Arising from the shadows of the past

Released 13 January 1939, Son of Frankenstein marked the final time Boris Karloff played the Monster, the first time Béla Lugosi played Ygor, and the last A production in the Frankenstein franchise. It was a huge shot in the arm to Universal’s declining horror reputation.

On 5 April 1938, an almost-bankrupt L.A. theatre screened Frankenstein, Dracula, and King Kong. It was a major moneymaker and inspired many other successful revivals. Universal, seeing dollar signs, decided to make another Frankenstein sequel.

James Whale, director of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, didn’t want to do another horror film. In his place, Universal chose Rowland V. Lee.

Baron Wolf von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone), Dr. Henry Frankenstein’s son, moves his wife Elsa (Josephine Hutchinson) and their little boy Peter (Donnie Donagan, now 85 years old) to the family castle upon coming into his inheritance.

Wolf’s enthusiasm for this new chapter of his life isn’t shared by his family, nor anyone else. The house gives Elsa and Peter the creeps, and the locals deeply resent their existence. After all, Wolf’s dad created a monster who terrorized them.

Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill) visits on the first night to try to warn Wolf away. Krogh’s right arm was torn from the roots by the Monster when he was a boy, something he’s never forgotten. He tells Wolf the Monster may still be at large, committing murders, despite being believed dead for years.

Across from the castle is Henry’s old lab, whose roof was blown off when the Monster was destroyed. Wolf eagerly goes to explore it after breakfast, and encounters Ygor. Earlier, Ygor peered in on Peter while he was sleeping.

Ygor is a body-stealing blacksmith who survived a hanging and now lives in the old lab, away from the eyes of the world. His neck was permanently deformed by the hanging.

Ygor takes Wolf to the family crypt, where his grandfather and father are entombed. Also in the crypt is the Monster’s comatose body.

Ygor says they’re friends, and that the Monster does things for him. The Monster is now comatose because he was struck by lightning under a tree while hunting. He can’t die because Henry made him live for always.

Ygor demands Wolf reanimate the Monster, on condition he not be seen by anyone.

With help from Ygor, Wolf hauls the Monster’s body up into the lab and tethers him to the table he was brought to life upon. Ygor pushes Wolf’s loyal assistant Benson (Edgar Norton) out of the door, but ultimately relents when Wolf explains how valuable Benson is.

Wolf and Benson meticulously examine the Monster every which way to determine what kind of state he’s in. Startling discoveries are two bullets in the lung and very unusual blood.

Ygor is hauled before the court to spill all he knows about Wolf and his experiments. If he doesn’t cooperate, he’ll be hanged again, properly this time. Ygor argues he was legally pronounced dead, and is told to leave and not cause trouble.

After concluding his extensive examinations, Wolf says as a human he should destroy the Monster, but as a scientist, it’s his duty to reanimate his father’s creation.

After Benson turns on the generator, the process initially seems to work very quickly. However, the signs of life fade away, appearing mere reflexes. Wolf declares the Monster is too comatose to reanimate.

While dining with Krogh, it comes out that Henry’s lab was built by the Romans, over a natural sulphur pit used as mineral baths. The sulphur is now over 800 degrees. Krogh doesn’t know how Wolf can bear to work with those sulphur fumes.

Peter’s innocent babble also reveals the Monster indeed reanimated and is on the loose. Full of a foretaste of horror, Wolf rushes off to the lab.

Ygor is nowhere to be found when Wolf arrives, but Wolf does find the Monster. Differing from the previous two Frankenstein films, he now wears a fur vest and can no longer talk.

When Ygor arrives, Wolf insists the Monster can’t leave. No one can know he’s there, despite Ygor’s claim the Monster only does what he tells him. Wolf also says he must continue his experiments. The Monster can walk, but his mind isn’t well yet.

Back at the castle, Wolf tells Benson what happened and swears him to secrecy. Despite his sheer terror, Wolf is determined to finish his work and become the greatest scientist of all time. He trusts the Monster will only do what Ygor bids him.

Trouble begins when Benson disappears. Ygor reports he ran away in fear of the Monster, but Wolf is terrified the worst happened.

And thus begins a new wave of horror as the Monster prowls through the town and the villagers seek blood revenge on Wolf.

Murderous mystery menaces the moors

Released 31 March 1939, the 20th Century Fox adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous novel The Hound of the Baskervilles (published August 1901–April 1902) is widely regarded as one of the best of the many film versions. This was the dozenth time the story was brought to the silver screen (ninth if one counts the four-part 1914 German serial as one).

This, the third sound version of the tale, was the first of fourteen Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Sherlock and Watson, respectively. Since the studio wasn’t sure how well people would receive a Sherlock Holmes film, they gave top billing to matinée idol Richard Greene (Sir Henry Baskerville).

The film is also notable as one of the first Sherlock Holmes films to feature an authentic Victorian setting. All previous known screen adaptations updated their settings to contemporary times. Unfortunately, after Universal Studios acquired the rights in 1942, the stories were moved to the current era and became little more than loose adaptations.

The murderous mystery starts when Sir Charles Baskerville runs away from a demonic hound in terror and drops dead of a supposed heart attack on the moor. He’s pursued by someone who looks like a loonybin escapee. After Sir Charles deceases himself, the madman steals his pocketwatch and runs away.

Sir Charles’s friend Dr. James Mortimer testifies before authorities that this was a heart attack, without any evidence of assault. This pleases all the locals except curmudgeonly conspiracy theorist Mr. Frankland, who’s convinced Sir Charles was murdered.

Dr. Mortimer visits Sherlock and Watson prior to Sir Henry’s arrival in London, very worried about what might befall Sir Henry at Baskerville Hall. He confesses there’s a family curse, and reads an old story about Sir Hugo Baskerville to prove it. Ever since that ill-fated patriarch met his end in 1650, all Baskervilles have been killed by demonic hounds.

Sherlock thinks this is a load of superstitious nonsense, but Dr. Mortimer continues with the bold claim that Sir Charles was murdered. He didn’t voice these suspicions at the medical inquiry because he was afraid of the consequences. Though Sir Charles technically did die of heart failure, his face was contorted in terror. There were also the footprints of a huge hound and a second person nearby.

Sir Henry insists on going to Baskerville Hall despite the warning, though not before several suspicious happenings in London. One of his new boots goes missing when he leaves it outside his hotel door for buffing, and then someone in a carriage tries to shoot him at night. Back at the hotel, Henry’s boot reappears, but now another boot is missing.

None of this deters Sir Henry from claiming his ancestral estate, not even the ransom note that’s thrown through his carriage window. To keep an eye on the situation, Watson accompanies him. Sherlock claims he’s too busy to assist in the investigation.

The moor is alive with creepiness and mysterious events, each more spine-chilling than the last—strange disappearing lights, eerie howling, fog, quicksand, rocks, odd characters, people falling to their deaths. Throughout it all, Sir Henry maintains his composure and doesn’t seem cognizant of the danger he may be in.

Predictably, Sir Henry falls in instalove with the first young woman he meets, Beryl Stapleton (Wendy Barrie), the stepsister of his neighbour Jack. In the blink of an eye, they’re engaged.

The longer Sir Henry stays at Baskerville Hall, the creepier and more menacing the situation becomes, and everyone seems like a suspect. The plot thickens when Sherlock reveals himself to Watson and says he’s been in the area the whole time.

Based on his investigation, Sherlock believes murder is about to be committed, but he’s not sure who either the victim or murderer will be. Solving this terrifying mystery before another body turns up will be a very dangerous game.

And all the while, that mysterious howling stalks the moor.