It’s the month of October, and with Halloween being the big holiday of the month, there’s one thing on the minds of many movie lovers: what scary movie am I going to watch next? If you’re like me, you don’t want a scary movie that’s going to keep you up at night; with that said, however, you also don’t want to be completely in the dark about some of the classic movie monsters. To solve this problem, you need something that pays tribute to scary movies, but in a way that won’t scare the hell out of you. And the best way to dodge fear is through comedy; so, for your consideration, here is a review of one of my personal favorite movies, and one of the greatest parody movies of all time: Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein,” which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. It deserves every bit of praise it gets and more.It’s a staple of satire comedy that everyone should see.
The plot of “Young Frankenstein” follows the grandson of the original Doctor Victor Frankenstein, Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder), who dismisses his grandfather’s work as nonsense and pronounces his last name “Fronk-en-steen” to distance himself from his family’s legacy. Frederick travels to his family’s ancestral castle in Transylvania after he inherits it from his recently deceased great-grandfather, Beaufort Von Frankenstein. While there, he meets Igor (Marty Feldman), who pronounces his name as “Eye-gore” to mock Frederick, Inga (Terri Garr), his pretty lab assistant, and Frau Blücher (Cloris Leachman), the stern and mysterious caretaker of the Frankenstein Castle. Through a series of events, Frederick discovers his grandfather’s laboratory and the journals detailing how he managed to create the original Frankenstein’s monster; believing it could work, he decides to try it himself, managing to bring a creature (Peter Boyle) to life. The rest of the film revolves around Frederick and his two assistants attempting to keep the monster under control, and to keep him from being noticed or captured by the townsfolk, who are wary of a new Frankenstein in their village.
What this film does very well is recreate the feel of the original “Frankenstein”; filmed in black and white and even using the same machine prop from the original 1931 film, you really believe that this could exist in the same continuity as the original, with an obvious comedic edge. The set looks straight out of the glory days of horror films, and some of the zoom-ins that they do with the camera are very similar to older movies. These touches, along with great costume designs, really add to the atmosphere of this brilliant parody; it feels like the same world as the original film, but they make enough changes to the formula of the traditional horror film to make it funny. That doesn’t mean that the film is completely devoid of scares; one of the beginning shots of the movie is the sudden opening of a coffin, which holds the decaying corpse of Frederick’s great-grandfather. It’s a cheap jump scare, to be sure, but it’s still startling. And there are some other moments that some viewers may also find frightening, but not too frightening, so this is a great film to watch if you’re just getting into the horror genre.
The actors in this movie are legendary in these roles; they are both engaging and hilarious. Gene Wilder starts out this movie as the very pessimistic and logical Frederick “Fronkensteen,” but as the film progresses, he starts to embrace his legacy as a Frankenstein. Marty Feldman is equally entertaining as “Eye-gore,” who seems to be in denial of the hump on his right shoulder (or was it his left shoulder? Or was it in the middle of his back?). Peter Boyle portrays the monster as a creature who only wants to know love; even without the ability to talk, the monster is still able to give some good comedic and even touching moments. Cloris Leachman is always entertaining as the equally cryptic and nutty Frau Blücher, and Terri Garr is great as Inga, playing the part of the typical pretty lab assistant seen in horror films but with a clear comedic edge to it. Madeline Kahn is quite enjoyable as Frederick’s fiancée Elizabeth, and her interaction with some of the characters is just a wonderfully funny thing to behold.
The jokes range from subtle to right in your face, and you will find yourself laughing at every one of them. Since this is a parody, the film often makes fun of different aspects of horror films. There are visual gags, plays-on-words, and everything in between, and they’re all right on target; you can tell that some of the actors, especially Gene Wilder, were on the verge of hysterical laughter in many scenes. Jokes such as the location of Igor’s hump, Frau Blücher’s name frightening the horses, and Igor’s classic line “Abby Normal” all add to this film’s comedic look at one of the most well-known monster films of all time. As clichéd as this might sound, there just aren’t any words to describe the comedic gold that lies at the heart of this movie.
“Young Frankenstein” is a wonderful send-up to the classic horror films of yesteryear, and just a wonderful parody movie in general (unlike most parody movies nowadays, which are just garbage). Its jokes are funny, its characters enjoyable, its design dark and foreboding, and it’s still a classic film nearly 40 years after its release. If you’re looking for a monster movie that won’t give you nightmares, or if you’re just looking to laugh a little after a long October day, then Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” is definitely worth a viewing.
By Joey Sack