Before characters like Freddy Krueger and Leatherface became the faces of horror movies in more recent decades, Universal’s Classic Monsters were the titans of horror. From Dracula to The Invisible Man, these characters have helped push the industry into worlds previously thought unreachable. For example, The Invisible Man set the standard for special effects and helped things grow into what many see in movies today. But for every advancement that these movies provided, some setbacks kept them from reaching their full potential.
Director James Whale saw this happen with 1931’s Frankenstein, which was inspired by Mary Shelley’s novel of the same name and followed the efforts of Dr. Henry Frankenstein, who sought to recreate life. By compiling the parts of many dead people, he crafted a body that, with a bolt of lightning, was brought to life. The creation represented the admittedly advanced themes of the movie that were too early for the era in which it was released but still resulted in the famous line “It’s Alive!” That said, many may not know that there was more to the line before it was censored.
How Was ‘It’s Alive!’ Censored?
In Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein is confronted by those closest to him about his secret experiments with the dead. Of course, rather than bend the knee to those he felt didn’t understand his vision, he instead chose to show them the feat he was trying to accomplish. As a result, the doctor conducted his experiment during a lightning storm that resulted in the birth of his creation. In a fit of excitement, the original cut of the movie had Dr. Frankenstein utter, “…In the name of God, now I know what it feels like to be God!” But this line was only known to viewers for less than a decade before the Production Code Administration (PCA) censored it.
The PCA enacted an amendment known as the Hays Code that required any movies released after 1934 to be reviewed to obtain a seal of approval to be shown in theaters. Without a seal, it would be exceptionally difficult for any movie to get on the big screen, and Frankenstein and Dracula were on the list for their 1938 re-release. According to the review, the line Dr. Frankenstein uttered was cut down and replaced by thunder because the implications of his line challenged the ideas of Christianity, making it quite edgy for the era. But this change was also made to the master negatives of the movie, meaning that without an earlier copy, the original line would never be seen again.
Frankenstein’s Riskiest Line Carried Massive Weight
Dr. Frankenstein’s risky line was one that spoke deeply to the core theme of Frankenstein, and it could be argued that without it, the ultimate message of the movie was lost. However, according to the PCA, the idea that it could be offensive to Christians fundamentally altered the final product for its future re-releases. Now, rather than taking on a deeper narrative role, the scene was altered to showcase the madness of Dr. Frankenstein. However, the reality of what made Dr. Frankenstein scary wasn’t that he was an obsessed mad scientist but that he was the sanest of everyone and simply played God out of curiosity.
The very existence of Frankenstein’s Monster could initially put into question everything a person thought about the creation of life and its complexity. Without the full line being uttered, the message was taken at face value, and while there were still core themes conveyed, there’s a distinct difference between versions regarding the monster. In the censored version, Frankenstein’s Monster was nothing more than the end result of a twisted experiment. But in the original cut, the monster was more than a living thing — it was an affront to the God that Dr. Frankenstein felt he was on par with. Therefore, the tragedy of the creature was far more important, and so long as he lived, he represented an affront to faith, hence the fear of the villagers.
It’s important to note that Frankenstein’s Monster wasn’t living in the traditional sense of making life. He was a compilation of organic tissue that was given life. He was constructed but would always be on the outside of what many consider to be life. Yet, the monster understood its differences and, even as a newborn, felt the same feelings as any other human. But what made Frankenstein’s Monster terrifying and tragic was tied to Dr. Frankenstein’s line uttered upon the monster’s birth and humanity’s hubris to try and do what a higher power could.
Keeping the Full Line Adds More Impact to Frankenstein
Universal’s Classic Monsters will always carry weight to their stories, no matter how campy they may appear at the outset. Whether it’s tragic tales like The Wolf Man or ones of survival and power like The Invisible Man, there is always more to them than meets the eye. In the case of Frankenstein, only saying, “It’s Alive!” is more than enough to convey the elation of having made life through unorthodox means. However, there’s an even greater sense of agency and importance when the full line is included. In fact, with the line finally included in the 1980s, it enhanced the impact for those who only knew the censored version as it showed there was more to Dr. Frankenstein than “madness.”
By finally including the full line, Frankenstein became a horror movie that was terrifying not for the content but for the ideas it left with the audience. There is a question of ethics that’s immediately presented about whether it’s wrong to create life from the deceased or to proclaim the person is like God after they achieve it. Nevertheless, Frankenstein was a horror movie ahead of its time, and as it continues to age, the message enhanced by Dr. Frankenstein’s iconic line has only become more and more prevalent and thought-provoking. The best part is whether it’s been 50 or 100 years since its debut, Dr. Frankenstein’s iconic line will still send shivers down the spine.
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