THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN
continues the story of
FRANKENSTEIN, and although it never reaches the dramatic and
artistic heights of the first three Universal Frankenstein films, GHOST
moves at such a breathless and giddy pace that it is impossible to
resist. Frankenstein films usually end with torch-carrying villagers
destroying the Frankenstein Castle. This film begins with that scene.
It’s almost as if a James Bond film had begun with Bond blowing up the
bad guy’s island. Where do you go from there? What makes this
film so entertaining is how it races through the exposition in the
first five minutes to get us to the good stuff right away. The first
three Frankenstein films were Houses of Horror – THE GHOST OF
FRANKENSTEIN is a Fun House.
The story reunites The Monster with the wacky broken-necked Ygor, who brings the ailing brute to Ludwig, yet another son of the original Dr. Frankenstein. (Apparently, the first Dr. Frankenstein enjoyed creating life the old-fashioned way too). This son, Ludwig, works with another doctor, the disgraced Dr. Bohmer (Lionel "Yep, It's Me Again, Folks" Atwill), a pioneer in the highly specialized field of accidentally killing patients. Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein seems fairly normal, but he shows his true mental cards when he has a conversation with his dead father. He also has a valve in his laboratory that sends out poisonous gas through air vents, complete with reverse vacuum action for quick and easy cleanup. (Just set it... and forget it!). Ludwig does not, however, have his lab equipped with a gigantic, easy for others to reach self-destruct lever like his father did. The Frankenstein boys get a little smarter with each passing year.
Typical of the disarming illogic of GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN is the brain transplant sequence. Dr. Frankenstein is going to prepare The Monster’s skull for a new brain, while Dr. Bohmer is in charge of removing the brain of a murdered colleague. After discussing with each other how important it is that the two operations must be precisely synchronized with each other, the two doctors begin their operations - in separate rooms!
Chaney makes for a respectable Monster, and brings a sense of childlike wonder to the role, but unlike the great Boris Karloff, Chaney never grunts or growls, remaining awkwardly silent until the film’s bizarre climax. Chaney’s face is a touch too common to bring much character to the role underneath the makeup, and his performance is not the masterwork Karloff’s was in the earlier films. But to be fair, the film never requires Chaney to do much more than knock people over and do the Frankenstein walk. Any personality The Monster does have in the film is due to Chaney's talent. Bela Lugosi revives his Ygor character from SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, but he does not completely revive his performance from that film. He is still good but chews the scenery once too often. Still, his over-the-top performance in a film brimming with excess energy is not necessarily a drawback.
THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN never pretends to be anything but a B-movie with an A-movie heritage. It sets out to entertain us with monsters, mad doctors and mayhem, and it does so splendidly, gloriously wallowing in its own silliness. Although it is a gratifying film for horror fans, it is also almost as much fun as watching the horror spoofs ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN or Mel Brooks’s . ½ - JB