« Home | The Wicker Man (1973) » | Vampyr (1932) » | Tremors (1990) » | The Mummy (1932) » | Freaks (1932) » | Little Children (2006) » | The Departed (2006) » | Frankenstein (1910) » | Frankenstein (1931) » | Dracula (1931) »

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Bride of Frankenstein represents director James Whale at the top of his form, as well as what is arguably the best film to emerge from Universal’s monster series (as well as one of the finest sequel films ever made). Effortlessly shifting gears between sly camp, satire, drama and horror, it extends the original film (framed as the actual story by Mary Shelley, despite numerous changes from her actual novel) after the supposed death of the monster, who somehow survived the fire only to emerge from the wreckage, bruised but not broken. The many subversive themes – religion, science, the nature of man, etc. – all take backseat to the dexterous manipulation of genre in the name of unrivaled entertainment. Bride of Frankenstein both uses and forges clichés (was this the first film to feature a self-destruct mechanism?) in perfectly approximated portions, its sly wit largely the result of the Mr. Whale being forced to weave his potentially offensive material beneath the film’s surface. Today’s Hollywood barely has tolerance for gay sensibilities, let alone that of 1935. Retroactively speaking, we’re all the better for it; Bride of Frankenstein is a time capsule of subversive cinematic triumph over tyrannical normative standards.

Few films of the genre have better employed caricature, yet through its overtly expressive performances emerges its subtle queerness; unlike the attention-calling drag queen, Bride of Frankenstein turns standard conventions on their head in ways oblivious to those who would rule otherwise. While Bryan Singer used his X-Men films to reflect on gay acceptance in the early 21st Century (albeit with limited success, even before Brett Ratner took things down the road of the atrocious LCD spectacle), James Whale channels these feelings of alienation through Karloff’s monster, who yearns to be loved even if he looks different on the surface. The comparison only holds up so far, admittedly; the monster is prone to murderous rampages when crossed, and clearly desires the notion of a female counterpart. But these are only surface manifestations, and politics and sexuality aside, what remains in his story is the basic longing for acceptance. There’s a childlike gratefulness in his eyes when he happens upon a blind hermit who takes him in, one of the few who hasn’t passed judgment based on his externalities.

From mistress Minnie’s gut-bustingly hysterical outbursts to the exaggerated gothic overtones during the final laboratory set scenes, the film walks a fine line between the sly and the silly and emerges triumphantly between the two; Whale’s manipulation is plainly obvious, but no less deft as a result. Case in point: once the final experiment gets underway, the cinematography switches to intensely skewed angles and muggy facial shots, heightening the intensity of the mood and increasing the sense of personal conflict. It’s never in question that this is a movie very much aware of itself, from the forebodingly obvious sets to the self-gratifying score, but there’s no trace of selfishness in how readily the movie deals out the goods to the audience. Reprising the monster, Karloff is as brimming with humanity as ever; although he opposed the choice, that the monster learns to talk (not unlike a toddler acquiring necessary life skills) in this film only increases his dramatic and emotional potential. Ditto Colin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein once more, but perhaps most notable here are the newcomers: Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Pretorius and Elsa Lanchester as the titular bride (quite possibly the most infamy any cinematic character has gained per minutes of screen time). As a purely cinematic exercise, Bride of Frankenstein comes close to being unrivaled.

Feature: Horror Marathon 2006