James Whale's version of Frankenstein looks great despite the technological limitations of the time. Frankenstein's special effects hold up well, even by today's standards. Of note are the electrical effects by Kenneth Strickfaden. Strickfaden would reproduce these effects for future Frankenstein films as well as other films, well into the 1970's (even utilizing them as part of the rock group KISS' stage show). Another one of the film's strength are the make-up effects. As noted in "The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made a Monster", Make-up artist Jack Pierce cemented his reputation by creating the Creature's make-up for Boris Karloff. Make-up effects were much more limited when Pierce created the make-up for the Creature but that did not stop him from creating an American icon. Pierce's work at Universal would continue as he created monster effects for films like The Mummy and The Wolfman. His work continues to inspire make-up artists to this day. Charlie D. Hall's art direction on the film created sets that would become a brand image for Universal's monster films (Frayling).
Cultural norms could have been a problem for James Whale but instead, he challenged them with Frankenstein. The film contained several disturbing scenes despite the Production Code of 1930. At the time, horror films hadn't caught on yet in America, and the physical horror depicted in Frankenstein was new to American filmgoers (Frayling). Although the Production Code had gone into effect in 1930, it would not be strictly enforced until 1934. This allowed Whale to include a scene of Henry proclaiming he knew what it was like to be God, a scene where the Creature is pierced with a hypodermic needle, and a scene where the Creature throws a young girl into a lake, accidentally killing her. Several years later, Frankenstein was re-released and the above-mentioned scenes were cut. It should be noted that even in 1931, some regions of the United States censored certain portions of the film (due to states and municipalities having censor boards of their own) and in some cases, the film was even banned in overseas markets (Behlmer).
Frankenstein remains a film classic and while it may have lost some of the scariness that horrified audiences in 1931, it is an entertaining film thanks to James Whale's use of Expressionist filming techniques, clever directing, and great visual effects. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is an entertaining film but I prefer Whale's 1931 version.
Behlmer, Rudy. Audio commentary. Frankenstein. Dir. James Whale. Perfs.
Gerblinger, Christiane. "James Whale's Frankensteins: re-animating the Great
Colin Clive, Mae Clark, John Boles, Boris Karloff. 1931. Universal
Frankenstein. Dir. James Whale. Perfs. Colin Clive, Mae Clark, John Boles,
Boris Karloff. 1931. DVD. Universal Studios, 2014.
"The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made a Monster". (Supplementary
material on DVD release of Frankenstein). 2002. DVD. Universal Studios,
Frayling, Sir Christopher. Audio commentary. Frankenstein. Dir. James
Whale. Perfs. Colin Clive, Mae Clark, John Boles, Boris Karloff. 1931.
Universal Studios, 2014.
War." CineAction. 82-83 (2011): 2+. Academic OneFile. Web. 14 Apr.
Heffernan, James A.W., " Looking at the Monster: 'Frankenstein' and Film"
Critical Inquiry. Vol. 24, No. 1 (Autumn, 1997), pp. 133-158. Jstor.
Web. 14. Apr. 2015.
Kuhn, Annette, and Guy Westwell. "Expressionism." A Dictionary of Film
Studies. : Oxford University Press, 2012. Oxford Reference. 2012. Date
Accessed 17 Apr. 2015.
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Perfs. Robert DeNiro,
Kenneth Branagh, Helena Bonham Carter. 1994. DVD. Sony Pictures
Home Entertainment, 1998.
Picart, Caroline Joan S. "Visualizing the Monstrous in Frankenstein Films."
Pacific Coast Philology. Vol. 35. No. 1 (2000) 17-34. Jstor. Web. 14