TBT – Young Frankenstein (1974)

Halloween is fast approaching and, if I were any kind of film blogger, then I’d be using this post to review a classic horror film. However, I am always held back by the fact that I’m something of a wimp. I’ve never been a big fan of the horror genre and have avoided many of them. It’s not the violence as much as it is the jump scares. It doesn’t take a lot to have me leaping out of my seats so I’m constantly on edge. This is bad enough in non-traditional horror films, like Alien or something, so how would I cope watching a film that was created with the sole intention to scare the shit out of me. It’s not something I’m very proud of but I am what I am. There are some notable exceptions, obviously, but I tend to just let the biggest horror sensations pass me by. Really, though, I have no real interest in being scared. I don’t want to pay to see how far a writer will go to try and terrify people willing to pay for the experience. I know certain people enjoy the rush of watching these films but I just don’t get it. Maybe it’s because it’s harder for me to go back to normal and turn off the fear response? Who knows. Whatever the reason, I just never have a desire to
watch horror films so, in order to celebrate this time of year, I’m doing the genre the only way I know how: by watching a parody of it.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of my favourite books. It helps that I was tasked with reading it for every year I was at university but it was something I was more than happy to do. Shelley’s story has been described as the birth of science-fiction because of her tale of a scientist raising the dead. However, it was the inspiration for plenty of classic horror films from as early as 1910. The character of the monster went on to frequent many films, which gave rise to the mistake that it is the monster and not the Doctor who is Frankenstein. But that’s not really important. Despite the sheer number of Frankenstein films that already existed, Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder decided that there was room for another. This time about a member of the family who does everything he can to get away from his family’s chequered past.

The Young Frankenstein of the title is Frederick Frankenstein, a professor who is so ashamed of his infamous grandfather, the Victor of Shelley’s novel, that he changes the pronunciation to ‘Fronkensteen’. Until the moment that he is presented with his grandfather’s will and he makes an unwelcome return to Transylvania. There he discovers Victor’s old notebooks that describe the process for reanimating a corpse. Very quickly, Fronkensteen is starting up the old family business and robbing corpses and brains in the name of science. All of this with the help of his trusty lab assistants, Igor, son of Victor’s own servant, and Inga, the busty babe who quickly catches his eye. There’s also the slight problem of the townsfolk who don’t trust Frederick and a monster that constantly escapes from the castle.

Young Frankenstein is a silly but incredibly shrewd parody of the classic horror films from the 1930s-50s. Brooks and Wilder created a script that played up on the traditions whilst cleverly working against them. It is Mel Brooks at his greatest. The whole thing looks and feels just like the films it is trying to copy. All of the techniques, visuals and sets are exactly the kind of thing you’d see in films like James Whale’s Frankenstein. It looks completely realistic, which not only makes it feel familiar but also makes it funnier. It’s a carefully crafted and intelligently made film. It works as a parody but also works as a story in itself. Young Frankenstein is a funny film. Yes, not everything works completely and there are definitely funnier Brooks films out there. That doesn’t mean the comedy isn’t there. Even the most obvious humour works here. There are moments that you shouldn’t want to find hilarious but just work. It may not have the sheer thrills of the normal fair you’d watch on Halloween but it’s definitely worth a watch.

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