Horror genre, sympathy for Frankenstein’s creation and suspense Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly wrote ‘Frankenstein’ in 1818. She was only 19 at the time. She had a unique upbringing as her mother was a radical feminist and her father was a politician. She then went on to marry Percy Bysshe Shelly who was a poet and helped her to write some of her book. Shelly’s book was thought to be the first horror/science fiction novel. There have been a number of productions of Shelly’s novel on stage and in 1931 there was a black and white movie about it, directed by James Whale.
Then in 1997, Kenneth Branagh did his own production of the well-known novel. Scenes showing typical horror genre, sympathy for Frankenstein’s creature and scenes that create suspense are commonly found in the two movies of Frankenstein. The directors have used different media techniques to portray the movie in the way they want it to be viewed and interpreted by their choice of music, camera angles, special effects, editing, costumes, make-up, location and settings.
The use of mise-en-scene is also important because if the things in the background don’t match what’s being acted the movie becomes unbelievable. Allowances like sound, colour and a few other things have to be made for the older versions of ‘Frankenstein’ because the technology in the days it was made were very limited. By studying the birth scenes in both versions, the techniques used to create horror, drama and suspense and sympathy for the creature can be analysed. There are some similarities in both movies and some differences.
First of all I’ll explain the similarities and then the differences. In the Whale and Branagh versions both use low-key lighting to create a dark and spooky feeling. This is typical of horror movies and it can also create suspense because the audience can’t tell what is around the corners. This creates suspicion, worry and uncertainty. It is also used because it connects with people’s fear of the dark. It is common to find bad weather in horror movies and this is evident in both of the ‘Frankenstein’ movies.
It is used just before and at the same time of the births. Whale and Branagh have used this technique because it gives a cold feeling and it gives credibility to what is happening in the foreground because the lighting, electricity is needed to make Frankenstein’s monster come alive. The locations of the births are quite typical too. In the Whale version it’s in a castle on top of a hill. Like ‘House on haunted hill’ and it looks creepy and somewhere you would want to be. In the Branagh version it’s more like hell with cauldrons, heat and sweat.
It reminds me of a witch brewing an evil poison. Both places for the birth are effective in creating a ‘horror’ atmosphere but the second choice is less obvious. Non-diegetic, parallel fast background music can be heard in the birth scene in Branagh’s version and this creates suspense because it gets peoples adrenalin going. But it is typically found in horror movies for this reason in particular. In the Whale version there is no music but this could be because of how old the movie is and it was hard to sequence the music with the scenes.
In the Branagh version of ‘Frankenstein’ one of the best ways sympathy is created for the creature is by the way he is presented to the audience. He looks almost human but has scars all over his face and body. It looks like someone who has been hurt badly and we feel sorry for him. On the other hand in the Whale version though it’s harder to feel sorry for Frankenstein’s monster because he looks less human and it’s harder to connect to him emotionally. In the Whale version ‘Frankenstein’ is wearing a lab coat and his hair is gelled back.
He looks more professional and like a proper doctor. This makes us feel sorry for Frankenstein’s creation because it shows that Frankenstein just sees him as an experiment and not as a human being with feelings. Whereas in the Branagh version he looks more wild and rough looking. This gives us the feeling he does care about the outcome of the monster because he has been so busy trying to make the monster alive that he has forgotten about himself and when he thinks the monster is dead he goes “No, No, No”, implying that he is saddened that it didn’t work.
In Branagh’s version of ‘Frankenstein’ you feel sympathetic with the monster when he is born, as he is naked, clumsy, and unable to walk. Amniotic fluid is everywhere and we watch Frankenstein’s monster slide and slip about. He appears vulnerable, like a baby. He can’t control what he’s doing and Frankenstein has to help him. This makes us pity him. This contradicts with the Whale version as we don’t get to see the monster moving about, trying to touch or walk in the birth scene so we don’t feel for him as much as he is still covered up and still practically lifeless.