Mel Brooks' 1974 classic Young Frankenstein is deservedly one of the greatest comedies of all time. But it must be said that it is Gene Wilder's brainchild as much as Brooks', and their collaboration is golden. They set a careful balance of wordplay and sight gags and artfully exploit every horror-movie stereotype in the book. I also thing it is more consistently hilarious than lots of Brooks' other work, and is a great change of pace for any Halloween movie list.
The story centers around Frederic Frankenstein (Wilder), an accomplished neurosurgeon trying to distance himself from his grandfather Victor's controversial work. Upon Victor's death, Frederic travels to Transylvania to settle his affairs. There he meets hunchback Igor (Marty Feldman) and "lab assistant" Inga (Teri Garr) and is soon on a quest to pick up where his grandfather left off, eventually bringing the Creature (Peter Boyle) to life.
The whole movie is carried by the performances it features, with Wilder's increasing mania as a centerpiece. Feldman often echos Buster Keaton. Madeline Kahn, playing Frankenstein's fiance Elizabeth, steals every scene she is in. And of course there are lots of delightful side characters, including a wonderful cameo by Gene Hackman as a blind monk. They are the kind of performances that are instantly quotable ("taffeta, darling...") and yet yield fresh humor on repeat viewings.
But what takes this film beyond being simply a great Saturday Night Live sketch is the detail Brooks puts into the film's atmosphere. Everything from matte paintings to music to set design all reflect the Frankenstein movies of the 1930s. They even used lots of the original laboratory props. And yet there are subtle tweaks throughout, turning what once was horrifying into comedy genius. I appreciate that fineness of attention even more than the brilliant jokes Brooks and Wilder cram into every scene.
Okay, maybe it is a little irreverent, and some people might not think better of you for inviting them to watch it with you, but it will still make you laugh 'til you hurt. I'd much rather watch this at a Halloween party than Paranormal Activity. Whose newest installment I plead with you all not to see.
If you do have a hankering for a good ghost story, I suggest The Orphanage, which I will be discussing after I go over Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, which I will finally be seeing this weekend.
by Chase Harrison