What Good is a Brain Without Eyes to See!
(The second son of Frankenstein revisits his father's ghost)

It's a cold, brisk Saturday night in January of 1965. Two fifteen-year-old boys are sitting in front of an ancient Zenith television set that sends waves of black and white and blue light strobing across the darkened living room. A small red light glows in the dark as the VHF signal dances on the off-white drapes. The crimson orb is produced from a brand new Concord reel to reel tape recorder.

The tow-headed boy clips the small microphone on the speaker grill of the mahogany television set. The brown-headed boy adjusts the rabbit ears and asks, "Is that any better?" He keeps fiddling with the metallic cylinders as the picture on screen begins to stabilize, and a voice beckons through the three inch speaker, "This is Avrial Shriver for George Allen Rambler in South Gate, for all your automotive needs." The used car lot flickers into darkness, and slowly the screen is filled with a miniature set of a broken down television studion, with watering can rain falling around it. The camera pans tighter on the entrance, as voodoo drums begin to pound out the familiar theme of Jeepers Creeper Theatre.

The two boys are transfixed on the glowing cathode ray tube, as the silhouette of a man dressed in black with top hat and shoulder length hair appears. The drums continue and the sound of the rain builds, as the camera pulls into the interior of the dusty studio.

"Hello there. I'm having dinner tonight with, on, Gary Gargoyle. Won't you join me? Oh, I'm sorry, you've eaten already. Well, then it's time to watch our Creeper, The Ghost of Frankenstein. Doesn't that make your mouth water!"

The two boys were transfixed. Who wouldn't be at the age of fifteen by this spiel from Los Angeles' favorite video ghoul, Jeepers Keeper, played by veteran character actor Fred Stuthman.

A blinding flash of strong Trooper Ark spot light lightning bleaches the TV screen, followed by a clap of sheet metal thunder as the camera pulls back, and the boys remain still as frozen Jello. Jeepers; mouth oozes Bosco as a substitute for Panchromatic blood, which wasn't in the budget. The scene fades to black as the four eyes sparkle with the mirror globe and stars that are the opening logo of the 1940s Universal productions. The titles unfold over the soundstage moors left over from The Wolfman, and before the boys can blink they're in the counsel chambers of the Village of Frankenstein.

"There's a curse upon this village, the Curse of Frankenstein." (Bet the brain trust at Hammer Films, LTD, picked up on that one for their first color horror feast in 1957.) This is 1942, and gone are the atmospheric train rides through a Bavarian petrified forest from the Prologue that sets up the former Frankenstein adventure, which was originator Karloff's last outing as his dear friend.

No, Ghost starts out like a freight train with no brakes on a steep incline. Seems to local recession is caused by the monster's old familiar Igor riffing on his sheep horn over the monster's sulpuric tomb. So the long-suffering villagers decide to blow up the joint and rid themselves of their curse. If this flick was made today, the villages would erect a theme park of the former grounds of the Castle of Frankenstein.

This idea backfires on the village, and only releases the monster from his mineral grave, and he and Igor book out of town vie the local cemetery. As they leave, the monster knocks over a crucifix tombstone, which could have been a great homage if Ed Wood would have used this as an excuse for Tor Johnson knocking over cardboard tombstones in Plan 9.

After a spellbinding segment involving the monster and a lightning storm, the dead dynamic duo begin their quest for Dr. Frankenstein's secrets of life and death, and a new brain - two themes that would recur throughout the rest of the series.

Now, you'd think that all this action presented in a first production (yes, "B" pictures can have high production values) would please film goers and critics back in wartorn 1942, but think again! Twenty-three years later via television it sure enthralled those two pubescent boys, thanks to Jeepers Creepers Theatre and Jeepers' Keeper. But critics are still critics in any day and age. If we believed the critics in present day or yesteryear, there would be no classics or cult films. Sometimes art takes time to develop; sometimes art takes time to find an audience. Sometimes this doesn't happen.

One of the main issues about the Ghost was Lon Chaney Jr's interpretation of the monster. After the success of 1941's The Wolfman, Chaney was rushed into Ghost in the same way Lugosi was slated to play the monster after his triumph in Dracula. Universal wanted a new horror star to replace Lon Chaney, Sr. In some ways they got that with Karloff and Lugosi, and with Lon Jr. they had The Man of a Thousand Faces' son to take a second pass at it. Not fair to any of the parties. The posed Chaney Jr. on The Phantom of the Opera stage in full Frankenstein garb for PR shots.

It is of interest to note that Lon Chaney Sr. scored two hits for Universal with 1923's Hunchback of Notre Dame and 1925's Phantom of the Opera, and the majority of his film work was done at MGM. So why Universal thought they needed a "new" Lon Chaney is a bit weird. But money talks! And Hunchback and Phantom were huge box office draws. Let's face it, Lon Jr. wasn't put in the best of positions. Everyone was expecting a Karloff performance, and the Chaneys were never anything other than Chaney's! To add insult to infury, early in the shoot Chaney was put in full makeup into the remains of the sulphur pit with a straw in his mouth to breathe, as the cast and crew broke for lunch. So much for star treatment, there are other words for this!

Anyone that wishes to criticize Chaney's performance should realize the monster was worn thin by the time The Ghost was to be lensed. in Son, Karloff spent 75% of the picture in a coma. Throughout his history the monster had been burnt, blown up, shot, and parboiled in sulpher. He had learned to speak, drink, eat and smoke, and demanded a mate; so it's not fair to bag on Lon for trying the best he could to interpret a monster with a litany of problems.

Chaney had his problems as well! Like Ludwig Frankenstein (played effectively by Sir Cedril Hardwicke), Lon was haunted by the ghost of his father, and depending on which stories you believe, this resulted in a severe addiction to booze.

The Ghost of Frankenstein is further enhanced by the presence of Bela Lugosi, reprising his second most famous role of Igor the mad blacksmith. Sans the snaggle tooth dentures, Bela turns in a performance almost equal to The Son of Frank.. The supporting cast is top flight and ensures that not a dull minute (67 of them) is wasted on none essential fluff.

The title of this essay is the punch line for this film, and is the premise for it's sequel, shot a year later, which found a sixty-year-old Lugosi in the role of the monster.

It's a shame the critics could not have taken this phrase seriously beflore slating this show. After all, "What good is - a brain without eyes to see," at least in a Frankenstein movie.

The Ghost of Frankenstein is available for all to enjoy from Universal Home Video.

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