The NOFS Video Vault is open for business once again. Welcome one and all and a very Happy New Year’s Evil to everyone. I trust that you all had a pleasant holiday season, whatever you deem pleasant is, of course, entirely up to you. I happen to find beheadings quite exhilarating, myself.
I thought I would start the year off with a recommendation that tends to lift one’s spirits after the denouement of the holi-daze glaze takes us all in its icy wintery grip. While not a horror movie per se, it is most definitely a monster movie and when you hear the title, you’ll catch my drift. So get ready to don your top hat and tails on for Mel Brook’s seminal monster spoof, Young Frankenstein (1974).
Back of The Box-Trot Shuffle
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, a respected medical lecturer, inherits his infamous grandfather’s estate in Transylvania. After arriving at the old family castle, Frankenstein soon begins further work on his grandfather’s experiments. He is assisted by inherited servant Igor, lovely assistant Inga and the imposing housekeeper Frau Blücher. Following a breakthrough in his research, Frankenstein creates his very own Monster but complications arise with the arrival of the doctor’s fiancée, Elizabeth and the escape of his beloved creature into the village to run amok.
It’s Pronounced “Eyegor”
The late Gene Wilder (Haunted Honeymoon, 1986) stars as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, pronounced Frodrick Fronkensteen, the grandson of the original Dr. Frankenstein. The younger Frankenstein creates a new monster played by the late Peter Boyle (Outland, 1981). He is assisted in his experiments by Igor (pronounced Eyegor) played by the hilarious Marty Feldman (Silent Movie, 1976) and Inga, the young and beautiful, played by Teri Garr (Tootsie, 1982).
The castle’s staunch housekeeper with a secret, Frau Blücher is played by Cloris Leachman, Dr. Frankenstein’s fiancee Elizabeth is played by the late Madeline Kahn (Clue, 1985), the unintelligible, one-eyed, prosthetic-armed Inspector Kemp is played by the late Kenneth Mars (Yellowbeard, 1983), and Gene Hackman (Superman, 1978) plays Harold the blind hermit. Rounding out the cast are the late Richard Haydn (The Sound of Music, 1965) as Herr Gerhardt Falkstein the lawyer, Monte Landis (Real Genius, 1985) and Rusty Blitz (Sid & Nancy, 1986) play Gravediggers and Mel Brooks (Spaceballs, 1987) does his typical cameo work as the Werewolf and the voice of Victor Frankenstein, despite having an agreement with Wilder that he would not be in the film.
Heavens To Madavoy!
We as audience members have no idea as to how difficult it is to get a picture made in Hollywood. These things cost a lot of scratch and getting people to part with their coin for something only the creator believes in is next to impossible. The same was the case for Young Frankenstein with Gene Wilder facing the rejection repeatedly, even from Mel Brooks himself.
In the early to mid-70s, Gene Wilder had a couple of box office flops (which are now cult classics) including The Producers (1967) and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) but just a year later he had a huge hit with the Woody Allen film Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972). It was around this time that Wilder began brainstorming the idea for Young Frankenstein.
“…a spoof that sends up all of the previous Frankenstein pictures but does so with obvious care and affection for the films that came before it.”
It was when Wilder took the idea to his agent Mike Medavoy (the co-founder of Orion Pictures, former chairman of Tristar Pictures, former head of production at United Artists and current chairman and CEO of Phoenix Pictures) that the agent suggested showing it to his two new clients, Marty Feldman and Peter Boyle. Within days of this happening, Wilder was sending pages to Medavoy who then also suggested Wilder approach Mel Brooks tackle directing duties.
Unbeknownst to Medavoy, Wilder had already talked to Brooks about directing but didn’t garner much interest. It wasn’t until the two were working together on Blazing Saddles (1974) that Wilder brought up his idea again. It was there that Wilder changed his pitch, stating that Frankenstein was to be ashamed of his family, wanting nothing to do with them which Brooks found hilarious. Thus began the genesis of Young Frankenstein.
Cut. Print. Check The Gate
When the time came to go to camera, Brooks had envisioned a budget of $2.3 million to properly tell the devilishly funny tale but Columbia Picture, the studio interested in distributing the film decided that $1.7 million was adequate. Brooks disagreed and went to Warner Bros. where they coughed up Brooks’ desired budget. After the success of the film upon release, Warner Bros. signed both Brooks and Wilder to five-year contracts.
Cameras began rolling in February of 1974 and wrapped in May of that year chock full of every Mel Brooks type joke that you can imagine. One-liners, puns, innuendo, were all there. One scene, in particular, features a villager saying that they knew what Frankenstein was up to based on the previous five experiences. This is, of course, referencing the five Universal Studios’ Frankenstein movies.
Home Video / Reception
Upon its release, Young Frankenstein was a hit. With a budget of $2.78 million, the film grossed $86.2, a definite win/win for the filmmakers and the studio alike. The reception was great as well with most critics liking the film, some even calling it the best Brooks ever made. Wilder and Boyle were both praised as well with some even saying that Boyle may have been the only actor to rival Karloff’s performance in Frankenstein (1931). It’s still just as popular today, some 40 years later with a current 94% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an average rating of 8.6 out of 10.
Young Frankenstein soft shoed his way onto home video several different times in several different formats starting with a VHS slipcase release in 1981. 1996, ’97 and ’98 all saw VHS releases of the film and in November of 1998, the film was released on DVD for the first time. In September 2006, it was released in the same format a second time and for the film’s 40th anniversary in 2014, a third DVD was released this time paired with a Blu-ray disc with the same version of the film.
Fun Fact: In 2007 from August 7 to September 1, a live musical of the same name premiered in Seattle at the Paramount Theater. From there it opened on Broadway on November 8, 2007, and ran until January 4, 2009. It was nominated for three Tony Awards and starred Megan Mullally of Will and Grace fame as well as Andrea Martin of SCTV fame.
Whether its Marty Feldman’s bug-eyed mugging, Cloris Leachman’s sordid affair with young Frankenstein’s grandpa, Peter Boyle’s undead tap dancing or Gene Wilder’s drive to get the movie made, there’s no denying the horrific fun that this movie offers. It’s a spoof that sends up all of the previous Frankenstein pictures but does so with obvious care and affection for the films that came before it. At best, it’s a raucous ride with puns-a-plenty and at worst, it’s a damn fine, damn funny tribute to the Universal Monster movies of the past.
So take this videocassette, watch it, love it, laugh, cry, scream, whatever it is you do and most importantly, enjoy it. It’s a classic for a reason. Before you go, be sure to take your receipt and enter it in our draw- the box is beside the exit door. On the bottom, you’ll see the links to our NOFS Twitter, Subreddit and Fiend Club on Facebook. You can enter to win our undying love and admiration as well as a boatload of horror cred from some of the most creded horror credders to ever cred out some legit cred, so enter now! And until next time fellow fiends, stay creepy!