Director: James Whale
Starring: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Ernest Thesiger
Review Author: Tony
Synopsis: Continuing from where the first film left us, the villagers surround the burning remains of the windmill and cheer the supposed demise of the monster. Not known to them is that both Dr. Frankenstein and his monster are very much alive. Frankenstein vows to leave his work behind, horrified by the results, but the mysterious Professor Pretorious threatens to drag him back.
Now into week 2 of this month’s spooky season, I’ll be shifting focus from last week’s theme of indie horror to horror classics of the early to mid 20th century. What better film to kick off proceedings than Bride of Frankenstein, widely praised as one of the greatest sequels of all time and considered by some an improvement over the original 1931 Frankenstein. Frankenstein has always been for me the best example of science fiction horror where broader themes and metaphors can be explored in terrifying and creative ways.
Continuing the themes of science vs nature, progress vs ethics, and playing god, Bride of Frankenstein is a fantastic follow up that expands the story, bulks up the characters, and delivers some of the most memorable moments in cinema history. James Whale returned to the director’s chair after apparently some serious convincing. Similar to how Sam Raimi returned for Evil Dead 2, both directors infused more humour and awareness of the sillier sides of their scripts while also retaining the creepy atmosphere and key elements that made the original films so beloved.
Although named after the Bride, her screen time is very short, but her impact is huge. The majority of the films runtime belongs to the monster as Boris Karloff receives top billing (he wasn’t credited in the original film). The monster is far more complex here; still childlike and simple but prone to violence and more maliciousness as he develops awareness and intellect. He remains a sympathetic figure disgusted by his own existence, rejected for his differences, and only seeking a friend in this strange world he doesn’t understand. The scenes where he befriends a blind hermit are tragic as we see the creature develop mentally and emotionally, a stark reminder of how compassion and understanding could have shaped him.
Doctor Frankenstein is a more compelling character as well. He’s haunted by the failure of his experiment, but still intrigued by the results produced. Frankenstein is torn, he has become a god fearing man fighting the temptations of the larger questions his experiment raises but finds himself relapsing with the sudden arrival of his former professor, Doctor Pretorious. If Frankenstein is a mad scientist, then Pretorious is the Super Saiyan version of mad scientists. Pretorious is eager to bring Frankenstein back into the fold to once again create life, but Pretorious wishes to do it to spit in the face of god with no other motive than for the LOLZ.
While it’s hard to criticize the film being a product of its time, the comic relief character Minnie is pretty insufferable throughout. Shrieking and bumbling like a court jester, actress Una O’Connor was clearly instructed to ham it up for the audience, only short of looking directly into the camera. It’s a shame because the films still delivers plenty of laughs with the monster’s new found penchant for gargle and smokes.
I may not be in the camp of considering Bride of Frankenstein better than the original, but I recognize that it certainly has improvements over Frankenstein. The script may be sillier but also asks bigger questions. The production is more impressive with fantastic cinematography that dips into gothic and whimsical; the acting is markedly improved as Clive Collins and Karloff are given meatier roles, and the score is fantastic. I hope to give this film a larger write up in the future, as I’ve only scratched the surface and barely delved into the film’s rich themes and sense of sexuality throughout.
This review is a part of this month’s focus on horror films as part of Halloween season. You can find the full schedule, along with weekly subgenre and previous reviews here.
Rating: 4 / 5 Glasses of Scotch