Frankenstein ★★★★

Despite a successfully sustained overall vibe of genuine creepiness, this immortal classic is curiously not scary. I know because I watched it with my kids, the two younger of which are incredibly skittish about anything remotely frightening, and they hardly uttered a peep. Still, what it lacks in chills it more than makes up for in how expertly it sets the template for the way we think of horror. Everything here seems perfectly engineered to somehow both inform and reflect our collective subconscious, from Karloff’s uncannily iconic interpretation of the monster; to the over-the-top, faux British-esque/mid-Atlantic accents of the cast—all of whom play to the back row, and deliciously; to the unbelievably expressive production design. In fact it may be the set design that’s the biggest triumph here. The sound stage hills, cemeteries and bluffs are practically painterly; the immensely tall ceilings of the interior spaces invoke a realer-than-real gothic sense of space; and the ingenious, stage-like way the open rooms allow the camera to pan from room to hallway to room makes the structures feel alive and breathing, like horrible organisms themselves. A Hollywood triumph of German-style expressionism.

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