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DVD Review: Frankenstein – 75th Anniversary Edition

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What is an acceptable time frame for a movie to be re-released on DVD? Apparently a year and a half, according to Universal. Frankenstein is definitely a film worth buying twice, but there's a problem on the consumer level when this becomes a separate release.

There's very little left to discuss about Universal's classic horror film. It's more than iconic; it's the version of Frankenstein the public is aware of. Boris Karloff, in a stunning piece of makeup, has been used countless times to represent the monster. His performance sets the tone for every interpretation to follow.

Direction by James Whale is ahead of its time. The lack of music creates a deeper sense of dread and horror, while close ups of the monster are executed flawlessly. The only Universal classic horror film that even comes close is the sequel, Bride of Frankenstein.

Filmed in 1931, it's amazing how effective the film is. In an era of explosions, big budget effects, and even deadlier monsters, Frankenstein still has the necessary impact that made it a success. That's the mark of a classic.

Remastered for another DVD release, the print is slowly becoming perfect. Heavy dirt is evident throughout, though there has been progress made to limit it and nearly all signs of damage have disappeared. Detail comes through clearer than ever and the sets shine in digital form. The dull, pale face of Karloff can truly be appreciated.

Audio remains roughly the same. There's still nagging hissing and popping for the entire running time. The mono audio still provides what it needs to, and that's understandable dialogue. Anything else is a bonus given the age.

Extra features are where this edition begins to fall apart. The previous DVD, The Legacy "Collection," featured all five movies from the Frankenstein series on two discs. That set now costs less than this disc, simply called a part of the Legacy "Series." Extras are repeated from the Collection here, too, though a few pieces are worth watching.

Two commentary tracks go along with the film; Rudy Behlmer and Christopher Frayling are both monotone. Information is shared between them extensively, repeating focal points, actors, and facts about the shoot. Frayling is especially awful in his delivery, seemingly reading a script instead of following the film. Monster Tracks is a third way to learn about the shoot via text pop-ups. Again, this tends to be redundant information with the commentaries.

Karloff: The Gentle Monster is a short look back on the actor's career. It stays focused on acting. There is hardly anything said about his life offstage.

Disc two begins with the superb Frankenstein Files, running 90-minutes. Covering each film, this commendable documentary is produced beautifully. Fans of the DVD format have probably seen this, however, since it popped up on the Legacy Collection.

The Frankenstein Files turned up on the previous DVD set as well. It's a 45-minute piece hosted by David J. Skal, with interviews from familiar faces in Hollywood. Universal Horror was produced in 1998 for TV viewing. A little over 90-minutes, this covers the studio's horror lineup from the beginning and into the early 40s.

Two final pieces round off this set. Boo! is a short comedy produced in the silent era featuring many of the Universal monster roster before they became iconic figures. Finally, The Frankenstein Files is a collection of posters and lobby cards from the film.

Presented in an undeniably gorgeous thick cardboard cover, this Legacy Series release is a looker. Sadly, the product contained inside isn't worth the asking price. Unless the weak commentaries are worth it to you personally, it makes far more sense to buy the package with five films and a few less items to find in the extras department.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.
  • http://midnightcafe.wordpress.com Mat Brewster

    Looks like I’ll skip this. I have the legacy collection and adore it. Sure some of the later films aren’t that spectacular, but its great to have them, and the asking price was super cheap.

    Why pay more, for what appears to be less?

  • Iloz Zoc

    Ditto on what Mat said. What would have been super would have been a theatrical release of Frankenstein and Dracula on a double bill.

    For the 75th anniversary of these iconic films, you would think more attention should have been paid instead of yet another DVD release with little to offer.

  • http://laudableeffortbutstill.blogspot.com/ Luciano

    Poor Universal Monsters – they are so poorly treated that one is tempted to see them as the paupers, with the princes being their funny versions in the Munsters and Addams Family! :!

    I guess Universal thought a 75th anniversary is really no big deal at all… And that makes me wonder if they will not simply omit to celebrate the Wolfman, the Mummy, the Phantom of the Opera and my favorite, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, once THEIR turn comes…! :(

  • Alex Krajci

    1931’s Frankenstein Is One Of My Favorite Films.