Family ties run deep, which may not always be the easiest thing in the world. Such was the case for Baron Wolf, the child of a disgraced scientist who returns home to the village where his father faced severe hostility from his neighbors. Oh, did I forget to mention his last name? Frankenstein.
In the 1939 horror film Son of Frankenstein, director Rowland V. Lee explores what happens when Wolf returns to his family castle, back to the village where his father’s monster wreaked havoc all those years ago. Now a family man, with his wife Elsa and young son Peter, Wolf relocates to his family castle where he endeavors to redeem his father’s sordid reputation. Easier said than done. Despite the years that have passed since Frankenstein’s Monster invaded the village, the townspeople have yet to forgive, or forget. Outside of his family, Wolf’s only companion is Inspector Krogh, who bears an artificial arm after an altercation with the Monster as a child.
While wandering through the castle, Wolf stumbles upon the Monster’s comatose body in the crypt where his grandfather and father were buried. To restore honor to the family, Wolf decides to revive the Monster. Once revived, the Monster responds only to the demented blacksmith Ygor who narrowly survived a hanging for graverobbing. At the behest of Ygor, the Monster murders all the jurors from Ygor’s trial. After discovering Ygor’s nefarious deeds, Wolf confronts him and seemingly kills him. In retaliation, the Monster kidnaps Peter and drags him to a nearby laboratory. Krogh and Wolf pursue the Monster and manage to knock him into a molten sulphur pit. With his son safely returned, Wolf leaves the keys to Frankenstein’s castle to the villagers, with them cheering as they leave.
A sequel to James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein, the successful Son of Frankenstein helped revitalize Universal’s declining horror output. The film starred Basil Rathbone as Baron Wolf von Frankenstein, Boris Karloff as the Monster, Bela Lugosi as Ygor, Lionel Atwill as Inspector Krogh, Josephine Hutchinson as Elsa von Frankenstein, and Donnie Dunagan as Peter von Frankenstein. The third entry in Universal Studios’ Frankenstein series, it was the last to feature Karloff as the Monster and the first to feature Lugosi as Ygor.
Son of Frankenstein hit the silver screen on January 13, 1939, making the feature 80 years old as of 2019. Even after eight decades, the film is fondly remembered as a fitting farewell to Karloff’s Monster, as well as Universal’s Frankenstein films, which ventured into self-parody in subsequent films.