Halloween Endurance Test: Young Frankenstein (1974)

Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein might be the ultimate Frankenstein film. Taking all the bits and pieces of the Universal oeuvre and bringing them together in a family-friendly mix. Sort of like what Universal tried to do with the House of Frankenstein film, only with Brooks succeeding this time, instead of failing.

Just watch the opening “FronkenSTEEN” scene again. Universal once made an entire film, Son of Frankenstein, to delve into a man’s desire to escape his family’s history. It’s also a great way to quickly dispose of all the exposition needed to set up the plot.

Everything is here. House of Frankenstein’s cheap Dracula skeleton is replaced here with a cheaper looking Baron Beaufort Von Frankenstein corpse. The Count’s famous abode (clearly the Todd Browning version) recreated and reused as Frankenstein’s family home. The credits even claim that the good Doctor’s lab equipment was from the original. (Sadly providing the film with a connection to the decidedly less fun Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter.)

Young Frankenstein also makes a strong case for using comedians in all horror films. Gene Wilder’s over-the-fop acting gives Frankenstein the manic energy you’d expect from a mad scientist. Igor (Marty Feldman), and pronounced “Eye-gore” thank you) steals every scene he’s in.

Continuing in his grandfather’s line of work, henchman-ism, Igor brings a modern touch to his work. He’s well aware of his worth, and not afraid to deflate his employer’s delusions of grandeur. A great quality to add to a character who’s job is to aid a man with the (life-giving) power of God.

Wilder admits in DVD’s convenient documentary that it was Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein that served as his films main inspirations. Noting, however, that both Son of Frankenstein and even Ghost of Frankenstein added some spice. Which is just as well considering there’s probably only two or three interesting scenes between those two.

The documentary also notes that cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld played a large role in the film’s success. A factoid that’s obvious to anyone watching it. What’s not obvious, however, is how close Hirschfeld was to losing his job during production. The darks is darker on-screen, and the contrast is greater all because Hirschfeld was ordered to satirize even the original’s production.

All this morphing into a send-up that completely surpasses the original(s). Young Frankenstein is the horror genre’s version of This is Spinal Tap. Both reveling in the absurdity’s of each’s respective genre.


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