The article is a review of Dracula, also known as Bram Stoker's Dracula, a 1992 horror/romance film produced and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, by Roger Ebert. This film was based on the actual novel Dracula by Bram Stoker and stars Gary Oldman as Count Dracula. In his three-star review of the film Ebert talks about in depth both the plot and the quality of the film. Although it is mostly a positive review, Ebert reflects on the fact that Coppola “seems more concerned with spectacle and set-pieces than with storytelling.” He additionally states that at times the narrative is confusing and has many dead ends. Nevertheless, he says that he enjoyed the movie simply because the way it looked and felt. At the end of the article, he states that cinematographer Michael Ballhaus and Production designers Dante Ferreti and Thomas Sanders had "outdone themselves.'
The origin of this film is precisely how Universal's Dracula, and many of its other horror films, came to be. For many of the films during the “Universal Horror” years, their inspiration came from gothic novels, legends and stage plays. Mystery plays, where individuals travel to a house only to be spooked and scared by a supernatural (or not) being is another commonly adapted type of media. The concept presented in these films usually evolve from one telling to the next, refining and reshaping the narrative to suit the needs of the culture it resides in. Films like the Bram Stoker's Dracula are supremely important as they help to reinvigorate old ideas and stories. This director used modern cinematic techniques and effects to excite the audience about an old story they believed they knew well. Just like Universal did with Dracula in 1931, Coppola changes his story slightly to appeal to his contemporary audience. This is a commonplace occurrence within the horror genre and it serves as a method to keep it fresh as time goes on.
Directed by James Whale and starring Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster, Universals adaptation of the 1818 Mary Shelley novel Frankenstein was a crucial film in the studios line of horror pictures. Like Dracula, the film was released in 1931 and received critical acclaim from both critics and the public alike. The films narrative follows the now familiar plot of a mad scientist bent on creating a man from assorted dead parts and playing God. The twist occurs when the monster becomes uncontrollable and instead of creating man, Dr. Frankenstein creates a dreadful monster. By the end of the film, the local townspeople decide that the creation is an abomination and ultimately destroy it. The film was lauded because of its superb make-up, special effects and thrilling plot. It later spawned several sequels, prequels and side stories including Bride of Frankenstein and Frankenstein vs. the Wolfman.
The true testament to the iconic nature of the film can be seen in the visual representations of Frankenstein that pervade the world today. Almost every single representation of the character we see in western society is based on the green skinned, bolted and shambling version presented to us by Universal in the early 1930’s. We see versions of Boris Karloff’s face on cereal boxes, cartoons and, of course, in the masks of Halloween costumes. The longevity of these images that occur in our culture is a genuine indicator of the success of the Universal horror line of films; they have become integrated into our popular consciousness and now represent the traditional fiends and monsters that we draw on for inspiration. Like with Dracula, Universal’s Frankenstein has become the most recognizable version of the monsters narrative, even more so than the original work by Shelley. Because of these reasons, Universal was able to establish itself as the best studio producer of horror films of the 20th century.
Written by Michael Atkinson in 1998, this article was featured in the Village Voice film section. In its paragraphs it describes a number of classic horror films a person could bring his or her family to. Atkinson stated that during the hey-day of horror films during the 1930s and 1940s the films must have supplied thrills and fun for depression era movie goers. He contends that their age now makes them more appealing to young boys and lovers of camp. With titles like Frankenstein vs. the Wolfman, who can blame him? Because of this, Atkinson states, the films are now more humorous than scary. He does however say that Universal Horror had a large influence on popular culture. He states:
This small handful of films are responsible for more specific cultural touchstones than the era's westerns, musicals, and gangster films combined: Jack Pierce's flat-headed Frankenstein monster makeup and hotwired-Afro Bride design, Lugosi's accent, the hunchbacked lab assistant, the mad scientist, the throbbing electrical hardware of the lab itself, crowds of townspeople with torches, the details of werewolf myth (silver bullets, etc.), the vampire's old-world urbanity, and so on.
Atkinson’s article for the most part is very agreeable. It’s blatantly obvious that the Universal horror films of the 1930s and 40s have begun to show their age. He eludes to the fact that horror films have evolved since then; this is very true. Films now contain much more gore, special effects, nudity and action. The modern audience has been desensitized to the traditional scares of yesteryear. The horror genre has come a long way since 1931 as the society that creates these narratives alters its own tastes as time marches on. In the 60’s we had the underhanded thrills of Hitchcock, the 80’s brought the blood with the likes of Freddy Krueger, and with the new millennium our society has found itself with the over-the-top style of the Saw series. Yet what these newer films lack is the other point Atkinson contends with within his article. The classic films that he highlights, especially ones like Dracula and Frankenstein, have engrained themselves in our national consciousness and have become a part of our collective identity. While today they may seem cheesy, at their release these films were truly terrifying tales about monsters that go bump in the night.
Picart, Carolyn Joan S. "Visualizing the Monstrous in Frankenstein Films." JSTOR: Pacific Coast Philology Vol. 35, No. 1 (2000), pp. 17-34.
Picart writes that the production and evolution of a Frankenstein film itself is a Frankensteinian exercise, with the careful sewing together of pieces of scripts, copyright and budgetary considerations, commercial packaging, visual iterations of what the monstrous entails, directorial prerogatives, and actor interpretations. In the process she argues, the novel itself becomes radically reworked, particularly in the way the monster is visually presented to the audience. Unlike the novel, he can no longer deprives us of the sight of him and his monstrosity.
Picart argues that the myth of male self-birthing underlying Mary Shelley's Frankenstein has undergone many filmic transformations that "hyperbolize, exaggerate, or radicalize" the myth itself. She argues that the film adaptations constitute an evolving "dystopian shadow myth," which "lays bare many suppressed anxieties we have towards technology." She goes on to argue that the myth of male self-engendering can be traced back to Greek mythology, including the birth of Dionysus from the thigh of Zeus.
Later, Picart claims that Frankenstein's monster is the ultimate tool, and the replication of our bodies and our intelligence through scientific technology. Humans, she writes, approach the Frankensteinian myth and the "machine" in two ways. They either view the creature as a monstrous Other that they must harness, or as a part of themselves they must acknowledge, recognizing that the Other is part of the Self.
Picart engages in a lengthy discussion of female monstrosity and other gender-based issues. She states that within the Frankenstein film category, female monsters usually live short lives, functioning as servants such as Nina the hunchbacked nurse in House of Dracula. These female monsters, she argues, are infused with masculine spirits that are trapped in female bodies.
With regards to the 1931 film, Picart writes that Whale's film and other Universal products of the era contain many elements of German Expressionism in terms of atmosphere and symbolism. She writes that Whale's films employ the aesthetics of black and white film, using techniques of chiaroscuro and symbolic framing. She notes that the film relates the creature's suffering to that of Jesus Christ through a close-up shot of the monster being strung up on a pole, with its body presented in a painful pose resembling a crucifixion. Ultimately, Picart analyzes many other Frankenstein films over the years as a way of arguing about the problematic nature of Frankenstein narratives, and the presence of the "ruthless repression of the monstrous feminine and the feminine-as-monstrous." Although much of the article is about gender, there is a lot of useful information about Whale's cinematic strategies. Her argument that the production and evolution of a Frankenstein film is itself a Frankensteinian exercise is particularly interesting and relevant to the question at hand.
White, Dennis L. "The Poetics of Horror: More than Meets the Eye." JSTOR: Cinema Journal Vol. 10, No. 2 (Spring, 1971), pp. 1-18.
In this article, White is interested in analyzing the pieces that make up what most people consider to be a good film, regardless of genre. He writes that it is not simply the pieces themselves, but something within those pieces and the way those pieces are constructed that make a film good or bad. He writes that horror films are typically B-movies, making their analysis typically superficial and mostly limited to a summation of plot. There is little possibility for a horror film to be considered a work of art. Nonetheless, White links art and horror, tracing the link back to Greek tragedy. He talks about the word "horror" being found in Aristotle's Poetics.
With films in the Frankenstein franchise, White calls the films "nothing more than a stringing together of every horror cliché from dark castles to mad scientists to the return of the dead." He claims that any film having anything to do with the supernatural, cults, monsters, mad scientists, graveyards, etc. is classified as a work of horror, and is often easily abused due to carelessness and overconfidence from the filmmaker. White acknowledges that these films can be successful because they provoke the emotion of horror, but only if carefully executed.
For films like James Whale's Frankenstein, much of the film's power is generated by its confounding of analysis, much like in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu. Later, White writes that although many films since have attempted to duplicate these well-known films in terms of the appearance of characters and the style of sets, duplicating these elements alone does not suggest what gives films like Frankenstein or Caligari its power.
White argues that the two most popular subjects in all films tend to be love and death, which are often linked. The horror film tends to display violent death and bizarre love, and plays upon our fear of death. Audiences not only tolerate this, but also seek out and enjoy horror films. Fear of the unknown also plays a major role in the horror genre. In addition, in films like Whale's Frankenstein, the monsters are typically male. Not only are they male, but their threat is often sexual. The villagers fear a child molester more than they do a murderer. Lastly, White argues for a less obvious fear found in horror films - that of rejection and alienation. This is clearly present in Whale's Frankenstein, and even more so in Mary Shelley's novel.
A successful horror film, White argues, forces viewers to suspend their reliance on a conventional frame of reference of normal life. Instead, viewers are forced to function on the terms dictated by the film itself. The audience leaves real world facts outside the theater temporarily, accepting the film's propositions. In the end, horror is not an exotic emotion, but rather one that arises out of the common fears of everyday life. Overall, the article serves as a useful analysis of the components of horror films, and an interesting evaluation of the Frankenstein series. White's criticism is well argued and effective, and also thought provoking.
Sharrett, Christopher. "Haunted by 20th-Century Monsters - two motion pictures offer insights into 20th century." Findarticles.com: USA Today (Mar. 1999). http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1272/is_2646_127/ai_54098993?tag=content;col1. Nov 27, 2008.
Sharrett discusses the somewhat-fictionalized 1998 film Gods and Monsters, which depicts the last years of Frankenstein (1931) director James Whale. Sharrett writes that the film follows Whale's life in its last moments, where Whale, a homosexual, fantasizes about a young handyman who becomes his model and near-protégé. Sharrett claims that the film suggests that Whale is "haunted by memories of the monsters he created for Universal, or rather, by the internal demons these cinematic creatures came to represent for him."
Sharrett discusses Whale's life as a repressed gay man born into a highly class-conscious 19th century British society, where his vision of the world was shaped by the horrors of World War I, which he fought in himself. Gods and Monsters suggests that Whale's version of Frankenstein's monster represented his own "permanent estrangement" from not only Hollywood, but from humanity as well. Whale, in the film, claims he "gave the monster dignity," something not typically present in monster or other horror films.
Sharrett later discusses the way art may or may not function as a type of catharsis. He claims that Whale was unable to find reconciliation with himself or the world around him. In this way, the monster's relation to Whale and his homosexuality becomes apparent. Sharrett relates Whale's struggles to live happily in a repressive, intolerant society to the monster's own struggle, as evidenced in Mary Shelley's novel as well as in the 1931 Whale film. Sharrett argues that Gods and Monsters is not just about the difficulties of homosexuality, but can symbolize the experiences of any oppressed group or individual. He also openly wonders how much of an impact the wars, chaos, and anguish of the early 20th century had on the creation of monsters in film and the horror genre in general. In this respect, this article is very relevant to the main question. Not only do James Whale's own life experiences play a role in the development of Frankenstein as an early horror film, but Sharrett also discusses how the wars and chaos of the early 20th century may have affected the entire horror genre, and thus film history and even the industry itself.
Juengel, Scott J. "Face, Figure, Physiognomics: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the Moving Image." JSTOR: NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction Vol. 33, No. 3 (Summer, 2000), pp. 353-376.
Juengel talks about cinema's fetishization of the face, claiming that the face dominates the visual field, which seals off the viewer from extraneous distractions. This allows for "an intense manifestation of subjectivity." He talks about close-up shots, which transform the face into something gigantic and monstrous, leading to an almost overwhelming sensation.
In James Whale's Frankenstein as well as in the 1935 Whale film Bride of Frankenstein, Juengel writes that the viewer "struggles visually and viscerally with the renunciation of monstrous flesh." He says that Boris Karloff's countenance provides a site of disparity between face and mask, and between human and monster. Using close-up shots reveals the unnatural construction of the monster's face, with the stitches, seams, and folds plainly visible to the viewer. Gazing at Karloff allows the viewer to participate in an endless visual reconstruction of the monstrous body. He eventually calls the myth of Frankenstein a cautionary tale against this sort of unnatural recreation.
Later, Juengel calls Whale's monster a filmic icon that attests to the triumph of technology and reproducibility that is "emblematic of the nascent cinema's cultural efficacy and reflective of a tenuous cohesion at the level of the modern body's signification." For much of the rest of the essay, Juengel does not talk about Karloff's performance as the monster in the James Whale film, but instead analyzes Mary Shelley's original text, discovering what he calls "proto-cinematic techniques" as evidenced by the constant face-to-face "constructions of subjectivity." He claims that these moments of the novel are visual moments, which are marked by detailed descriptions of the monster's physiognomy. Thus, these moments function as cinematic close-ups, forcing viewers to confront and acknowledge the face of the monster.
This article is interesting in that it focuses on one of the interesting aspects that cinema provides to a viewer, which is the fetishization of the face. The make-up and costume work done in James Whale's film is very specific and intentional, making Mary Shelley's monster into a creature fairly different than described in her novel. It is interesting to see how Whale uses close-up shots and a very specific framing strategy in order to capture the novel's face-to-face encounters, and allow the audience to react in a way that Victor himself reacts in the novel. Many of these techniques and art design strategies would be heavily imitated in future science fiction and horror films, making Whale's film an important predecessor to the genres. Juengel's discussion of the cinematic moments in Shelley's text is also particularly interesting, arguing that Shelley's novel is essentially structured for a certain type of cinematic approach, which one can argue Whale effectively achieved in certain respects.
Nagl, Manfred. "The Science-Fiction Film in Historical Perspective." JSTOR: Science Fiction Studies Vol. 10, No. 3 (Nov., 1983), pp. 262-277.
Nagl calls the science fiction film the second oldest extraliterary medium, but also the most widespread and popular of all science fiction vehicles, particularly in Japan and the West. He calls the science fiction boom of the 1970's an outcome of new production and marketing strategies, and the boom of the 1950's he credits as an expression of political anxieties and technological developments. Overall, he writes that the science fiction film "should be recognized as the bearer of conservative and irrational ideologies."
Later, Nagl lists the characteristics of science fiction, which include strong stereotyping, few themes, basic models, and even blatant plagiarism. He claims that the genre is closer to comic books than to traditional literature. Film denies viewers the imagination of the fantastic, and instead condemns itself "to visualization and thus to banalization." He discusses the inevitable overlap of science fiction, horror, and fantasy genres, claiming that many titles fall under more than one category.
In terms of history, Nagl traces the science fiction film back to the work of Georges Melies. He discusses Germany's contribution to science fiction in the early 20th century, when Germany's Ufa was Hollywood's only major rival. In particular, Nagl talks about "Caligarism" and the expressionism of German cinema, which influenced the horror variant of the science fiction genre. Fritz Lang he credits as influencing the rise of technological-futuristic based films with works like Metropolis.
With regards to Frankenstein and the primary question, this article is useful in several ways. Nagl discusses the overlap of the science fiction and horror genres, with the James Whale film certainly fitting into both categories in many respects. In his discussion of science fiction literature, Nagl states that in terms of critical reception, science fiction film neither derives nor measures up to science fiction literature. Critics, he writes, label the science fiction film as a popular and therefore less well-developed form of science fiction. This can clearly be seen in Frankenstein, which certainly removes many of the important elements from Mary Shelley's novel in order to achieve its desired effects and audience responses. The film, unlike the novel, leaves little to imagination, forcing the viewer to confront the visual monstrosity of the creature, whereas the novel provides very few details of the monster's appearance. Nagl writes that science fiction films rarely offer new points of view, instead transferring the simplest definitions of science fiction and relying on stereotypes and simple themes.
Heffernan, James A.W.. "Looking at the Monster: Frankenstein and Film." JSTOR: Critical Inquiry Vol. 24, No. 1 (Autumn, 1997), pp. 133-158.
Heffernan argues that films such as 1931's Frankenstein and other film versions of Frankenstein receive so little attention from academic critics of the novel because of the "visuality of cinema." He writes that film versions of Frankenstein show viewers less of the monster's inner life that the novel does. In James Whale's 1931 film, the monster, unlike in the novel, is totally silenced, forcing it to make gestures and expressions in order to communicate. Thus, the monster's story is severely altered and shortened. Heffernan argues that filmmakers, Whale included, regularly rip out the heart of Mary Shelley's novel by making the monster speechless or reducing his narrative. Viewers are forced to confront the monster's physical repulsiveness, whereas in Mary Shelley's novel there are only sparse details of the monster's appearance. As readers, our "blindness to his appearance is precisely what enables us to see his invisible nobility." Heffernan even argues that any faithful recreation of the novel's central narrative would never even show the monster at all, and instead only the sound of his voice and the images of what he perceives. Yet, filmmakers constantly objectify the creature using Shelley's brief descriptions, or making their own interpretations based on previous recreations of the monster on stage, in paintings, or on screen.
Whale's 1931 film, for example, invented the monster's stitching among other changes. Jack Pierce's makeup for Boris Karloff in the Whale film reminds viewers that the creature was a "patchwork quilt of flesh cut from dead bodies," and a "paradoxically ugly composite of features." Another significant departure from Shelley's novel is the additional of the abnormal, criminal brain to the monster's makeup, a decision that seems to indicate that the inner nature of the creature will be wicked and monstrous, thus making its later actions appear to be a result of that inner nature. Heffernan does argue, however, that the monster is not unequivocally ugly, and does earn some sympathy from viewers.
Ultimately, Heffernan claims that film versions of Frankenstein "violate the tacit compact made between novel and reader" by showing readers exactly what the novel hides. While the monster in Whale's film has captivated millions, resulting in his image being reproduced and disseminated everywhere, there is a fundamental and vast difference between the "impact of his picture on a viewing audience and the repulsiveness of the figure it represents as seen by those around him." The article is interesting in its comparison of novels and films, analyzing what makes each effective or ineffective. His discussion of Frankenstein's translation to screen is particularly interesting because he argues that the sight of the monster itself, arguably what makes the James Whale film a product of the horror genre, is precisely the opposite of what the novel intends and what makes the novel so frightening.
Harrington, Curtis. "Ghoulies and Ghosties." JSTOR: The Quarterly of Film Radio and Television Vol. 7, No. 2 (Winter, 1952), pp. 191-202.
Harrington discusses the early creators and innovators of cinema, who discovered the ability of the camera to present supernatural phenomena and hallucinatory images. One of those early innovators, Georges Melies, created films with fairies, ghosts, and magicians. However, for the most part cinema has been primarily used as a means of constructing "earth-bound reality." Few fantasy films were attempted up until the time of Harrington's article (1952) due to their most likely financial failure. Ultimately, Harrington argues that the camera magic of Melies and others like him was simply too obvious to viewers, reminding them of the mechanical nature of cinema. He also writes about 1910's and 20's cinema. Most often it was the Germans, in films such as The Golem, Chronicles of the Grieshuus, and Siegfried, who would take on the ideas mysticism and of the supernatural. It was also the Germans who would produce the first film version of Bram Stoker's vampire story, Dracula. Also, in F.W. Murnau's Noseferatu, Murnau used sped-up action, double exposures, and other techniques to portray the supernatural, techniques that would later be imitated by hundreds of filmmakers working in the horror and science fiction genres.
Harrington argues that the arrival of sound would help develop and establish the fantastic horror genre in America. Sound, along with the stock market crash of 1929, would lead the horror film to become a staple Hollywood commodity. James Whale's 1931 film Frankenstein would be one of the defining films to help launch the fantastic horror genre. Harrington writes that Whale, a British stage director imported to America, brought to his films "a fine sense of Gothic terror in the English tradition," as well as "an irascible though perhaps less evident sense of humor." By 1939 however, the horror film had virtually disappeared, but would reappear during the World War II years. Harrington argues that the films made during the war years by Universal, the studio that had been considered to be the home of the horror film due to the success of films like Frankenstein, would be ridiculous, formulaic, and lifeless. After the war ended, the popularity of horror films declined drastically. Harrington writes that we have seen too much of the monster in Frankenstein in subsequent horror films, all serving as poor imitations to Boris Karloff's creation in the 1931 James Whale film. He writes of his disappointment that filmmakers haven't been able to think up something different in so many years.
This article is interesting and relevant to the question at hand for several reasons. Harrington's discussion of early cinema and special effects reveals some of the complications of the medium, but also its vast potential to portray the supernatural and mystic. With Whale's Frankenstein, Harrington discusses the arrival of sound and its importance in making Frankenstein a staple commodity of the horror genre. Interestingly, Harrington is very critical of the formulaic and lifeless nature of the horror genre in films that would follow Whale's film, which he blames for the genre's subsequent decline.
Carroll, Noel. "Nightmare and the Horror Film: The Symbolic Biology of Fantastic Beings." JSTOR: Film Quarterly Vol. 34, No. 3 (Spring, 1981), pp. 16-25.
Carroll's 1981 article credits horror and science fiction as the most popular film genres of the late 1970's and early 80's, with blockbusters such as The Exorcist and Jaws. He calls the genre's popularity as unstoppable as some of demons and monsters its films depict. He writes about the late seventies, early eighties cycle of science fiction and horror, claiming that the films contain feelings of paralysis, helplessness, and vulnerability. Horror and science fiction films express a sense of powerlessness and anxiety related to the times of "depression, recession, Cold War strife, galloping inflation, and national confusion." The purpose of his article, simply, is to analyze and examine the structures and themes of this cycle of the genres. He states that a good subtitle for this article would be, "How to make a monster."
While Carroll calls himself a connoisseur of science fiction literature, in terms of film he writes that science fiction has evolved as a sub-class of the horror film. In other words, science fiction films tend to be monster films "rather than explorations of grand themes like alternate societies or alternate technologies." His approach is a psychoanalytic one, using psychoanalysis as an interpretive tool. He argues that psychoanalysis is extremely relevant to the horror genre in terms of the genre's themes of repressed sexuality, necrophilia, etc. He ties the horror genre to nightmares and dreams, claiming that many horror stories originated as dreams or nightmares.
In terms of stories caused by nightmares or modeled on dreams, Carroll lists Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, as well as Bram Stoker's Dracula and Henry James's "The Jolly Corner." He writes that these stories are often attributed to fitful sleep, much like Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. With Frankenstein, Carroll calls the monster a "fusion figure," and a composite. He writes that Mary Shelley first dreamed of the creature at a time in her life fraught with tragedies connected with childbirth. Shelley's description of the creature's appearance even resembles that of a newborn in terms of the skin and head.
Later, Carroll discusses James Whale's Frankenstein, which he claims emphasizes the association of the monster with a child. Whale deliberately has the monster walk unsteadily and awkwardly. In terms of appearance, the monster's head is oversized and its eyes are sleepy. Unlike in the novel, the monster in the film is even more like a newborn due to its lack of speech and rudimentary cognitive skills. In many ways the monster is a child, made of waste and filth. Carroll suggests that the monster's rejection by society relates to Shelley's feelings of rejection by her father, William Godwin.
Carroll's article is extremely relevant to the question due to his analysis of the themes and structures of the horror genre, as well as the sources of inspiration behind stories like Frankenstein and others. His argument of science-fiction evolving as a sub-class of the horror genre is particularly interesting, and there is evidence to support his claim found throughout these articles on Frankenstein and both science-fiction and horror.
Spadoni, Robert. "The Uncanny Body of Early Sound Film." Project Muse: The Velvet Light Trap 51 (2003) 4-16.
Spadoni discusses how the first synchronized sound films were widely considered by critics to be a drastic leap forward in terms of cinematic realism. Synchronized sound allowed actors to appear more lifelike and three-dimensional, and ultimately more present. In addition to these benefits, Spadoni argues that sound films helped emphasize the various uncanny qualities of cinema, resulting in a ghost-like visual quality. He argues that this attribute influenced film production in the early years of the transition to sound. Spadoni references critic Alexander Bakshy, who believed the success of the talkies was due to the warmth and intimacy that the presence of human voice provided - something clearly absent during the silent era. However, Bakshy writes, the "personal magnetism of the actor has lost its force" in the talking pictures, mainly due to the viewer's awareness of the mechanical nature of cinema as well as film's reliance on stage techniques and sources.
Spadoni discusses Sigmund Freud's theories on the uncanny in order to argue for the uncanny body effect of early sound film. Specifically, Freud's discussion of inanimate objects that temporarily appear to be alive, and animate objects that temporarily to appear to not be alive. He also discusses the uncanny in terms of the "unheimlich," a term that describes anything that ought to have remained secret and hidden but has come to light. Spadoni argues that early sound film marked a return of the repressed, early film era. The mechanical nature of early cinema and viewer sensitivity to that nature returned, disturbing audiences again until they could adjust to the new technology.
Lastly, Spadoni argues that the coming of sound provoked effects that brought to mind various uncanny sensations that other electronic media have historically provoked, creating a perception of unearthly presences. For example, Spadoni writes that wireless radio enthusiasts would claim that they could pick up communications from the dead in a hissing sound. With sound films, some of these beliefs resurfaced. Spadoni quotes Frankenstein director James Whale, who also relates the hissing of a radio to the presence of ghosts or monsters. Universal Pictures would take advantage of this attitude, bringing an adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula to the screen in 1931. Later that year, Universal would make a horror film out of an adaptation of Frankenstein, which used cut-ins and extreme close-ups to frighten viewers. Spadoni asks whether films like Frankenstein were reactivating and codifying viewers' fast-receding emotional memory of the uncanny bodies of the transition cinema." He argues that the coming of sound influenced the development of the horror film as a major genre in American cinema, especially in early films such as Frankenstein. In this respect, this article is extremely useful in that it reveals the importance of sound for not only Whale's Frankenstein, but also for the future of horror and science fiction films and the film industry as a whole.
Samuelson, David N. "Frankenstein Unwound." JSTOR: Science Fiction Studies Vol. 26, No. 3 (Nov., 1999), pp. 487-492. U
In this review of two volumes of cultural criticism, Frankenstein's Footsteps and Screams of Reason, David Samuelson discusses the propagation of the Frankenstein myth over two centuries of popular culture, the topic of this cultural criticism. Although Samuelson focuses mostly on Mary Shelley's novel, he later mentions several Frankenstein films including the James Whale 1931 film. He begins by noting Shelley's foresight, and in particular her fear of Western scientists ignoring the consequences of their quest for knowledge. Her novel, he argues, serves as a cautionary tale that has become very widespread. In literature, film, and beyond, elements can be seen taken directly from her novel, especially allusions to Shelley's creatures, both scientist and monster. Samuelson talks about the modern day fear of genetic engineering and biological research, relating it back to Shelley's novel.
Samuelson notes how Victor Frankenstein, in Shelley's novel, is a forward-looking biological researcher. He dismisses magic and superstition. Thus, the novel is more of a creation myth "based on science as a substitute for God, a surprisingly realistic composite picture of contemporary science, and a refracted image of the dark side of science." He notes that the novel saw many reprintings during Shelley's lifetime, including several theatrical stagings. After Shelley's death, James Whale's 1931 adaptation helped turned the Frankenstein story into big business. Samuelson does say that although the film and other remakes did not particularly respect the artistic integrity of the novel, they did manage to maintain certain elements of science and the quest for creation. Even remakes like Mel Brooks's spoof Young Frankenstein maintained this theme as well.
Later, Samuelson discusses the idea of a "Biological Revolution" that began in the 1960's, when molecular testing became possible, and after the structure of DNA was unraveled. This would lead to genetic engineering, developments in organ transplants, and other innovations. He mentions Gordon Rattray Taylor's 1968 non-fiction book, The Biological Time-Bomb, which highlighted fears of the loss of control over one's body and the "dissolution of the traditional human image." Later, the birth of the first test-tube baby in 1978 led to more widespread acceptance of this new technology after the baby appeared to be normal. With regards to the Frankenstein myth, both of the novel and of the films, DNA experiments turned the debate from a moral argument to a technical argument, pushing the Frankenstein argument further away. He argues that more educated audiences are more accepting of modern technology, and that the Frankenstein fears have shifted into fields of artificial life and the cyborg.
This article is interesting and relevant to the question because of Samuelson's discussion of Mary Shelley's fear of the never-ending quest for knowledge and the dangers of science, themes that would become very emblematic of the horror and science fiction genres. These themes would be even more apparent in films like Whale's Frankenstein, as well many others others in the same genre that would follow for several decades.
Rickels, Laurence A. The Vampire Lectures. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.
In Chapter 11 of The Vampire Lectures, Rickels offers a psychoanalytic interpretation of Browning’s Dracula (1931). He analyzes Lugosi’s on-screen presence and association with the theater and details what Rickels asserts is the representation of psychoanalysis in the film by Van Helsing. For example, in reference to Van Helsing’s staying behind at the end while John and Mina ascend the staircase in the final scene, Rickels compares Van Helsing to “the underworld of psychoanalysis” which must be left behind for Mina to be cured.
Rickels focuses on the repressed desire of women for the exotic outsider. In the film this is represented by Mina’s relationship with the Lugosi’s Count Dracula of Transylvania, with his unique foreign accent, suave manner, and commanding gaze. Rickels asserts that the essence of the film is about whatever it takes for a woman to prefer “someone more normal, like John,” as Mina tells Lucy she does in the film. This aspect of the film appealed to the repressed desires of female audiences.
Cook, David A. A History of Narrative Film. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996.
In Chapter 8 of A History of Narrative Film, Cook analyzes the effects of the introduction of the sound film into the American studio system. He asserts that the emergence of sound drastically changed the makeup of Western cinema. Cook discusses the development and popularity of the musical film genre that came about during this time as a result of sound film technology. He also discusses the added potential for realism enabled by the sound film, such as in the urban gangster films with their tough vernacular speech and distinctive “rat-a-tat-tat” of the Thompson submachinegun.
Cook maintains that the existing genre of the horror film was the most greatly enhanced by the addition of sound. He alleges that sound not only enabled eerie effects to make the films’ horror elements more effective, but it also allowed horror films to retain the depth of literary dialogue present in so many of their original sources. He attributes the success of Dracula (1931) to the boons offered by the sound film.
Freeland, Cynthia A. The Naked and the Undead: Evil and the Appeal of Horror. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000.
In Chapter 4 of The Naked and the Undead: Evil and the Appeal of Horror, Freeland offers a feminist interpretation of Stoker’s novel, Dracula, and three of its film incarnations, including Browning’s Dracula (1931). She focuses on the sexual transformation of Dracula and the changing nature of his evil through his incarnations in these works.
This section of the book is ordered chronologically and charters the evolution of Dracula through Stoker’s original novel Dracula (1897), Browning’s Dracula (1931), Badham’s Dracula (1979), and Coppola’s Dracula (1992). In the novel, as in Nosferatu, Dracula is unremittingly evil, symbolized by his ugly, disgusting appearance, hairy palms and nostrils, and bad breath. He is an abomination of nature, a thing that causes revulsion and disgust. Freeland asserts that, for this Dracula, “the threat of gender transgression lurks amid scenes of erotic abnormality and rape.” She compares this Dracula to Browning’s, noting Dracula’s transformation into a “sex icon with continental flair.” Perhaps this sort of Dracula was more appealing to contemporary audiences. The nature of this Dracula’s evil was primarily that of a sexual threat and male predator, not that of the intrinsically foul. Freeland goes on to analyze more recent films, in which Dracula is increasingly portrayed in a sympathetic light and with a greater depth of character.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Ed. Maud Ellmann. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
The preface details the history of the Bram Stoker’s original novel Dracula (1897). It also discusses numerous critical interpretations of Dracula.
To truly understand the film Dracula (1931), it is necessary to understand Bram Stoker’s original novel Dracula. The preface to this edition details Stoker’s early life and his works up to the creation of the novel, which it refers to as “one of the most successful pot-boilers ever written.” For example, the preface discusses Stoker’s relationship to Henry Irving, who is often credited as being Stoker’s inspiration for Dracula, and how it mirrors the relationship between Harker and Dracula. Other influences in Dracula are discussed as well, such as the legend of Vlad the Impaler, the novel Carmilla, and folkloric vampires. Dracula is compared to contemporary literature such as War of the Worlds, which was published at almost the same time and also describes the invasion of a superior foe that feeds on human blood.
The preface also discusses numerous critical interpretations of Dracula. Dracula is read as an allegory of empire, of monopoly capital, of female emancipation, and of closeted homosexuality. He represents society’s anxieties about invasion, class conflict, and sexual perversion. Dracula is interpreted as a figure for venereal disease, menstruation, the feudal aristocracy, and the proletariat. The preface discusses Stoker’s ironic publication of The Censorship of Fiction (1908), which was a tirade against the evils of sexually suggestive novels. The author suggests that considering “some of the perversely erotic passages in Dracula, [The Censorship of Fiction] may seem hypocritical, but it suggests that Stoker himself was unaware of the innuendoes of his book, as indeed were his first reviewers, who said nothing of the sexual component of the novel. Like [Lucy], virgin in life and whore in death, Stoker was prude and pornographer at once.” Such was not the case for the makers of the film Dracula, which was advertised as “the story of the strangest passion the world has ever known,” and in which the use of Dracula’s vampirism as a cover for sexual desire is fully intended.
Holte, James Craig. Dracula in the Dark: The Dracula Film Adaptations. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997.
In Chapter 2 of Dracula in the Dark: The Dracula Film Adaptations, Holte discusses the early adaptations of Stoker’s Dracula, namely the film Nosferatu (1922), the Dracula stage play, and the film Dracula (1931), placing them in their historical contexts. Holte discusses Murnau’s Nosferatu and compares it to its source material. He details how Nosferatu greatly simplifies Stoker’s Dracula:
Major characters are deleted, other characters, most significantly that of the vampire, are made one-dimensional, and entire scenes, including Stoker's effective chase of the vampire by the fearless band of vampire hunters across Europe and the confrontation at Castle Dracula, are cut. In addition, the Van Helsing character, who is a major force in the novel and can be seen as Dracula's "good" double, is reduced to a brief appearance; he has been replaced by The Book of the Vampire. Similarly, the character of Lucy Westenra is gone, as are almost all references to technology, colonialism, and religion, which provided the rich backround in Stoker's novel. As a result, much of the complexity of Stoker's novel is lost.
Holte recognizes the stylistic elements of German Expressionism in Nosferatu that make it unique and notes that film criticism generally favors Nosferatu over Browning’s Dracula. Similarly, Holte compares Browning’s Dracula to the source material. While retaining more of the characters and plot elements of Stoker’s novel than Nosferatu, Browning’s Dracula also omits some characters, such as Quincy Morris and Arthur Holmwood. The adaptation also relies heavily on the stage play, especially in the latter half.
While Nosferatu and Dracula are both adaptations of Stoker’s Dracula, they offer diametrically opposing readings of the novel, both from the viewpoints of style and of substance. Holte notes the disparity between the German Expressionist style of the traditional Hollywood style of Browning’s Dracula. While he compares both films individually to their source material, he also compares them to one another. For example, Nosferatu entirely omits the sequence where Dracula’s vampirellas bear down on his visitor, whereas it includes a horrifying ship scene absent in Browning’s Dracula. Additionally, the films’ portrayals of Dracula differ greatly; Nosferatu’s is a hideously ugly plague-bearer while Browning’s is a suave figure in evening clothes. Holte notes that “Browning’s Dracula succeeds because of its emphasis on individual conflict and sexual attraction, two essential elements played down by Murnau in his adaptation of Dracula.”
Phillips, Kendall R. Projected Fears: Horror Films and American Culture. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2005.
In Chapter 1 of Projected Fears: Horror films and American Culture, Phillips discusses the cultural impact of Browning’s Dracula (1931).
Phillips briefly discusses the history of the creation of Browning’s Dracula. He moves on to note the numerous technical gaffes and otherwise glaring flaws in the film. For example, contemporary reviewers criticized the film’s fairly static second and third acts, the unintentionally jumpy, disconnected narrative, and the awkward mix of visuals and exposition. However, despite a poor forecast from Universal and generally unfavorable contemporary reviews, Browning’s Dracula was a huge commercial success.
For Phillips, this makes Dracula even more interesting. He inquires, “given the various problems of Dracula – poor effects, staginess, narrative inconsistencies, and so on – the film’s enormous popularity is a bit of a puzzle. Why would audiences flock to the film?”
Phillip argues that Dracula resonated with contemporary audiences’ racial anxieties towards European immigrants and with their fears of the balkanization of America. He reasons that the fantasy of Dracula also offered an escape from the harsh economic reality of the Great Depression. Dracula resonated with cultural anxieties about progressive, scientific approaches to life and the struggle between science and religion. Similarly, the film addressed audiences’ confusion over gender and sexual norms in an age directly following the 1920s’ moral experimentation and “flappers.”
Phillips also attributes part of the success of Dracula to its violation of the expectations that audiences brought to the film. Unlike previous horror films, which tended to explain away their macabre elements at the end, such as in The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and London after Midnight (1927), Dracula offers no convenient explanation for its supernatural elements.