Compared to some of his Universal Monsters stablemates, the Frankenstein’s Monster has had quite the smooth franchise. While Dracula’s follow ups concerned all sorts of things such as nihilistic daughters and unconvincing aliases and The Invisible Man was all over the place; the bolt-necked brute had stayed the course admirably with not one, not two, but three movies all holding a high level of quality. Of course a more cynical man would suggest that this might be because the Frankenstein movies are all actually not that dissimilar from one another with them all pretty much containing the same aspects and similar plots.
But then, that’s the point, isn’t it? When you build a monster as solid as the one that staggered through that door back in 1931 and straight into movie history, there’s not a whole lot you need to fix.
After the explosive climax of Son Of Frankenstein left it’s players in various states of disarray, events start to regain momentum when it’s revealed that twisted hunchback Ygor managed to survive getting shot with more bullets the 50 Cent and has spent his time skulking around Castle Frankenstein, pine after his lost monster friend. However, the townsfolk just can’t leave anything alone and storm the castle hoping to blow the place up in order to rid themselves of the accursed place once an for all (So refreshing that we start a Frankenstein movie with an angry mob), but the fearful knuckleheads only succeed in freeing the Monster from being entombed in the sulfur pit where we last left him. Ygor is overjoyed, but after seeing his flatheaded friend get a temporary power-up from a bolt of lightning, he hits upon a dastardly plan to supercharge his bestie beyond anything seen before and makes a trek to Visaria in order to find the original Frankenstein’s other son, Ludwig, and get him to hopefully succeed where his father and brother failed.
However, upon entering the town, the Monster is transfixed by an angelic little girl who can calm the creature on sight, but is arrested and thrown into chains to stand trial for casually killing a man by swating him off a roof and as a result, Ygor goes about getting what he wants in the way he always does – plotting and blackmail.
Eventually, the monster ends up in the care of Ludwig, but instead of giving him a power boost, the doctor plans to give him a software upgrade by swapping out the creature’s shitty brain and replacing it with the grey matter of his recently murdered assistant – these things happen… apparently).
However, Ygor sees this as a supreme opportunity to have his brain implanted in the Monster as so to be one with his bolt-necked buddy forever and convinces Ludwig’s tutor to make the switch. As the authorities start putting things together and start closing in, Frankenstein prepares to begin the operation – but whose brain is he using at what will the consequences be?
The Ghost Of Frankenstein is noticable for a couple of things, the first being that this is the last solo movie Universal made about Frankenstein’s Monster before they had him square off with the Wolf Man, Dracula and others in their series of team-up movies and so a feeling of completion hangs noticably in the air. Also, after three bows under heavy scars and a brow that could shield your eyes from the sun, Boris Karloff stepped away from his most iconic role with Lon Chaney Jr. – aka. Universal Monster’s jack of all trades – stepping into the clomping boots and heavy lids for Franken-duty. It could’ve been a disaster, but thanks to its fast pace and winding plot, Ghost, manages to be fitting finale for the Monster before he started sharing marquee space.
A massive reason it works is the return of Bela Lugosi’s Ygor, a deformed character magnificently twisted both inside and out who continues his endless stream of underhanded acts and sinister plotting as a way to be merged with his friend forever while scoring a new body that features super strength and to finally regain the ability to turn his head. Once again, Lugosi is predictably great in the role, smirking like a madman while effortlessly pulling the stings of men far more educated than he. Everyone else fills out the usual stock roles involved in a Frankenstein movie, but all eyes are on Chaney Jr. as he attempts to do the impossible and walk in Karloff’s stiff limbed footsteps while making his own mark on the legendary role. To his credit, he doesn’t do a bad job at all and even though the fur and angst of the Wolf Man suits him far better, he ably stomps, whomps and clomps through the film, continuing to give the Monster the physical heft he requires – however, the script is smart enough to offer him it’s fair share of tender moments too, reminding us that Karloff’s original performance was drowing in mournful pathos as well as throttling the crap out of unsuspecting villagers.
A few minor things throw the story out of whack a little, one being the movie resorts to randomly chucking it out there that there’s a second Frankenstein son (I guess Henry was obsessed with creating life after all, it just wasn’t always in a lab) just to keep things moving and the motive behind Ludwig agreeing to help is just a step too far as the filmmakers show that the movie’s title isnt a metaphor and actually has Frankenstein Sr. show up as a whispy spectre. Plus, the scenes where the impossibly sweet child is wheeled out to get a reaction from the Monster is unintentionally hilarious in how bizarrely irresponsible as use the rationale that “he didn’t hurt her before…”. Way to protect the innocent, morons.
With that being said, Ghost is still a full strength dose of Universal Monsters and its utterly insane ending brings things home in style as (Spoiler) Ygor succeeds in getting his wish and starts rampaging in the Monster’s as Bela Lugosi’s one-of-a-kind accent croaks from the lips of the creature (which makes no scientific sense whatsoever, but screw it, it’s Hollywood).
A slick, stylish pace, some intriguing plot twists and a replacement actor who can just about cut the mustard means that Frankenstein family is four for four and still able to ride the freaking lighting.