The Ghost of Frankenstein
Review by Mike Finkelstein
After the events of Son of Frankenstein, the Monster was thought dead, boiled alive in a pit of sulfur. The Baron, Wolf Von Frankenstein, left with his family for greener pastures, leaving his castle to the people of the village. However, mysterious events continued to occur around the area, and the villagers blamed the castle and the curse of Frankenstein (fueled in no small part by the fact that Ygor apparently didn't die in the previous movie and still wanders the old castle, being just a generally creepy dude). Hoping to rid the land of the supposed curse, the villagers blow up the castle, leveling it.
Unfortunately, instead of ending the curse, the explosions only free the body of the monster. Despite being boiled alive and then trapped without air for months on end in the hardened sulfur, the Monster was still alive. With the help of his friend, Ygor, the two venture off in search of Dr. Frankenstein's younger son, Ludwig, in hopes that the man can aid the Monster and fix what madness ails him. But then, everywhere they go, death follows the monster. Can the doctor fix the monster, or is he just an evil creation through and through?
Clearly, if you've seen any of the Universal Frankenstein movies before this you already know that the monster will, one way or another, kill a bunch of people and then have to die by the end of the last reel. That's the formula for these movies, and this film doesn't deviate much from that pattern. There's a little play in the story, making the new Dr. Frankenstein a brain surgeon and allowing him to try and fix the monster not via lightning but with brain science. That's really about it, though, Like in the last film, the doctor resists helping the monster right up until the point where he suddenly doesn't, and then he's all in. Just like last time, Ygor is an evil bastard and he has no qualms about double-crossing everyone in the end. And, just like in every Universal Frankenstein movie up to this point, the Doctor won't be punished in anyway by the end of the movie (despite everything being their fault, really).
With the formula clearly set, the movie has to try and use whatever tools it has to shade the details and make it more interesting that the sum of its very similar parts. Unfortunately, this is probably the least interesting of the Universal Frankenstein movies so far. Ludwig, as played by Cedric Hardwicke, has none of the manic, wild-eyed blister of his father nor the playboy cool of his brother. Ludwig is, honestly, kind of a wet-blanket and is easily outmatched in charisma by Ygor.
Of course, Ygor is a stand out, so anyone pales in comparison to him. Bela Lugosi has such glee playing the character (here and in Son of) that it's no surprise he was brought back for a second round of the character. His scenes are great -- all the rest less so. Even the monster is barely a blip be comparison. Lon Chaney, Jr. can be great in roles, but here (as in Son of Dracula), he's just too reserved. He's not a big, growling beast full of rage; he's just kind of along for the ride, a passive participant is his movie.
What irritated me most, and I realize this is probably just my own issue and others might not care, is how mangled the continuity gets with this movie. So in the first two films, Henry Frankenstein is the doctor. He marries Elizabeth by the end of the second picture, but before that he's a bachelor with no kids. The third film, Son of Frankenstein, gives us Wolf who was raised in England and barely knew his father. But with this movie we also get Ludwig who was raised in Germany. He also, somehow, was alive when the monster was made, and the two (Monster and Ludwig) seemingly recognize each other in this movie (And that doesn't even harp on the fact that the series can get the original doctor's name right -- is it Henry or Heinrich?). I'd have just accepted the series as a full reboot at this point except they then, half-way in, replay footage of the monster's creation from the first movie including close-up shots of that Doctor.
I spent so long watching the movie trying to figure out how it could work that I was never able to actually get into the movie. Not that there's much to it to get into. It's only 70 minutes long but, with the lackluster performances, it will still feel much longer.
This film definitely marks a low point for the series. It's not a well-crafted Frankenstein film on it's own, nor does it have the spastic craziness of The Bride of Frankenstein to at least make it watchable. It's just a bland, mediocre affair. Skip it unless you just have to keep up with continuity (what little there is).