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Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #204: The Bride of Frankenstein

The horror genre is full of iconic figures, yet only one of them is female and she is not much of a monster in the first place. The Bride in James Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is not a blood thirsty ghoul terrorizing the villagers or even a murderer, but a creature brought to life to be a companion for the Monster from the first movie who doesn’t want to be alone in his existence. Their time together is very brief, yet The Bride’s look is so iconic it has had an impact on pop culture decades after the movie was released. You can see her influence in everything from Marge Simpson’s hairstyle to, more obviously, lesser horror films like Bride of Chucky, which actually features footage from Whale’s film.

Appropriately enough I saw this classic a few days before Halloween 2013 when it became available on Netflix. Given the film’s notoriety I was a little surprised by some of its more humorous aspects and its more melodramatic moments. It has aged for sure given it was released close to 80 years ago. Still, the story as a whole remains a memorable tale of murders, monsters, body snatchers, and ultimately broken hearts. Modern audiences might frown on the black and white and older special effects, but it remains a must-see for horror fans and movie fans in general.

This sequel to Frankenstein, the first of many as with all horror franchises, has a rather creative and meta beginning. The entire Frankenstein franchise is of course based on the book Mary Shelley wrote in 1818 telling the tragic tale of scientist Victor Frankenstein trying to bend the laws of nature by creating a man from spare parts he digs out of a cemetery, only for his creation to ruin his life. James Whale’s movie changed that ending with The Monster (Boris Karloff) seemingly perishing in a burning windmill. In The Bride of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley is a character in the movie and is receiving praise from her husband (Douglas Walton) and poet Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon) for her book only for her to tell them the story is not over yet.

Then the movie leaves the authors and goes back to the ending of Frankenstein to show that indeed The Monster did not die in the fire, but fell into a cave beneath the windmill. On his way out he is responsible for the deaths of two members of the angry mob with pitch forks who put him in that pit however for the rest of the movie his goal is not to spread fear into the countryside, but to be accepted. Meeting a blind hermit (O.P Heggie) in a cottage, he makes his first friend as the man cannot see what he looks like. Together they shares food and the hermit teaches The Monster how to talk. Sadly the friendship ends abruptly when two hunters stumble upon the cottage and only see The Monster instead of the man he could be.

The Monster does not want to be a monster, but since every person is determined for him to be one, he has no other choice than to take on the role. Doctor Frankenstein (Colin Clive) meanwhile wants to leave this chapter of his life behind him and marry his fiancĂ© Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson). But, just when he thinks he’s out, they drag him back in. Doctor Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), Frankenstein’s former mentor, has heard of his experiments and also wishes to play God by creating a bride for The Monster. Adding yet another lawyer of meta storytelling, the actress who plays The Bride (Elsa Lanchester) is the same who plays Mary Shelley in the opening segment.

Despite his name, The Monster is not the villain of this movie. Neither is Doctor Frankenstein, even if he created the creature. In this story he has learned his lesson and has chosen to stop tampering with nature. It is Pretorius who forces his hand by getting The Monster to kidnap Elizabeth and hold her hostage until The Bride is brought to life. Of course just because she too will be made of corpses it doesn’t mean she will automatically like The Monster.

As with most franchises, Frankenstein peaked with its first sequel. The Bride of Frankenstein has been hailed as James Whale’s masterpiece and deservedly so. It is often remembered for its monsters and the gorgeous set design of the laboratory where the monsters are created, but it also has one of the most tragic endings of any horror film when a creature realizes there is no place for him in this world. 

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