When people start chipping in when asked about the greatest sequels ever made, I’m always sorta pissed that in among the usual retorts of The Godfather Part 2 and Aliens, no one ever thinks to brings up Bride Of Frankenstein. It drives me nuts primarily because firstly, it’s really, really good; but it also fills out every single parameter that makes a superior follow up – something that’s immensely impressive when you consider that James Whale knocked this little beauty out back in 1935 when sequels where as rare as unicorn poop.
As punchy, stylish and innovative as it’s painfully classic original, Whale builds and dramatically expands on the first story’s nuts and bolts while managing to give intriguing new arc to established characters.
In essence he’s fittingly building a better monster…
After we’re brought up to speed on previous events by Mary Shelly herself as she retells her classic tale to a grandstanding Lord Byron (how’s THAT for a bit of off-beat story telling?), we rejoin things as that climatic windmill conflagration has died down to an angry smolder and all the pitchfork wielding villagers are satisfied that Henry Frankenstein’s lumbering creation has burned up like a narcoleptic chain smoker. However, the creature has managed to survive and soon is back to loping across the wilderness as the bickering villagers give chase and even temporarily manage to trap the creature. Meanwhile, Henry slowly recuperates from his near fatal fall and wants nothing to do with all the chaos he’s directly caused, but as he gears up for another crack at a murder-wedding with his fiance, Elizabeth, he is visited by the flamboyantly sinister Dr. Pretorius who is also obsessed with creating life. As he pokes and prods at Henry in an attempt to get him to bite, the Creature has settled down with an old blind hermit who actually doesn’t treat him like the hulking throttle-machine the world has branded him. Fed, warm and plied with a steady stream of booze (yeah, THAT’S responsible) the monster finally seems happy and even learns how to speak; obviously this doesn’t last long, but after a chance meeting with the gleefully deranged Pretorius lead to them both team up and force Henry to forge his vengeful creation a mate. With the life of his beloved Elizabeth at stake, Henry gets to work on pissing directly on the laws of nature all over again, but what terrible ramifications will take place once he breathes life into the Bride Of Frankenstein?
List any successful trait that goes into making a great sequel tick and chances are you’ll find them in this movie. The basic story is the same but subtly different with the protagonists making a woman this time but under different circumstances; it enriches the existing characters by allowing them to grow beyond who they were in the previous movie and additional characters arrive to recklessly fuck with the established status quo – it’s all textbook stuff and Bride Of Frankenstein pulls it all off beautifully.
The key to a sizable part of this is the introduction of Ernest Thesiger as the gleefully amoral Dr. Septimus Pretorius who acts as the unapologetic villain of the piece while he minces about the place, camping up proceedings magnificently. Whether enticing his former student back into the world of scientific deviance with his bizarre collection of home-grown tiny people or just hanging out and eating a spot of dinner in a crypt for no other reason than he just wants to, he is a splendidly weird creation and almost strides away with the whole movie stuffed in his little black bag.
As for the titular Bride, once again Whale pulls off a stunning design that’s effortlessly iconic despite being faintly ludicrous. Sporting a long flowing dress, bandaged arms and zig zagging shock of white hair in her Marge Simpon beehive, she’s memorably performed by Elsa Lanchester pulling double duty, as she also portrays Mary Shelly in the prologue in a cool piece of casting. The scene were she and her mate finally meet is legitimate horror genre history and anyone who’s ever been set up on a lousy blind date will no doubt feel a familiar chill run up and down their spine like a xylophone solo in a jazz club.
The most successful aspect of the movie, however, turns out to be the progression of the character of Frankenstein’s Monster which doubles down on the tragic nature of the creature by having the balls to make him not only fully sentient but also has him fully drive the plot by the movie’s end. Somehow making the flat-topped lug even more iconic than he was before, the “humanization” of the creature creates unforgettable moments that zap powerful moments of poignancy into those oversized neck bolts. Boris Karloff is, naturally, more than up to the job, practically relishing the Creature’s pain and anguish as life continues to crap on him from an awfully great height. Watch his reaction when he’s spurned by the only other creature like him on the face of the earth and his final line of – “We belong dead!”, delivered with an awful finality is one of the all time kiss-off lines in history.
Despite being virtually perfect, there’s a few wrinkles: Colin Clive’s role as Frankenstein is now secondary thanks to the continuing antics of the far more intriguing Pretorius, although he still gets to holler a satisfying callback by bellowing “SHE’S ALIVE!” once the Bride is given life. Also, the fact that all the denizens of this German village have broad cockney accents reaches it’s nadir in the screeching comic relief of Minnie, the Frankenstein’s awful housekeeper.
With that being said, the film still manages to retain it’s rather brutal attitude with some honestly suprising bursts of violence – most noticably the unfathomably cruel fates of the parents of the drowned girl from the first movie. Flatly refusing to leave the smoking ruins of Frankenstein’s windmill, they’re the first to discover that the creature’s prognosis is very much “not dead” and they’re subsequently the first to living crap killed out of them by strangulation and being dashed on some rocks. The casual brutality of a couple of legitimately wronged characters is a stark reminder that even though the creature is a tragic figure, he’s still incredibly dangerous and not above crushing the odd larynx here and there in order to prove a point…
Essentially a how-to guide on how to perform the impossible task of bettering perfection, Bride Of Frankenstein is a stunning achievement and is probably James Whale’s true masterpiece that succeeds in stitching pathos, violence and a jet black vein of dark humour together to make a flawless patchwork of classic horror that remains proudly iconic to this very day.
Newlywed and wonderfully dead, this Bride Of Frankenstein is the pride of Frankenstein.