Gods And Monsters climaxes with a body floating face down in a swimming pool, that familiar symbol of the fatal lure and excess of Hollywood. The events that lead to this tragedy are a fugue-like journey through the memories of a forgotten master of cinema, as the story flits from James Whale’s Hollywood success, his grim upbringing in North England, and his deteriorating grasp on the present.
Christopher Bram’s book (originally titled Father of Frankenstein) is an elegant work in which the darker themes are counterbalanced with light, often comic touches, including cameos from Charles Laughton, Greta Garbo, and Tallulah Bankhead. But the motif at the heart of the story is how people make monsters of their past, and Bram links Whale’s iconic horror films to his long-buried background. He makes the claim for the films as shards of autobiography, psychological inner portraits, and this deliberate confusing of the films and fact is embedded into the narrative itself: Several chapters begin in the unmistakeable style of exterior-establishing script directions. ("Night. Rain. A hissing of wind, lightning strikes.")
Joe Barrett brings a seriousness to the experience which works in the story‘s favor what could read as mannered or brittle on page becomes something a little more everyman. James Whale may well be the main character, but Barrett seems closer in temperament to Clayton Boone, the awkward gardener looking for “a great drama that would take him out of his dead-end life and justify his existence". An added bonus: Just at the very edge of Barrett’s voice is the familiar tone of movie-trailer voiceovers, that gravelly earnestness promising violent explosions, but tempered here by a gentler compassion, as Boone chooses not to be Whale’s monster who destroys his creator, but instead chooses the other path suggested by the book’s title. Dafydd Phillips