A study of Film in 1931: Frankenstein!

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My second piece of retrospective analysis, looking into the year 1931, continuing from Cimmaron (1931) I take a look at iconic horror monster flick Frankenstein. 

Mankind will always strive to push limits and boundaries particularly when science is involved. As a race we constantly demand answers, progression, hungry for knowledge and advancement. Our fascination with death, and the mortal coil and ideas of immortality constantly plague fictional works. Frankenstein is a story of that gone too far. Frankenstein is one of the most iconic horror films ever made with the monster of Frankenstein being a significant figure in popular culture even now a full 82 years later. Directed by James Whale (Bride of Frankenstein, Man in the Iron Mask) a very influential figure in the field of classic horror. It’s based on the play by Peggy Webling, which in turn is heavily based on Mary Shelley’s 18th century novel of the same name. 

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Henry and Fritz robbing a freshly laid grave for components.

One thing most modern audiences will say is how the film isn’t remotely scary in a contemporary context. This is true, but the thing is Frankenstein still has such a depth to it. A lot of controversy was stirred in the scene in which Frankenstein’s monster throws a small girl into a pond not quite realizing the logic of it. He likened it to the flower petals that float on the water, his undeveloped brain not really sure of the consequences as the girl slowly drowns. Is the monster the villain? or the wicked scientist who wanted to play god? Frankenstein can be likened to a child in many ways, a child in a man’s body. The whole principle likens to Lennie from of Mice and Men in some ways. What’s bizarre is how there’s basically no punishment for defiling the natural order for Dr.Frankenstein, it’s all happy marriage after the beast has been felled. They only blame the monster, and not the fool that made him, though a lot of the blame could be upon Fritz for taking the deformed brain I suppose. That kind of mood supports the alternative reading even more. 

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It’s set design is truly classic, and really sets a gloomy atmosphere and morbid tone. For example the graveyard scene is very morose, and sets the whole motif of reanimation and death off perfectly. Something also highly impressive is it’s use of special effects, not only in the timeless makeup and creation of Frankenstein, but also the laboratory equipment. It’s said the set designer highly researched and recreated the effect made from genuine live Tesla coils for the lightning scene, which truly captures the mood of the storm both literally and figuratively as the beast becomes alive again.

It’s alive! It’s alive! In the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to be God! – Doctor Frankenstein.

In addition it’s performances and cast are also fairly good. Colin Clive is often epitomized as the mad scientist, coining the role that started the stock character who would often be replicated and parodied in subsequent years. Boris Karloff also received critical acclaim for his depiction of Frankenstein’s monster. 

'IT'S ALIIIIIIVE'

‘IT’S ALIIIIIIVE!’

In it’s cultural impact, Frankenstein has permeated the sphere of popular culture and still makes appearances in contemporary fiction on a consistent basis. There are countless remakes and modern retellings of the story of Frankenstein, a notable cameo is in horror homage film Van Helsing (2004). In addition Frankenstein is easily the highest grossing film of 1931, with an contextually impressive total of $12,000,000 from a measly budget of $200,000. Compared to ‘Best Picture’ of that year Cimmaron, it’s a shining success economically. Along with Dracula (Also 1931) Frankenstein helped popularize the horror genre and established a fairly niche’ genre for the years to come for the likes of Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Peter Cushing and Vincent price to lavish in. That’s all for this time, join me next time as we resume our study of 1931, with a look into Dracula (1931). Thanks for reading, and follow me @Sams_Reel_Views.

The Sixth Sense (1999) or ‘Mommy, I see bad plot sequencing’.

Effective use of colours.

Effective use of colours.

Right, Hello again, and welcome to another edition of Sam’s Reel Views. Today I was intending to watch Lincoln, but I’ll be honest, I just don’t have it in me to actually focus on a really dense historical film today. Thus I had a quick look down the list of classics I haven’t seen, that I probably should have, and the Sixth Sense (1999) seemed like something I should have seen by now. The Sixth Sense is a Supernatural thriller, from M. Night Shyamalan starring Bruce Willis. I’ll be honest, I know Bruce Willis was dead the whole film before watching it, because everybody knows that, it’s like some running joke to spoil the plot of the film. I guess it’s kind of a cult film in that way? Overall I wasn’t blown away by a film that gets brought up in conversation so much, I actually thought it was mediocre, especially as it’s often cited as the main work that really got M.Night Shyamalan noticed as a filmmaker.

Interesting use of reflection used to frame a shot.

Interesting use of reflection used to frame a shot.

The narrative starts with esteemed child psychologist Malcolm (Bruce Willis), celebrating an award he received from the mayor with his wife, as an unhappy patient breaks in, and shoots Malcolm with a pistol before shooting himself. The narrative cuts to a year later, in which we see Malcolm observing another patient, a boy named colt who needs help. Colt is a very distressed child who sees ghosts, and Malcolm is somewhat of a father figure to Colt, as Colt only lives with his mother who becomes more and more concerned with her child’s condition. The narrative climaxes rather abruptly when Colt tells Malcolm he can see ghosts, and Malcolm advises him to talk to them, he does, as he sets a ghost to rest by revealing the truth of her death to her family, before telling his mother about his ability, and she embraces him as he tells her things about his grandmother’s death. They embrace, as we cut to Malcolm who realizes he died a year ago, as he was shot, and finally says his peace before talking to his wife as he passes into the great beyond. 

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Right, so the narrative starts off at a real pace really capturing the audience’s attention, before it completely cuts into that by skipping a year. All sense of tension, and intrigue is gone and we basically restart again from that point. From then on it’s incredibly slow paced until the hour or so in mark as it’s more about Colt being bullied, and his mother’s stress levels than anything supernatural. The only real entertainment I got out of the Sixth Sense is the fact that his wife never actually talks to him after the cut which really plays into the twist, however the obvious drawback is the only character you have the protagonist talk to is a child, and that gets awfully dull, especially when that’s characters very strange and not very defined. And then, when the narrative does start to build cohesion towards the climax, both of it’s narrative strands end so abruptly, without it really giving it proper catharsis. Bruce Willis goes from realizing in horror that he’s actually dead, and will never see his wife again, and suddenly he’s completely okay with that, even though that’s kind of the reason he’s unhallowed in the first place? Also he never really did help colt that much did he? Not to mention, Colt’s story ends with just him embracing his mother, do we assume that’s the last ghost he ever sees? do they stop attacking him? there’s so many unanswered questions, and not in a good way, not in a suspension thought-provoking kind of way, in a wow this is a sloppy script kind of way. You know something wrong’s happened, with the most emotional response you get out of a film, was from the 5 minute scene of which he helped the girl’s ghost, as you see the father discovered what happened which was truly sad. In comparison, the ending just seem rather dull, and uncathartic. 

The haunting glare of a devastated father's face. Really shows how an Extreme close-up can force the audience to appreciate emotion.

The haunting glare of a devastated father’s face. Really shows how an Extreme close-up can force the audience to appreciate emotion.

Unfortunately i didn’t really see a lot of redeeming features in The Sixth Sense. The score, is fine, nothing original really. The performances were okay, Haley Joel Osment was fine, Bruce Willis was fine, if not a bit bland and emotionless (but then again, why cast Bruce Willis in the first place?) while Toni Collett at least was believable in her role. There’s not really any shots I massively want to talk about, pretty much follows generic conventions of it’s genre without offering really anything new. Cinematography was fine, as you’d expect. 

Ultimately, The Sixth Sense is really praised in pop-culture for it’s twist and how it tells the story, catching the viewer completely off-guard. The thing is, it’s a shallow premise, offering little replay value once you know, ultimately being quite a shallow film with not much emotion or thought behind it. I wanted to like the Sixth Sense, I just didn’t really engage with it on a mental or emotional level regardless of me trying. Oh well, not everything’s for everyone. Until tomorrow folks when I return with an in-depth look at Lincoln!, for now i’ll leave you with this clip. Please Like/Follow/Comment/Pray and make a religion in my name. Cheers!

IMDB Addendum:

Sixth Sense (1999) is a twist-based supernatural thriller from generally mixed director M.Night Shyamalan. The film toys with ideas of voyeurism as a little boy is haunted by visions of ghosts. A shamed and now distant psychologist tries to cure and guide the boy through his journey of discovery. The problem is, the film is entirely dull once you know about it’s twist and has little replay value in my opinion. In addition it’s twist is generally known, and is a running joke in popular culture. For me I felt the pacing was quite bland, and I didn’t really connect with the films storyline, and the major twist (as many Shyamalan films have) was spoiled for me years ago. I don’t feel Sixth Sense is a notable film, or that great in any sense though not by a lack of trying from Bruce Willis.

Judgment – Undeserved. 

The Devil (2010)

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Hello again, this time I’ll be taking a look at M.Night Shyamalan’s supernatural thriller Devil (2010). The film revolves around a very interesting, yet basic concept, what if 5 people were trapped inside an elevator and one of them was Satan himself?  We see the narrative unravel from within the trapped elevator as we as the audience try and deduce for ourselves who’s murdering the passengers one by on, in the elevator as it occurs. We also see a detective be called in as a woman in the elevator seems to be assaulted via the video camera. The point of view then alternates from inside the elevator, and back to the detective, in a vague who-dunnit kind of way, as he tries to calm the citizens inside the elevator, and desperately tries to get inside before all five of them wind up dead. The concept is very hooking, as I found myself needing to find out who was killing off the other passengers, and ultimately who Satan was as the concept is introduced half way through the narrative, by a fairly cliche’ guard watching on the monitor called Ramirez who said he saw the face of Satan on screen, and swore that this occurance is the work of Satan.

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Ramirez who narrates (Left), with Detective Bowden (Right)

The choice of characters is obviously interesting, as we’re mostly left to ourselves to deduce who’s the killer as the victims die one by one. Thus we have aggressive security guard temp Ben, we have seemingly spoiled daddy’s girl Sarah (Bojana Nokakovic), a nameless sleazy salesman, an old woman (Jenny O’ Hara), and a mechanic and former soldier in Afghanistan called Tony. As the story continues we learn that in some way or another all of these people have committed various crimes, and that this is Satan’s way of punishing them as not only they, both other people and staff inside the building also begin to die. Getting to the crux of it, Devil gives us a really interesting but basic concept, however the delivery is quite frankly sloppy. It’s sad to say considering I enjoyed most of the film, however it’s twists and complications some of which were completely out of the blue, and some were hideously broadcast to the audience. Considering one of the first pieces of dialogue we get is about protagonist detective Bowden’s wife and child dying due to an automobile accident five years ago, it’s just forced down our throats to acknowledge this as the dialogue keeps bring it up repetitively, just forecasting that it’s relevant. So in some respects I guess Devil tries too hard, but also not enough. As we’re forced to follow Detective Bowden he seems far to eager to just give away his rationality, to pretty much instantly listen to Ramirez’s ramblings about the devil. It seems like this kind of conversion of his suspicions should have taken much more work, it just seemed rushed if anything, that could relate to the film’s relatively short time-frame of 1:20:00 but if so, why is that the case?

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One of these people is….SATAN! *Gasp*

I guess whilst not spoiling the inner workings of the climax, I felt the story just ended abruptly as soon as Tony renounced his sin, and said he was sorry for the crime he commited as he confesses. Tony confesses to murdering a mother and her son 5 years ago, which brings the narrative full loop, as Bowden tells him it was his wife and child. He tells Tony he waited for that moment for 5 years thinking about what he’d say, or do but he can only forgive tony, as the narrative ends. While this is all good and well, it completely ignores the fact Satan just slaughtered 5 people without consequence, and equilibrium seemingly reestablishes without so much as an afterthought. Hmm, how ridiculous. Either way is devil a short concise film, with okay performances, a really good premise, and awful execution with relatively mediocre cliched’ dialogue.

Flaws aside there are some positives i’d like to praise it for, one being the use of scape shots at the beginning and end, which really mirror Heaven and Hell, Satan and God, Good and Evil as concepts in a rather nice way, whilst providing narrative bookends in the mode that we start the film as we end it in the same fashion.

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The shot we see at the end, signaling normality, and resolution.

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The shot we see at the beginning, clearly making reference to hell, and general mysticism.

The juxtaposition, and mirror-imaging of these shots is a very nice touch. In addition, the narration featured through out the film from Ramirez’s points of views, about his mothers stories of the devil, as he guides the viewer through the situation which really gives the very 2-d narrative a 3rd dimension. In conclusion, an interesting film with a nice premise, with relatively poor execution. Watch if interested. That’s all for this time folks, I’ll leave you with this clip, until next time!

As always please Like, Follow, and Comment. Many thanks.

– Sam.