In the decades old genre of horror, many villainous characters have been silent. However, no one can forget the original, Frankenstein’s monster.
In the 1931 classic, the Monster was brought to life fantastically by legendary actor Boris Karloff. The same way Bela Lugosi gave an iconic look and tone to the character Dracula, Karloff made a memorable impression on Frankenstein’s monster.
While the “it’s alive” moment from the 1931 picture might be the most unforgettable sequence, and Colin Clive deserves credit for his acting in the Frankenstein role, Karloff’s performance may have been the most integral cog in the machine.
As previously stated, the role is largely silent, too, making Karloff’s performance even more special. Even without dialogue and covered in makeup, Karloff is significantly expressive through his face and mannerisms. Even his walk, with a constant lurch, are simply spot on in what the monster needed.
This scene does a fantastic job showing his performance, starting off with Karloff’s dead eyes and thousand yard stare and later where he becomes entranced by the light and his facial expressions shift.
The following scene also shows plenty, with the large, lumbering monster acting so frightened from the torch, even with the situation not out of control.
This comes up again later in the movie when the windmill is set on fire.
This couldn’t have been easy to tackle, to convincingly show an undead, stitched together creation with that much fear, despair and frantic reactions. It perfectly shows the innocence of the character.
Ultimately, it’s what makes Karloff’s performance work so well. His stare, stature and movements are indeed creepy. However, the monster is also portrayed to be sympathetic and quite sincere.
The result is that the audience can come to care for the reanimated creature. There’s a level of humanity that Karloff brings to the Monster and subsequently, there’s a tragedy associated with it.
Again, Director James Whale and the rest of the cast deserve credit for the Gothic look and feel, yet Karloff’s brilliant work is the most well known. He’s a key reason that the Universal monster movie genre took off and why the 1931 flick remains a classic.