The third sequel to the original Frankenstein film finds that the people who live in the village do so in fear, as the past is hard to forget. They blame it upon the Frankensteins, Ygor and the monster, even though the both of them should surely be dead and the family gone from the area. On the okay from the mayor, the villagers head over to blow up the castle in the hopes of easing their minds and find Ygor alive in the process. After a confrontation, the castle is blown and part of the wall down in the catacombs comes down where Ygor discovers the monster, also alive and preserved by the sulphur into which he had fallen during the last film. Thus it is that Ygor takes the monster to see Ludwig Frankenstein, son of Henry and brother of Wolf to see if he can revive the creature to its full power. What follows are a series of moves between Ygor and Ludwig about how to deal with the monster, which brain to use if the creature should be revived and a trail of bodies in the monsters wake.
The movie would feature an exceptional cast but it is Bela Lugosi who returned for this film, and for the next ones in the series as well, that would give a performance just as good as the one he gave in Son of Frankenstein and steal the show. As the villainous Ygor, he schemes and swindles and connives his way into whatever he wants. This time around, Lugosi and his portrayal of the broken-necked man would cement his association with Frankenstein for all time as his performance was that good. When people talk of Frankenstein and his monster, most mention Ygor as the hunchback assistant when in actuality it would not be until the third movie that he would debut. Sadly, this film would be the end of Ygor, though Lugosi would go on to partake in the later films in the role of the creature. For this film, the monster is played by Lon Chaney Jr., taking over for Boris Karloff who chose not to return. Chaney does a great job, though he obviously looks quite different physically. The monster remains in its dumb-downed state, still not being able to speak or do much other than growl. While the picture would be expected to feature the monster, its screen time would not be as great as Ygor’s or even that of the good doctor. This movie would also feature the monster in the pose that would be most associated with it in the years to come, that with its arms outstretched as it walked around. It is a secondary thing that has always been associated with the creature, though the monster would never do such an action until this very picture.
Every film with Frankenstein needs a man to bear the name and this time it was Cedric Hardwicke as Ludwig. He is a doctor, just as his father before him, and it is the main reason that Ygor and the creature seek him out. As a doctor and as a Frankenstein, he is needed to replace the murderous brain inside the creature so as to turn him into as normal a person as can be. Ludwig has the same flaws that his brother demonstrated during the last picture, mainly that of pride and wanting to clear his family’s name. When all is said and done, it will also be his downfall. In a supporting role is the queen of horror films, the beautiful Evelyn Ankers. Here she plays the daughter of Henry Frankenstein, Elsa and an unwitting member of the family not knowing what is going on until she reads her father’s journals and learns her family`s history for herself. Lionel Atwill returns to the series as well, this time as Dr. Bohmer, a man almost as crooked as Ygor and delivers a very solid performance. Ralph Bellamy would make his debut to the franchise as Erik Ernst and in a strange, yet normal bit of casting, Hardwicke takes on the dual role of his father, Henry. Sadly though, Hardwicke is no Colin Clive and it feels oddly out of place in the film if you had cause to watch the earlier films.
While the first three were absolutely fantastic films, this one was a small step down from them in almost every respect though it still stands tall among them and other horror films from the period. The sets are a lot simpler at times and the direction by Erle C. Kenton is good, but not as visionary as that of James Whale or even as inventive as Rowland V. Lee. The film is pretty straightforward in its narrative, its characterization, plot and themes. No matter how implausible it must seem at times with the switching of brains and so forth, the script by Scott Darling and Eric Taylor, while not as strong or even as good as the previous films, still manages to keep the viewer entertained and more importantly, captivated. Also of noticeable difference was the lighting during the picture as everything seemed much brighter whereas the previous three films made heavy use of shadows, often to accentuate the horror aspects of both setting and characters. Here, the monster is front and center, even sitting in court at one point and because of that, some of the magic disappears as he appears less menacing when seen so illuminated.
The Ghost of Frankenstein can definitely be watched by itself, but as it references earlier events and mentions people who are not even in the film, it would be wise to watch the first three before viewing this one. As a series that chronicles the life of the creature created by Henry Frankenstein, this particular chapter could have been a bit stronger in almost every aspect, but all in all, it is a good little horror film that never fails to entertain. The movie also offers a little hope as the creature does show his more human nature when around the little girl or when near his friend, Ygor. The monster might be crazed and often murderous, but he does still have feelings deep down that, no matter what happens to him, still resurface from time to time and gives the audience the ability to empathize with the creature. This would be the last movie to feature the monster on its own as the series would soon team him with The Wolf Man, Dracula and even Abbot and Costello at one point. Not only did this film mark a turning point in production, but also by being the creature’s last solo outing at Universal Pictures.
4 out of 5