The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

Director: Erle C. Kenton

I’m going to kick off this month of horror by filling an embarrassing gap. You see, back in the early days of the blog, I did a survey of the three intertwined Universal horror series, Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolf Man. And somehow, in the course of reviewing all the films in question, I managed to miss this one. I watched it with all of them, of course, but… yeah. No review. This has irritated me ever since, needless to say, because silly shit like that bugs the hell out of me beyond all proportion. Finally, long after anyone but me has stopped caring, let’s fill in that lacuna…

So, Ghost begins with both the creature (now played by Lon Chaney Jr) and Ygor (still Bela Lugosi) remarkably alive after being killed at the end of the last film, fleeing the angry mob that starts the film rather than ending it for once (don’t worry: there’s another angry mob at the end). They arrive in another town that’s home to the other Frankenstein son, Ludwig, a specialist in “diseases of the mind” who finds himself. Ygor wants the good doctor to help his friend; receiving rather unlikely inspiration from the ghost of his old man, Ludwig hits upon the idea of replacing the creature’s original damaged brain with that of a fellow doctor killed by the creature. Ygor, however, has the even better idea of putting his own brain in there… Ghost is where the series really started heading downhill, and the handling of the whole thing is generally perfunctory in a way the films hadn’t been before; some of the photography is quite good (the film manages some impressive shadows), but it’s hard not to feel this is a film made by a studio that no longer cared about the horror films that had put it on the map a decade earlier. 1939’s Son of Frankenstein may have been conceived as a big film, but this clearly wasn’t. Acting honours actually go to Lugosi and Lionel Atwill as Ludwig’s offsider; I found Cedric Hardwicke a bit ho-hum as Ludwig, and Chaney is sadly negligible as the monster, bringing not much to the part but equally not given much to work with (Karloff got out at the right time). It’s watchable, and it’s certainly not as shabby as the films that came next, but the series’ downward slide started in earnest here…

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