VOD film review: Young Frankenstein
Ivan Radford | On 19, Jan 2017
Director: Mel Brooks
Cast: Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman
Watch Young Frankenstein online in the UK: iTunes
Horror comedies are difficult to get right. There are scary movies that are funny. There are funny movies that are scary. And then there’s Young Frankenstein, a film that’s so relentlessly funny that any attempt to categorise it soon becomes pointless.
After The Producers and Blazing Saddles, Mel Brooks’ spoof of Mary Shelley’s classic story sees the director at the top of his game. Like both of them, it stars the irrepressible comic force that is Gene Wilder. He’s on astonishingly deadpan form as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, the grandson of the famous scientist, who is invited to Transylvania. The man doing the inviting? That’s the second part of Young Frankenstein’s secret to success: Igor (Marty Feldman).
Watching the pair interact is a treat, one of them determined not to embrace his family’s history, the other determined to mock him for that shame. “It’s pronounced Fronkensteen!” Frederick insists to everyone who brings up his grandfather, with the kind of intensity that allowed Wilder just the right balance of rage and manic silliness. It’s only a matter of minutes until he’s stabbed himself in the leg with a fork. “Do you also say ‘Froderick’?” taunts the hunch-backed servant, before telling him his name’s pronounced ‘Eye-gor’.
Feldman’s boggling eyes and knowing grin provide the unsubtle mugging that Wilder’s presence needs to make his character both ridiculous and oddly believable. Their evident affection for one another is only topped by the love the film-makers have for the material they’re sending up. Wilder and Brooks’ screenplay is as daft as it gets, from the recurring joke that mentioning the housekeeper’s name is enough to frighten the horses to mentions of Frankenstein’s Monster’s (ahem) not-so-small monster. But there’s a care to honour the movie’s source, taking its cue from Son of Frankenstein and James Whale’s Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. That means we get almost-melancholic scenes of Peter Boyle’s Monster roaming the country (where he encounters a blind man played by none other than Gene Hackman), as well as his climactic introduction to glamorous society in the form of a song and dance number (think Fred Astaire meets King Kong).
DoP Gerald Hirschfeld, meanwhile, shoots everything in faithful black-and-white, piping in fog and thunder to counter the impressive castle and laboratory sets and make the bright lights stand out even brighter against the shadowy, sinister elements – an exaggerated expressionism that takes skill to pull off. Make no mistake: this is juvenile stuff, but it’s also smart and stylish cinema. Six years after its release, the spoof game got a new star with Airplane – Brooks’ 1987 follow-up Spaceballs and 1993’s Robin Hood: Men in Tights are, to put it kindly, far from classic – but Young Frankenstein sees the king of parody leave a high watermark for the genre, his sincere homage elevating the satirical playfulness into the realm of genuine horror-comedy in its own right. It’s not as bold as Blazing Saddles or as hilarious as The Producers, but Brooks has rarely seemed so confident, his direction so sharp or his leading man so brilliantly, brilliantly silly.