Two bullets in his heart. But he still lives.– Wolf Von Frankenstein
Son of Frankenstein, released in 1939, is a step in a darker direction for the Monster. In Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, Boris Karloff’s nuanced performance built the beast up as a sympathetic character, a child of misfortune, driven into the wilderness and savagery by a hateful world.
But the Monster of Son… is a different beast entirely. Karloff’s savage performance is jarring, akin to watching a beloved pet suddenly turn vicious.
Perhaps that was the point. The Monster has learned, you see.
Once poor, misguided Wolf Frankenstein returns him to full strength, healing his ravaged flesh and rendering him capable once more of movement, the Monster goes into action.
For the first time, Karloff’s creature is not simply reacting. He’s acting out, ostensibly following the directives of the loathsome Ygor, but it’s obvious that he’s deriving an immense satisfaction from wringing the necks of his victims.
The Monster has learned that the only good human is a dead human. He knows now that none of them are to be trusted, especially a Frankenstein, and he acts accordingly, killing them as one would vermin. The individuals don’t matter. They are simply wet, red playthings for a creature that has, at last, transcended its former handicaps.
Here is the Monster in full flower. A fallen angel. Something that could have been beautiful, kind, wonderful, is instead at last become ugly, hateful and terrible in its rage. It shakes the foundations of Heaven, Grendel ravaging Heorot, not out of hunger, but out of hate.
For the first time, the Monster does not kill because it is driven to do so, but because it desires the death of all that is not itself.
Even the psychopathic Ygor displays some trepidation at its savagery, soothing it with his music from a safe distance. Lugosi makes it very clear in his performance that he does not control the Monster, but is, instead, merely influencing it. For him, the Monster is a tool that could very easily turn on its wielder. And it soon does, choosing its own path when Ygor meets his (temporary) fate.
The Monster at last comes for Frankenstein, stealing his child, in order to punish via proxy, an act which displays the true depth of the rot that has overtaken the creature’s once innocent soul. But like Milton’s Lucifer, Karloff’s Monster is sent spinning to Hell by his creator – or his creator’s son, rather; shades of Lucifer’s defeat by the Archangel Michael. His rage is at last abated by defeat.
By the next film, the Monster, bereft of Karloff’s animating spirit, is burnt-out husk. Bled white, its fiendish intellect replaced by dull clumsiness, and eventually, blindness.
It’s to Lugosi’s credit that with Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, he gives us a glimpse of that old infernal drive at the climax, but it’s not the same. Lugosi’s Monster is not Karloff’s. The brain, the soul is different.
Instead of a terrible angel of science, it is just another beast of low lusts, fodder for the arena.
A sad fate for any monster.
We’re all dead here.– Ygor