Young Frankenstein has more horror atmosphere than most of today’s modern genre movies. That’s credit to Mel Brooks who knew the source material, respected it, and copied it verbatim. There are foggy-floored forests, dilapidated castles, angry throes of villagers, and a mock threat in the form of The Monster (Peter Boyle).
How it balances all of that with a staggeringly funny song and dance routine is a mystery, an idea only concocted in the mind of a maniacal genius, known as Dr. Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) or Mel Brooks. Put them together, and you have a classic of screen parody.
This is not just the Frankenstein legacy up for roasting, but the subsequent Hollywood follow-ups, Inspector Kemp (Kenneth Mars) is a direct riff on Lionel Atwill’s Krogh from Son of Frankenstein. References exist to Bride of Frankenstein, and of course the film closely follows the major occurrences of Universal’s classic original.
It’s brilliant in how closely it resembles the Universal horror cycle, and how beautifully written it is. Gene Hackman’s cameo as a blind man seals the film’s legacy, pouring hot soup on the groin of the Monster without even realizing it. Hackman’s dismay as the monster darts out of the house (literally through the door) is met with genuine disappointment as Hackman was, “going to make espresso.”
Young Frankenstein has a subtle touch, teetering between genres so carefully, you could just as easily be swept up by the shenanigans as you are the lighting and set design. It’s something missing from High Anxiety, a later Brooks’ parody, that seems almost fearful to take too many chances on what won’t work. Young Frankenstein has the focus, fan service, and spot-on pacing that puts it only one notch behind the great Blazing Saddles.
Fox delivers a wonderful AVC encode for Young Frankenstein, one with quite a bit of work ahead of it. Thick grain, debated by some as actually being too much compared to their memories of the theatrical run, swallows much of the image. It’s by no means a fault of the digital transition. It’s quite impressive how well what appears on screen looks like film grain and not swarms of artifacts. It even takes on thick smoke and fog without the slightest hint that something is amiss. The stock used here is startlingly similar to those used by Universal back in the ’30s and ’40s, giving hope that if those classics reach Blu-ray, they’ll look similar to this (with expected aging of course).
Much of the finest detail is lost behind this structure, perfect to set the mood though. The camera has to get directly in the face of the actor to capture those minute textures, and it does. Picking out the make-up used to keep the zipper on Peter Boyle’s neck in place is simple, not to mention the hairpiece. The Blu-ray does the make-up effects no favors. Still, it gives life to the castle, those moist bricks evident, and the creation room littered with gadgets and tools now clearly visible.
Black levels are exquisite, taking some shadow detail with them at times, more of a fault of the lighting than anything else. Whites are a bit dim short of the exaggerated lightning strikes, while the rest of this black & white feature carries a clear gray scale. Print damage is kept to a minimum, almost a shame considering how some scratches would have given this the age it was going for. Credit still goes to the restoration team for keeping this pristine, the minimal damage that does remain so minuscule it’s barely notable. A little bit of judder is easily dismissed too.
An uncompressed DTS-HD mix exists purely in the center and stereo channels, the latter more of an after-effect of electricity. The whole thing is appropriately low fidelity, hardly showing off the crispness that HD audio can provide to older films, but like the video, seeming appropriate.
The score sounds strained, this aside from the violin interludes that draw the monster. Those carry a definite smoothness that is more pleasing than everything else here. Dialogue, while lacking a tightness that gives it any kind of a modern quality, suits the spacious castle environments. There is little hiss or distortion.
This is a packed disc, although finding all of the extras through a somewhat confusing menu may take some time. A commentary from Mel Brooks is first up as he goes solo, discussing the origins and making of the film. Inside the Lab is a collection of 12 featurettes that total around a half hour. These can be viewed during picture-in-picture playback, or separately from the menu. Likewise, a trivia track can also be played during the movie.
Deleted scenes are available in SD, and some are in HD. It’s Alive and Making Frankensense of Young Frankenstein are both in-depth making-of pieces, coming in at 30 and 40 minutes respectively. There’s repeat information here (toss in the commentary and there’s even more), but they each have material worth seeing.
Transylvanian Lullaby is a piece on composer John Morris, who worked with Brooks on multiple films. Some outtakes, an interview with what is apparently a Mexican television network, trailers, and photos finish things off.