transmissions both intergalactic and historical

July 29th, 2008 · 2 Comments · By

Charlottesville ex-patriot (and formerly ubiquitous drumming madman) Matthew Clark was back in town this weekend, and he let me know that the Galactic Core — an amazing noise-rock supergroup which includes his fellow ex-pats Brian Thackeray (Dark Yoga, ex-Reptilian Shapeshifters) and Max Katz (ex-Red Wizard) — have a bunch of new photos and tall tales on their blog, documenting their recent tour up the West Coast to Alaska, “following the migratory path of Bigfoot.” If you haven’t heard it yet, also check out their awesome CD on YarnLazer. I’m sure it’s not the last we’ll be hearing from those folks, whether in Galactic-form or otherwise.

Also, tonight is Tea House movie night again; we’re showing Son of Frankenstein at 9pm on the back patio, for free. Click below for me blathering at length about what a great movie it is.

1939’s Son of Frankenstein is the often-overlooked third film in the Universal-era Frankenstein series; the follow-up to James Whale’s stunning original and the bizaarely goofy Bride of Frankenstein. The all-star cast includes Basil Rathbone, Béla Lugosi, and Boris Karloff. It’s Karloff’s final performance as the monster, and Lugosi makes his first of a series of unexpectedly strange perforances as “Ygor” (oddly, NOT a hunchback).

The plot centers around Rathbone as the title character, who moves to the village of Frankenstein along with his wife and son to collect his father’s inheritance. Lugosi’s demented outcast discovers that the Monster is still alive following the events of the first two films, because he was struck by … (wait for it)… Magical Space Lightning! Lugosi blackmails Rathbone into reviving the monster, and the film turns into an absurd comedy of manners as the townspeople become suspicious and he tries to hide his experiments from his wife and son.

It’s here that the Frankenstein series continues its very slow descent into preposterous self-parody, while still maintaining absurdly high inventiveness quality control. What’s most notable is that it’s hard to really pinpoint the point at which the series “jumped the shark” — Bride contained a lot of tongue-in-cheek winks at the audience, and Son of is similarly self-aware, yet the level of pathos and the intense creepiness remain as high as ever.

So; taken as a classic horror film drama, Son of Frankenstein more than delivers; it’s got the finest cast in the series, stunningly delicious impressionistic set design, nicely ordered thematic elements, and more than a few moments of genuine creepiness. What’s amazing is that it ALSO functions extraordinarily well as an over-the-top parody of the type of film whose reputation it helped to solidify; it’s one of those comedies like Our Man Flint where there aren’t even so many jokes, so much as just a general sense of not taking oneself all that seriously. It works out VERY well. It’s very possible to interpret this film as exquisite camp, 25 years pre-Sontag.

Basil Rathbone, in particular, provides an impeccably hilarious deadpan performance here. He was always unimpeachably great actor, able to switch between serious drama and preposterous self-parody with only the sublest shifts in style (compare his nearly-identical appearances opposite Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood and Danny Kaye in The Court Jester). Rathbone is easily the best part of the film, and in my mind this is possibly the definitive role of his career as a comedic actor; there so much deliriously funny comedy hidden in his performance, as soon as you start looking for it.

Oh yeah, if you’ve ever seen Mel Brooks Young of Frankenstein, all the good jokes in that were basically stolen verbatim from this film (minus the musical numbers). I find it more than a little frustrating that this film has recieved so little praise in comparison; it’s like how people loved Austin Powers because they had never seen the Derek Flint films or the 1967 Casino Royale; it’s the exact same jokes all over again, except dumber.

Anyhow, come see Son of Frankenstein tonight. It was suggested we show Bride of Frankenstein instead, because of “that wacky haircut.” It’s a fine film, and worthwhile — but I felt that might actually be something a let-down, since said haircut does not actually make an appearance until the final minutes of the film, and everything preceeding it is so un-even, misleading and bizaare. Son might not be as well-known, but trust me: it’s better.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 James // Jul 29, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    Somehow I forgot to even mention that this film contains the most unintentionally funny performance ever by a child-actor. You’ll just have to see it yourself.

    Also of note: the 4th film “Ghost of Frankenstein,” is not really all that great, and is misleadingly titled as well. Considering the entire plot revolves around all the major characters switching brains around, wouldn’t “The Brain of Frankenstein” have been a much more fitting (and awesome) title? it almost seems like they threw in one scene with a ghost at the last minute b/c they forgot what title they were working under.

  • 2 John // Jul 31, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    Awesome to see images of Galactic Core’s journey!