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FeaturedCritic2.gif (567 bytes) Ed Bishop

A man recently emailed my friend Doug asking, "why is it that people like horror films?" This immediately made me grab my handy unabridged dictionary (with both hands) and look it up (paraphrased entries below):

Hor"ror (?) [L. horror, fr. horrere to bristle, to shiver, to tremble with cold or dread, to be dreadful or terrible; cf. Skr. hsh to bristle.]. 1) A painful emotion of fear, dread, and abhorrence; a shuddering with terror and detestation; the feeling inspired by something frightful and shocking. 2) That which excites horror or dread, or is horrible; gloom; dreariness.

Well, now, I think we all like our films to evoke strong reactions, after all, movies can make us cheer, cringe, laugh, and cry (come on, admit it), sometimes all in the same movie, so why not make us scream in fright or make our hearts pound faster? There are people who like to be scared, but that alone doesn’t explain the smashing world-wide success of the original 1931 talking Frankenstein movie, or the enduring world-wide popularity and persistence spanning centuries of horror legends like Frankenstein (or The Golem before Shelly’s novel), Dracula and the Werewolf. So maybe there’s more to why people like horror stories.

Another answer is the answer to a variation on this question that was asked by Boris Karloff of director James Whale during the filming of Frankenstein, as we find out in the making-of documentary on this wonderful DVD from Universal. Karloff was disturbed by the tragedy of the monster, especially the scene in which he pitches a young girl into the water. To paraphrase and amplify Whale’s response from the documentary, Shakespeare’s best-remembered plays are his tragedies, and the surviving Greek plays that are still performed to packed theaters are their tragedies. People remember tragedies, they drive the lesson of the play home and leave the audience thinking. Likewise, the Frankenstein story is a timeless warning against humanity’s knowledge exceeding our wisdom, and the tragedy of the story is what makes sure the warning will be remembered. In a larger sense, great horror stories are a warning of some kind or other, and leave the audience feeling (whether it be relief, lingering fear or just exhaustion), and in the case of great horror, thinking as well!

The plot of the original Frankenstein movie should be familiar to those of you who haven’t been in a mineshaft for the past seven decades, but this is a restored version of the film that has scenes that haven’t see light in almost that long. Restored scenes/lines include the infamous flower throwing scene with the little girl, and Henry Frankenstein’s blasphemous answer to his mentor, Dr. Waldman’s reaction to Henry’s famous "HE’S ALIVE, ALIVE!" rant:

Dr. Waldman: Henry, in the name of God!

Dr. Frankenstein: Oh, in the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to BE God!

 For those of you who love horror, you can get your favorite horror movie Windows desktop themes at, including Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and all the other Universal Studios monsters.

The DVD guide page is an animated montage of images and sounds from the Frankenstein movie with a flat interactive menu. Bonus materials include a commentary track with film historian Rudy Behlmer, theatrical trailers, production notes, cast and crew bios, an original documentary on the making of the movie, and a short film entitled "boo." The audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, so I’d recommend turning off 6-channel mode and filter the sound instead, on my system "Theater" or "Simulated Surround" works well in these situations. The video is wonderfully smooth, Universal did a wonderful restoration on this film!

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