Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) tries to distance himself from his grandfather, Victor Frankenstein, to the point of pronouncing his sur name Fronkensteen. Fate has other plans as he inherits his great-grandfather’s Transylvanian castle, containing a secret library that ignites a spark to carry on the family tradition. With the help of the new Igor (Marty Feldman) and assistant Frau Blücher (Cloris Leachman), Fronkensteen creates a new monster (Peter Boyle) only to have it escape with hijinks ensuing.
Directed by Mel Brooks and co-written by Gene Wilder, Young Frankenstein is the pioneering theatrical parody. And that shows with the films that followed such as Airplane, Hot Shots, and Spaceballs. Unlike the dumpster fire of the Friedberg and Seltzer collection that spawned thirty years later, these parodies are focused on the subject and telling a familiar tale from a comedic perspective. They are also more concerned with connecting the comedy to the world, such as the infamous scene with the little girl throwing her flowers in the water. The likes of Date Movie and Epic Movie are about cramming as many disconnected references into their satires just to prove films exists. They also foster a mean-spirited tone that sucks out all the fun from spoofing. Sometimes a sadistic take on material is welcomed, but when it’s rampant throughout the entire parody, it comes off as spiteful.
This on the other hand knows what to poke fun at while coming from an authentic admiration, right down to utilizing the black and white framing. Brooks even rented the original laboratory, proving his dedication and love for the source. This might be a spoof, but the characters are able to stand on their own despite being connected to the Frankenstein lore. They aren’t cardboard cutouts, they’re three-dimensional human beings with their own neurotic quirks akin to Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Wilder brings his energetic mannerisms to an already unstable family lineage, coining the phrase “quiet dignity and grace”. Kenneth Mars steals the spotlight as a cop with a prosthetic hand and a German accent as thick as buttercream icing. There’s Cloris Leachman and Teri Garr with opposite personalities keeping the manic Wilder down to earth. Through one take stunts (a particular one with a revovling bookcase) and clever wordplay that could fill an encyclopedia’s worth of laughs. One as Marty Feldman has practically become a meme with his off-putting Igor faces that lend themselves to a variety of situations. Peter Boyle from Everybody Loves Raymond is amazing in his ability to make us laugh and sympathize with a creature that surprisingly grows over the course of one night. I’ll even argue that this monster is more sympathetic than Boris Karloff. All of it comes together to create an experience that should be malicious, but instead is able to cater to both those familiar with the James Whale film as well as those who enjoy old-school comedy.
Young Frankenstein is an amazing tribute to one of horror’s most cherished cinematic classics, yet it still has a smart sense of humor. The satire is never mean spirited, the characters put their own spin on familiar names, and most importantly the comedy connects with the world, almost like a live-action Looney Tunes skit. It might not have the blood and gore of traditional scary movies, but it does have a better idea on how to spoof popular than all the Friedberg and Seltzer films that have since been banished to video on demand. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, but most importantly, you’ll cherish this as much as the monster cherishes a poetic violin solo.