Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Bride of Frankenstein (1935) – The horror genre is one that is often met with dismissiveness if not outright derision. There’s a spectrum, to be sure, and on the lower end of it you have exploitation films that promise and deliver no more than jumps, blood, maybe a little gratuitous nudity. On the upper end of that spectrum, though, you get something fantastic. You may get a reflection on humanity. You may get real emotion earned through character development. You may get Bride of Frankenstein. There are many who consider it among the ranks of sequels that surpass their original. Now I love Frankenstein and have seen it a dozen times so I don’t think I’m quite in that camp, but Bride of Frankenstein can get an emotional reaction out of me that I don’t think any of the other Universal Monster films can. This is a monster movie that can bring tears to my eyes. There’s more to it than that. There’s humor, much of it that might nowadays be called “camp.” Director James Whale brings back over-the-top actress Una O’Connor from The Invisible Man for a lot of the “humor” (though I found her much less annoying in this film). There are more traditional horror elements as well, but mostly I think of this film as a tragedy.

The movie opens with a frame story. It is a dark and stormy night and Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon), Percy Bisshe Shelley (Douglas Walton), and Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester) are gathered to tell stories (which is actually the true story of how Frankenstein was written). Mary tells her companions that the burning windmill was not the end of the story and proceeds to tell the tale. Frankenstein’s Monster (Boris Karloff) has survived the fire and runs off into the woods. He befriends an old blind man (O.P. Heggie) who teaches him to speak, but when some members of the mob hunting him arrive the Monster is chased back into the wilderness. Meanwhile, Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) having barely survived the events of the first film is more than willing to put all that madness behind him and settle down with his new wife Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson, replacing Mae Clarke). However he receives a visit from an old professor, Dr. Septimus Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger). Conspiring with the Monster, Pretorius forces Henry to help his own mad endeavor by having the Monster kidnap Elizabeth. Frankenstein and Pretorius set out with a couple of hired “assistants” Ludwig (Ted Billings) and Karl (Dwight Frye, in a different role than in Frankenstein). Pretorius also endeavors to create life (and has grown several miniature people) but wants Henry’s help to make another monster… a female!

The titular bride actually has very little screen time. As the Monster was in Frankenstein, she is only credited as being played by ? (though if you need a hint, she looks an awful lot like Mary Shelley). Her otherworldly presence and birdlike movements make that little screen time damn memorable. Of the Universal Monsters, she is the only female one. The movie is thought to have a degree of gay subtext. I’m not sure. Thesiger is alleged to have been gay, and his portrayal of Pretorius would definitely seem to back that up, but the idea that he is pulling Victor away from his wife seems more like an after-the-fact interpretation than intention. As a homosexual in a less tolerant time, I’m sure director James Whale had enough understanding of being an outsider to identify with the Monster but I don’t think it goes much deeper than that. The monster sums up the basic point of the story when he says (in his broken way) “Alone, bad!” The villain of this piece isn’t the Monster but the cruel world that rejects him.

“To a new world of gods and monsters…”

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