  Anyway, is there anything that Frankenstein can to stop this hideous monster that he created or will his "experimentation" in college lead to his downfall in this button down world of 1910?

  I can't believe this film is over a hundred years old and it is still enjoyable to watch.  J. Searle Dawley (Bluebeard, Snow White) was an accomplished writer/director when he made this and had adapted a number of other novels & stories for the Edison Studio, so he knew how to condense a story into a good short film.
  There are some terrific special effects in this, well, at least one.  The stop-motion piece of the monster souffle is done surprisingly well and very creepy to watch even now.  The make up for the monster is good, it's not the Jack Pierce/Karloff face that we associate with the monster today but it does have a desperate and twisted look to it.

  Again, this is an old movie and the technology just wasn't there yet for these filmmakers, so of course there are a few things people could moan about after watching this.  Like the beginning shots of the picture don't seem to be in very good shape but once you get past the first minute or so the grain and dust go away and the picture is pretty stable.  I've looked at number of versions of the film and each restoration seems to have the same issue at the front, which is a shame but it doesn't affect the picture as a whole.
  Also, there are some weird edits, but they didn't have Adobe Premiere or a Final Cut back then.  These people were pioneering the film landscape and everything was new to them, so effects, transitions and cuts aren't going to be as smooth.
  As well as the ending of the story is a little confusing because **SPOILER** the monster just disappears when it comes face to face with Frankenstein at the end.  So, was the monster real or was the monster really Frankenstein? ** ENSPOILER**  Which is an interesting concept but difficult to project in a 14 minute piece and not having the luxury of sound/dialogue for 20 years.

  This is a fun horror film, it's only fourteen minutes and it's public domain, so it's available on the Youtube for your consumption.  It is a different take on a classic story and has a terrific stop-motion scene that will send shivers up and down yer spine.  So, stop watching that cat playing the piano video for a moment and check out a piece of horror history.


  1. Surprisingly enough, some of the longest films ever made (not counting BS experimental flicks) were from this time period, such as the four-and-a-half hour long Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler, or the 5+ hour serial Fantomas, Les Vampires, Cabiria, and many others. The silent audiences must've liked their films LOOOONG! I don't know about 1910 though. It's entirely possible that ten minutes was the norm then.

    1. Cool! I didn't know that Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler was so long, I've been meaning to check that out. I'll have to check out the others as well. I guess the people back then really wanted to get their nickels worth. :)