How To Watch Frankenstein And Other James Whale Horror Movies

Frankenstein 1931
(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Whenever the discussion of the best horror movies of all time comes up, it doesn’t take more than a few guesses before you start naming off classics like Frankenstein and The Invisible Man. These landmark monster movies, and multiple others, were directed by one man — James Whale — who helped the horror genre reach new heights in the early to mid-1930s and create some of the most iconic monster moments in cinematic history.

Much like the various horror movies he directed, which continue to influence cinema nearly a century later, Whale remains an icon not only in the world of horror but also the LGBTQ+ community due to his contributions to society both on and off the screen. As a way to pay tribute to the openly gay Hollywood figure, who died by drowning in 1957, we’ve put together a quick list of the four horror movies he made throughout his illustrious career and how you can watch them…Let’s dive into the work of one of the most legendary LGBTQ+ horror icons of all time. 

Colin Clive in Frankenstein

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Frankenstein (1931)

Just one year after making his directorial debut with the war film, Journey’s End, James Whale quickly established himself as one of best horror filmmakers with the November 1931 release of Frankenstein. Based on Mary Shelley’s classic horror novel, the Universal monster movie told the story of Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive), a mad scientist who creates a monster (played by Boris Karloff) by taking the body parts of multiple corpses, putting them together, and using electricity to reanimate the creation. 

The movie quickly became a financial success for Universal Pictures, with some, like Forbes, arguing that the movie and the reanimated character at the center of its story was the most important piece of the monster universe. With a great story, impressive cast, and the incredibly terrifying look of the monster created by make-up legend Jack Pierce, it’s easy to see why Frankenstein remains so revered so many years after its first release. Whale’s classic has gone on to be adapted multiple times over the decades, including the long-in-the-works remake in the upcoming Universal monster movies franchise.

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The Old Dark House cast

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

The Old Dark House (1932)

In October 1932, less than a year after he found a tremendous amount of success with the more traditional horror movie, James Whale elected to make an adaptation of J.B. Priestley’s more comedic 1927 novel, Benighted, which was turned into The Old Dark House. Released in the pre-code era of Hollywood, the movie centers on two groups of travelers who take shelter in an old and creepy house to weather a powerful storm while on their respective journeys. Over the course of a single night, the two groups interact with the unnervingly creepy family and their butler, Morgan (Frankenstein star Boris Karloff).

The Old Dark House may have failed to garner the same attention, box office returns, and legacy as some of Whale’s other horror films like Frankenstein and The Invisible Man (which would come out the following year), but it’s just as important. In 2017, The Village Voice called The Old Dark House one of the great Universal fright flicks despite being considered a “lost film” for many years.

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Claude Rains in The Invisible Man

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

The Invisible Man (1933)

On October 31, 1933, Halloween night, James Whale introduced audiences to the next chapter in his brief yet influential series of horror movies with The Invisible Man. The movie centers on Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains), a brilliant chemist whose ambition gets the best of him, after he has undergone an experiment that has turned him invisible. Slowly going mad from the effects of the cocktail of chemicals that have turned him into a failed science experiment, Griffin begins to play seemingly innocent pranks on those around him before turning to more sinister games, including the derailment of a train that results in 100 or more deaths.

In the decades since its release, The Invisible Man, which was based on H.G. Wells’ science fiction novel of the same name, has gone on to be remade and reimagined in multiple shapes and forms, including the 2020 horror movie remake featuring one of the best Elisabeth Moss performances to date. There’s a strong case to be made for The Invisible Man being Whale’s best feature film, and there would be no arguments about it if it were not for Frankenstein and its long-lasting legacy.

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Elsa Lanchester and Boris Karloff in The Bride of Frankenstein

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

The Bride Of Frankenstein (1935)

While other horror movies were given sequels almost immediately, James Whale’s 1931 horror directorial debut wouldn’t get a follow up film until four years later with the 1935 release of The Bride of Frankenstein. Taking place almost immediately after the conclusion of Frankenstein, the sequel follows a remorseful Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) as he attempts to abandon his experiments and come to terms with his decision to create life. Though reluctant to make the same mistake twice, the mad scientist is forced to try it again, this time creating a bride for his monster (Boris Karloff) from the first film. Elsa Lanchester took on the role of the titular character in The Bride of Frankenstein, as well as that of Mary Shelley, the woman who wrote the novel on which the movie, and its processor, was based. 

In the 87 years since its initial release, the movie has remained one of the most iconic horror movies of all time and is right up there with Frankenstein in terms of recognition. If Universal ever figures out its monster movies, The Bride of Frankenstein is one title that needs to be at the top of the list when it comes to remakes.

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Although he only made four horror films throughout his career, it’s safe to say that James Whale is one of the most important filmmakers the genre has ever seen. It should also be noted that a lot of the current and upcoming horror movies have Whale to thank.

Philip Sledge
Content Producer

Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.