Bride of Frankenstein

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  • Year: 1935
  • Director: James Whale
  • Starring: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Valerie Hobson

For my first entry into the Horror Sequels match-up, I’m starting with one of the originals—1935’s Bride of Frankenstein.

THE ORIGINAL

Frankenstein was released in 1931 and was both a major hit at the time and is considered a classic today. I’ll be honest—I had never watched the 1930 Dracula film in its entirety until last year, and it really does not work today. Frankenstein, however, holds up marvelously, with impressive directing, a strong script, and an incredible lead performance by Colin Clive as Dr. Henry Frankenstein. It also made Boris Karloff a star, even though he was listed as “?” in the credits.

THE SEQUEL

In a complete reversal, Boris Karloff is now billed as the top star and the Bride is listed as “?.” Before the arguments roll in, perhaps Bride of Frankenstein is not a proper title, as Frankenstein is the monster, but are we really still arguing that one? It’s a bride that Dr. Frankenstein created for his monster. It’s a much better title than The Bride of Frankenstein’s Monster. Happy Perfectionists?, which was rejected as a Hays Code film could not openly insult its audience in the title.

Our film begins on a dark stormy night and we zoom in on the home of… Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester). Remember, this is just a few years after Frankenstein, and Universal is already playing with their horror tropes long before Abbott and Costello come onto the scene. Mary is telling her husband Percy and friend Lord Byron the continuing story of Frankenstein.

It seemed pretty clear in Frankenstein that the monster was dead, so Bride has to quickly retcon that, which it does by showing that the Monster landed in a pit under the mill he fell from. It’s lazy, but it gets the plot in motion, and also separates him from the doctor for a while. Meanwhile, Henry Frankenstein is trying to forget his old ways and settle down with his new wife Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson)… and I mean brand new. She’s played by a different actress who looks nothing like the one from the previous film, which is especially jarring in a film that picks up immediately where the first one left off.

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So beyond hair color and length, age, overall appearance and affinity for hats, how have our characters developed? Elizabeth still acts as the voice of reason for Henry, trying to keep him away from his old ways. Henry, after almost being killed by his creation, has sworn off trying to create life, but this is put to the test when an old influence comes into his life. The Monster himself perhaps has the most interesting development, going from a force of nature who only speaks in grunts, to a thinking, reasoning individual. He doesn’t wax eloquent or anything, but he clearly learns things throughout the movie, and he ultimately has to stop the unnatural creation of life.

The most prominent new character is not the titular bride, but rather Doctor Septimus Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger).

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I assume J.K. Rowling loses sleep over not thinking up that name first.

Pretorius is an old mentor of Frankenstein’s and, even though the story is allegedly being told by Mary Shelley, is a film original character. Pretorius is also a creator of life, but instead of mix-and-match creatures, he creates miniature humans or homunculi for my readers who are up on their alchemy. He wants to bring Frankenstein out of retirement and create a mate for his monster. Unlike Frankenstein, who is sympathetic to an extent, both in that he struggles with continuing his studies and that he never kills anyone directly, Pretorius will do whatever it takes to complete his experiments. His assistant (Dwight Frye) murders someone to use her parts in the creation of the Bride, and Pretorius holds Elizabeth captive to make sure Frankenstein helps him in his creation.

Ernest Thesiger makes Pretorius an extremely memorable character, giving him a larger-than-life sensibility and just the right amount of camp to make it work. He is also probably the closest a Hays Code film could come to portraying a homosexual character, with director James Whale telling Thesiger to play him as an “over the top caricature of a bitchy and aging homosexual.” Critics have argued over how many homosexual themes the movie actually presents, spurred on by the fact that James Whale was gay and that Colin Clive and Ernest Thesiger were probably bisexual, but it’s hard to miss it with Pretorius.

We also get the character of the blind hermit (O.P. Heggie), which was of course parodied brilliantly in Mel Brooks’ classic Young Frankenstein.

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What surprises me about this scene is just how effective it is after years of watching the parody. Gene Hackman’s scene in Young Frankenstein is one of the funniest scenes of all time, and yet the very similar scene it is based on doesn’t come off as hilarious now. I found myself touched by this scene, as the hermit genuinely feels a kinship with this “monster,” who is gradually becoming less and less evil. He doesn’t just teach him words like “friend” and “good,” but genuinely shows him what they mean.

Then of course, we have the Bride herself (Elsa Lanchester). It may surprise first-time viewers that she is only in a few minutes of the movie, because the look has become so iconic, especially the “skunk stripe” hair.

randy

Sorry, my topical jokes are a bit outdated.

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Once the Bride is created, the Monster tries to reach out to her, saying the word “Friend” that the hermit taught him. She screams out in horror, and he is worried she hates him just like the villagers do. He tells Dr. Frankenstein to go, but tells the Bride and Pretorius “We belong dead,” blowing up the castle as Henry and Elizabeth escape.

It’s an incredibly poignant ending that the Monster himself frees the creator from his madness. He has learned enough to understand that what his creator has done is unnatural. He knows that Dr. Frankenstein is redeemable, but that Pretorius is not. Many times in “mad scientist” stories, the scientist will be killed by his creation, but having him get redeemed by his creation? That’s fascinating. Let’s take a look at the final score.

Story (24/30 Points)

Not every scene feels necessary, but there are just so many that are effective, from the blind hermit to almost any scene with Pretorius to the brilliant ending. It takes the story from the first and develops it believably.

Returning Characters (11/15 Points)

Henry and Elizabeth don’t get all that much development from the first, although Henry fighting with his old life vs. his new one works well. The Monster, however, has developed the most and Karloff is phenomenal in his portrayal.

New Characters (13/15 Points)

Pretorius steals the show in every scene he’s in, thanks to great writing and Ernest Thesiger’s charismatic performance. The Bride and the Hermit also cement themselves as characters for the ages in just a few minutes of screen time. There are other new characters like Pretorius’ laboratory assistants, a housekeeper, and the real-life authors in the prologue who don’t add much, but they don’t really detract either.

Experience (19/25 Points)

It’s a very good-looking film, with great set pieces and incredible make-up work on the monsters, as well as a fitting score by Franz Waxman. It’s not really scary per se, even in comparison to the original (no little girls are killed in this one), but it also isn’t really trying to be terrifying, but rather be a serious drama.

Originality (11/15 Points)

Sure, it follows a lot of beats from the first film, but it does a lot of things fresh and new as well. The old mentor character is an archetype that has been around forever, but since Pretorius is an evil mentor, it makes for a much more interesting story. It definitely deals with more serious themes than the basic “creating life” premise of the original.

FINAL SCORE: 78%

SO IS IT BETTER?

It’s a tough call, because the movies really work as companion pieces to each other. I mean, sure, the best sequels should do exactly that, but this one picks up right where the first left off. If you drop the prologue, you could just watch it as one continuous movie (pretending you don’t notice the actress change). If I had to pick, I would choose Bride for the Monster’s character development, the new characters, and especially the ending. It is undoubtedly a classic.

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Introduction: Horror Movie Sequels

As we wrap up August and head into September and October, it’s time to begin the horror match-up. This year, I’ll be taking a look at ten horror sequels to find out which is the best.

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I’ll be revealing the movies one week at a time, because I am open to recommendations. I want to know what horror sequels you think are the best, underrated, or just interesting in some way. I will try to stay away from the ones that have been talked to death like Aliens and Dawn of the Dead, but anything else is on the table. Just leave me a comment here or contact me on Twitter to submit a suggestion.

bride

For my first entry into the Horror Sequels match-up, I’m starting with one of the originals—1935’s Bride of Frankenstein(More)

oemn2

Today, we’ll be taking a look at a sequel to one of the most successful horror films of all time, 1976’s The Omen(More)

psychoii

Psycho II aka Psycho II: I Didn’t Know There Was a Psycho II was made in 1983, more than 20 years after Alfred Hitchcock’s original… (More)

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Book vs. Movie Match-Up: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe #3

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It’s been a close match-up between the book and Disney film, but every version has scored at least one point. Today, we’ll be taking a look at the final categories and discover which version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is truly the best.

EXPERIENCE

This is an unfair category to judge right? A book doesn’t have special effects, a score, or visual storytelling. Sure, but books have descriptions and writing styles that are really hard for a movie to adapt barring a constant narrator. All four of these versions have their unique flavor and feel, and they all display it very differently.

I’ve talked about the bad costuming in the BBC version, but let’s be honest here. Almost everything technical in the BBC versions is laughably bad. There are exceptions like the aforementioned Aslan puppet and the opening theme which is perfectly serviceable (best you’re gonna get from me, sorry). For the things that are wrong, I don’t want to be here all day, so it’s time for the speed round.

SPEED

  • Maugrim is played by a man in a wolf costume but switches to an actual wolf when he runs
  • The battle looks like it has 12 people fighting in it
  • The battle has a cameo by Sonny The Cuckoo
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I’m cuckoo for Turkish Delight
  • They’re not even trying with the witch’s dwarf’s fake beard
  • With the exception of the Queen’s castle, these sets look like someone decorated their backyard in five minutes.

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NO! I didn’t even get to mention the scene that is reminiscent of the coat hanger scene from Birdemic. I’m still putting this up there.

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I feel bad for insulting the groundbreaking special effects of Birdemic by lowering it to BBC Narnia standards. I just can’t believe someone let this go. Let’s move on to the cartoon.

The animation is terrible. It’s cheap, shoddy, the snow doesn’t always move in the background, and it really takes you out of it. At first. It doesn’t get better, but for one reason or another, after a while it starts to absorb you. I give a lot of credit to the music, which is really nice. Okay, it’s not John Williams, but for a cheap TV cartoon it’s far above average.

The Disney film is a big budget, effects-laden production a la Lord of the Rings. There’s a green screen or two that is evident, but for the most part, the effects really work, especially the talking animals. Harry Gregson William’s score is sweeping and pleasant, but it sounds very similar at times to Disney’s The Santa Clause.

C.S. Lewis applies a very unique writing style to the book, in that he often writes these humorous asides that one might add when telling a story in person. In some works, it would fall apart, but this is such a fantastical but simple story that it works. It’s not a huge epic like Lord of the Rings, but a small story about children out of their element. Here’s one of my favorites from when the children first meet the beavers:

“It’s all right,” he was shouting. “Come out, Mrs Beaver. Come out, Sons and Daughters of Adam. It’s all right! It isn’t Her!” This was bad grammar of course, but that is how beavers talk when they are excited; I mean, in Narnia – in our world they usually don’t talk at all.

I have grown up with this story in various versions, but when I read that portion in preparation for this, I laughed out loud. Lewis has a great way of planning and writing polished asides that sound like they’re off-the-cuff. It feels like a story out of oral tradition and it works. I give the point to the book.

BEST STORY (2 POINTS)

Well it comes down to this. It’s sort of tough to judge the story, because they all do tell the same one with very few changes. Sure, Father Christmas is taken out of the cartoon, but the weapons he gives are still given to the children. It comes down more to the pacing.

The book is a brisk tale, moving the story along while still allowing us to enjoy the characters. The BBC version is painfully slow, almost three hours long, meaning characters often speak their lines slowly simply to make it longer. For some reason, we don’t even meet Aslan until nearly two hours in, meaning this version is both dragged out and rushed.

The cartoon tells the story wonderfully, containing it all to 90 minutes. We don’t see too much of the battle, but we don’t see it in the book either. I can’t knock it for telling the story similarly to the source material. It sadly doesn’t give a lot of time to character development, but we get all the major points. Ample time is spent where needed, and nothing drags.

The Disney film tells the whole story while expanding certain parts. We see the blitz of London in the beginning, and we immediately see the conflict between Peter and Edmund. We see more of the Professor’s house, which isn’t necessary I guess, but it definitely shows the characters having fun in our world too. The biggest expansion is the final battle scene, which really works well, because we see how dedicated everyone is to the Narnian cause. Edmund redeems himself by confronting the White Witch, and we finally get to see Susan do something in battle by killing the Witch’s dwarf (perhaps a peace offering for the sexist Santa of the book). Aslan’s defeat of the Witch is a bit anticlimactic, but that works. It’s this battle where everyone’s outnumbered, but then he just comes back and ends it, because he’s God. A Deus ex Machina doesn’t work in all stories, but it does here. One of my favorite additions is Peter’s constant conflict with Maugrim, greatly helped by Michael Madsen’s performance. It really makes his death scene more satisfying. Like I said, I was raised on this book, but I do believe the Disney film tells the story the best.

finalBEST OVERALL VERSION

At the end of the day, the Disney film takes a great book and makes an incredibly entertaining film out of it. It is a great lesson in an adaptation done right. Sure, it helps that the source material is short, but everything just works.

The book and Disney film both come highly recommended, and to be honest it really doesn’t matter which order you enjoy them in. You’ll find nice little surprises either way. The cartoon works for young children, but if you’re interested, you will probably find some things you enjoy. I can’t recommend the BBC version, because the whole thing feels like it was a chore to make, and it’s quite a chore to watch too. There are a few things that work, but it’s not enough to justify a three hour watch.

Next, we’ll dive into Prince Caspian and see if the Disney series continues their streak.

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