I’m a big admirer of classic movies and one type of classic movie I’m particularly fond of are the old Universal monster movies from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. I love the simplistic scares, the demonic drama, the creepy cinematography, and the villainous visuals. Those movies are iconic, timeless, and tremendously influential on the horror genre as a whole. They’re also surprisingly influential on the comedy genre as well. From Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), to Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995), those classic monster movies have inspired countless satires and parodies that find the humour amidst the horror. One of the most successful and beloved of those satires is undoubtedly Young Frankenstein (1974), the Mel Brooks classic that is arguably one of his most celebrated movies. This movie is pure delight and in my opinion, mandatory October viewing.
Inspired by Mary Shelley’s classic novel, “Frankenstein,” Young Frankenstein follows Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, the grandson of Dr. Victor Frankenstein, as he travels to Transylvania to take ownership of his grandfather’s castle. There Frederick discovers the laboratory where his grandfather created his infamous monster and is inspired to carry out the experiment himself. Of course, just like his the original experiment, things don’t go exactly as Frederick planned.
Mel Brooks is a comedic genius. Sure, the idea of satire was alive and well long before his time, but I feel like he really put it on the map. If you were to ask me who the definitive master of satire is, my answer is absolutely Mel Brooks. His movies are always a winning blend of dry humour, absurdity, and wit, making for hilarious movies that always perfectly lampoon the genre they’re satirizing. While I have a fondness for Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) and Spaceballs (1987), Young Frankenstein remains my favourite Brooks movie. There are some movies that are so inherently whimsical and full of pure humour, that they put a smile on your face without you even realizing it. That’s Young Frankenstein to me. Several times I caught myself sporting an enormous grin after the simplest of lines, or even when nothing funny had even happened. This movie is just so thoroughly and enjoyably wacky from start to finish that to resist its charms is practically impossible. If you’re looking for the perfect way to combine funny and frightening, this is it.
Not that Young Frankenstein is a terrifying, traditional horror movie. Trust me, the comedy always rightfully takes centre stage. That being said, there were more than a few moments that scared the living daylights out of me when I used to watch this movie as a little kid. I think it’s because the movie is so convincingly filmed as an old monster movie that I always associated it with Universal horrors like, Dracula (1931) and The Wolfman (1941). Young Frankenstein does a lot of things successfully, but making a movie from the 70s look and feel like it was filmed in the 30s is by far the most astounding. I mean, the opening is so on point and so reminiscent of all these old Universal movies that it’s hard to believe Young Frankenstein is as, pardon the pun, young as it is. The lighting, the music, the editing, the sets (which actually include props from Frankenstein (1931) – check out my review, here) all help to establish that quintessentially spooky tone that every Universal monster movie effortlessly conveyed. Ugh, and I also love the commitment to filming the entire movie in black and white! That’s something they so didn’t need to do but for the sake of comedy and accuracy, Young Frankenstein goes the extra mile.
Speaking of going the extra mile, holy shit does Young Frankenstein stitch together a phenomenally talented and legendary cast of comedy actors. Gene Wilder, Teri Garr, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Gene Hackman, Madeline Kahn…I’m OBSESSED. This is what acting as an ensemble looks like. A true comedy team, what I love about this cast is that each one fully understands the role they need to play and then do so flawlessly. Garr as the bubbly lab assistant? Perfect. Leachman (“Frau Blücher!) as the mysterious housekeeper? Yes please. Kahn as the self-absorbed fiancé? Abso-fucking-lutely! I love Madeline Kahn. She’s one of those actresses who’s always great in everything you see her in, no matter the size of the role and Young Frankenstein is no exception. Each character is so memorably hilarious and if you were doing this as a play for your high school drama class, there’d be no fights about who gets to play which role. Each one is an absolute scene-stealer.
Of course, the standout of Young Frankenstein is the incomparable Gene Wilder. This man is a treasure. He’s charming, endearing, sweet, hilarious, and a great actor to boot. As Frederick he gets to switch between playing the straight man and playing the one delivering the jokes, two roles Wilder plays with the greatest of ease. Watching him play this wildly funny character is joyful beyond words. I could listen to his deadpan delivery and watch his sidesplitting physical comedy all day. Especially when you pair him with Marty Feldman’s Igor. As master and servant the two share such a brilliant back and forth that feels like something out of a Looney Tunes cartoon. They feel like a duo that have been performing sketches together all their lives and the result is comedy gold. Sidenote, Feldman’s bug-eyed facial expressions are lowkey the true stars of this movie. I swear, he reminds me of the March Hare from Alice in Wonderland (1951).
If there’s one thing I love more than spook, it’s spook that flows in harmony with silliness. Young Frankenstein marries my two loves and creates a movie that is so wonderfully wacky that it deserves to be seen by comedy and horror fans alike. It’s a marvellously mad and hilariously horrifying movie that is the pinnacle of satire. Finally, let me leave you all with this…
“PUT. THE. CANDLE. BACK.”
Have you seen Young Frankenstein? What are your favourite Mel Brooks movies?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!