“Woman… Friend… Wife…”
Brevity was the word that kept crossing my mind as I watched Bride of Frankenstein for the first time. As with the original film, and so many other Universal classics, storytelling is stripped to the bare essentials. This strategy always seems appropriate for a horror film, sneaking a few key themes into its quick and scary premise, and it’s thankfully a lesson that horror still holds onto today. Bride of Frankenstein, like all great horror movies, has some things to say, and it makes a point of saying them without hesitation, which is why I found it so effective.
The film features the return of Boris Karloff to his iconic portrayal of Frankenstein’s monster, with Colin Clive reprising his role as Dr. Frankenstein, both characters who are written back to life for convenience sake at the start of the story. And what a strange start it is: Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester), author of the original Frankenstein tale, tells fellow authors Lord Byron and Percy Shelley that she has devised a sequel for her story and wishes to share it with them. It’s a strange framing device that is never brought up again, and it wasn’t present in the original movie, leaving me puzzled about its function in the movie, but I press on.
If Frankstein was about creating life, Bride of Frankstein is about sustaining it with meaning. In what I thought was the most integral scene, Frankenstein’s creature stumbles into a cabin in the woods, the home of a blind man. Desperate for a companion, the hermit (O. P. Heggie) teaches the creature about friendship. This drives the monster to desire a mate, and he is manipulated by the sinister Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) to force Frankenstein to create yet another creature. Horror ensues.
I think the movie’s pacing is perfect, even better than the original film’s, and it balances philosophy with horror at a ratio that I can really get behind. While the original film was about Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, this movie feels more like the monster’s journey alone, with Frankenstein as a side character. Universal was clearly milking the star power of Boris Karloff, even allowing him to speak and develop complex human traits over the course of the film. The “Bride” isn’t shown until the end, making the movie the 1935 equivalent of clickbait, but it’s a beautiful film if you can separate the movie from the marketing, and its story is more thoughtful and deliberate than an equivalent monster flick of today.
I’ve heard high praise for Bride of Frankenstein from some critics that I respect, many of whom call it the greatest of the Universal monster films or even the greatest horror film. I wouldn’t put it in the discussion for greatest horror film, but I was once again delighted to take on an original Universal monster movie, and this is among the upper tier of the lot that I’ve seen so far. In their own unique way, each movie has been satisfying and thought-provoking without overstaying their welcome, and they’re all better than the new Mummy movie, though that’s not saying much.
Films Left to Watch: 871