Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is not the film you would expect. In an age where horror sequels feel less like continued tellings of a larger narrative and more like amped-up spectacles constantly trying to out-do their predecessors, James Whale’s 1935 classic is a bizarre yet elegant revisit to his previous establishment of the franchise in 1931 (I am referring of course to the other Whale/Karloff classic viewers are perhaps more familiar with, simply named Frankenstein).
The film picks up exactly where the original left off: Frankenstein’s monster had been terrorized by angry villagers and locked within a burning windmill. Instead of burning alive within the mill as many of the villagers had already assumed, the monster lives and escapes the village in search of a far-more suited sanctuary. What makes this film particularly unique is the way in which it humanizes the monster within its second act. Whale shows viewers how the previous film might may have misconstrued the overall narrative and, in taking some more hints from Shelley’s original work, he plods the monster along through a further mix of original fiction and book-loyal story.
The monster happens upon a blind man, for instance – a scenario taken from the novel which works to give readers and viewers a more complex understanding of the monster, his human tendencies, and the relationship he might have with society were his initial rage and misunderstandings so stigmatized. In a way, Bride of Frankenstein tries to recapture the original essence of Shelley’s work: the story of forcefully being pushed into a world of hatred for which one becomes the monster society intends them to be.
But is the story really that complex? I can’t say for certain given that, yes, the film is still bogged within the need to create an entertaining narrative. For that reason, this is less think-piece than it is a bizarre and often-times funny story that advances the exploits of a humanizing monster in parallel with the continued madness of Dr. Frankenstein and, this time, his returning mentor, the diabolical Dr. Pretorious. It’s also wrapped in a concept that takes the entire film to really pan out: Let’s make a bride for the monster so we can lure him back to us!
And while the plan works, what follows is the more interesting part of this narrative. Instead of being received warmly by the female creation meant to be the monster’s mate, she rejects him and contributes to his perceived sense of being an outsider doomed to fail in this world. Whew, there’s some commentary about gender if you read deep enough into it but, at the surface, I think this was just meant to communicate that science isn’t everything.
Through a downer ending, the film closes on the lab destroyed with Pretorious, the Bride, and the Monster all trapped within. It’s not exactly the most light-hearted conclusion to the story, but boy is it interesting.
I think this is one of those rare “just right” horror sequels in the sense it expands the original world, deepens our understandings of the characters, and somehow provides an experience just as if not more entertaining than the original.
Bride of Frankenstein
dir. James Whale
Screens Monday, October 31, 6:00PM @ Brattle Theatre
Free Halloween Screening!