Son of Frankenstein Blu-ray Review

Sinister Son

Stuck in the shadow of two revered classics, Son of Frankenstein never earned its deserved reverence. That’s more tragic than the monster.

While Son of Frankenstein lacks the elegant subtext of James Whale’s Bride and unavoidably retreads series elements, it’s still a masterwork of tension and wordplay. Plus, set design. Placed in a misshapen, seemingly teetering castle with bent stairways, casting darkness onto concrete walls, it’s pure gothic horror with a touch of expressionism.

In the cast, an all-star selection of Universal’s icons, with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in the leads, paired with Lionel Atwill and Basil Rathbone as their co-stars. Even the front-loaded monster mashes like House of Frankenstein can’t match this roster of names. Lugosi especially, with a crooked broken neck from a failed hanging, gives a performance that, if not as iconic as his Dracula stint, than just as capable a character.Together, Rathbone and Atwill engage in a game of quiet disdain, evolving the story as much as their characters.

The Frankenstein family, for their ancestors misdeeds, must continue to torment themselves

Karloff steps into the monster’s role for the last time on screen (again mute despite speaking in Bride of Frankenstein) delivering another empathetic turn. Rathbone’s rejection of him and the town’s overriding fear force the creature to live in an underground cave, the broken Lugosi his only friend. More than an uninviting laboratory – and Son of Frankenstein has one of those too – it’s a cold image for a monster left depressed by isolation.

As the title character, Rathbone turns from a gentle family man into a killer as science overtakes his subconscious. Son of Frankenstein begins with a torrential rain. Lighting and thunder natural coincide. The town’s residents welcome Rathbone with a sheet of dark umbrellas, unwilling to raise their heads as he arrives aboard a train. It’s sightly, and soon more so as the cinematography moves indoors to the expansive estate. From this brooding set-up is another anti-science story, but one threaded into the script with caution.

Paired with the natural morbidity of a Frankenstein story, the aesthetic suggests a leering, pro-Christian stance. Those who tinker with God’s will must atone for their mistakes. While evident in Mary Shelley’s original novel, it’s in the forefront of Son of Frankenstein, winding the events up in a curse. The Frankenstein family, for their ancestors misdeeds, must continue to torment themselves with belief in cheating death. Son of Frankenstein even upsets the lore – it wasn’t lightning that birthed the monster, but God’s cosmic rays. Those same rays, it’s said by Rathbone, that made all of us. Son of Frankenstein is then potently tragic. That monster truly is one of us.

Video

Sadly one of the lesser offerings in Universal’s Monster Blu-rays, Son of Frankenstein is touched by a smoothing bug. While grain does remain part of the image, filtering is evident at the outset. Faces appear with an unnatural gloss, and what grain remains takes on a mushy look. Some banding is left behind through the grain reduction process. The loss of film-like qualities is a downer.

Everything else is fine, making the grain removal process sting more. While a stray hair jumps into the frame in the third act, scratches and other dings barely show. This print is in marvelous condition.

In terms of contrast, the deep recesses of the Frankenstein castle cast deep shadows. True black is common, and rarely does the disc exhibit crush. Walls lit by candle light shine, creating the depth needed to sell the memorable set design. Watch for the sea of black and gray umbrellas in the early scenes. The variety of shades pushes black and white photography to a definite limit.

Audio

Prolific composer Frank Skinner’s deep, throaty score carries through this DTS-HD track without trouble. Lows maintain surprising stability for the age. Mixed with thunder and other effects, clarity isn’t lost. That’s a lot to process in this late ‘30s mono offering.

Castle expanses add an airy quality to dialog, not unnatural, but ambient. Fidelity is still stellar and in terms of 80 year-old mono mixes, this is the peak.

Extras

Sadly nothing, as Son of Frankenstein pairs with Ghost of Frankenstein on the same disc.

Son of Frankenstein
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
5

Movie

A dazzling, well considered sequel, Son of Frankenstein is deserving of the same praise given to its two predecessors.

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