MOVIE REVIEW | ***HALLOWEEN WEEK*** The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

For any movie to be remembered eight decades after release is a huge success.   For a sequel to be remembered that long after the fact, it’s almost a miracle. The vast majority of sequels are pale imitations of their predecessors and usually quickly forgotten. Or worse, remembered for all the wrong reasons. In 1931, actor Boris Karloff and director James Whale teamed up to make Frankenstein, a movie that helped define what a horror movie was, with an influence still felt today.

Four years later, after a lot of begging from the studio, they were back. And somehow, they managed to make lightning strike twice, bringing to life another character that’s been almost as enduring as the original, The Bride of Frankenstein.

Picking up directly where the original Frankenstein ends, the village people, are watching a windmill burn with the Monster inside, and patting themselves on the back for a job well done. Only, the Monster’s not dead, and initially no one believes the few eye witness accounts of his survival. At the same time, Dr Frankenstein, having somehow survived being thrown of his castle wall in the original, is recovering and repenting for having brought the Monster to life in the first place.

Doctor Septimus Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), Frankenstein’s old mentor, hits town and lets his former student know how proud he is of his former student’s work. The Monster isn’t too far from Pretorius’ own work. Only where Frankenstein used science to bring rotting human remains back to life, Pretorius is more into creating new life through black magic. So, with lessons learned from the first movie for some, and new forms of horror to deal with from others, The Bride of Frankenstein goes on to expand on the original in some ways, while basically giving the same lesson on morality.

Early on, The Bride of Frankenstein surprised me in a way that I never would have expected from a movie made in 1935. When Pretorius cockily reveals his own handy work, he shows Frankenstein some people he has managed to give life to. Tiny people, small enough to fit in jars. Only here’s the thing, the special effects look amazing, as good as if someone wanted to make tiny people in jars in a movie today. And it’s not as simple as tricky shot composites or arcane rear projection. Pretorius actually interacts with these little dudes and it never looks anything less than totally realistic. These are 80 year old special effects that somehow look better than some CGI crap being churned out in 2014.

Between this, the movie that spawned it and the 1931 Dracula, I haven’t all of a sudden gained a love for the classic movie monsters, but I do feel like they’ve gone a long way to filling a move nerd hole in my own movie watching. The stories have been retold and repurposed so many times now, that it’s impossible to be surprised by any of the plot points. But as a part in Hollywood and film making history, their importance can’t really be overstated.

These are stories and characters referenced and parodied today, because the performances and film making techniques were so important in the evolution of movie making.

Bride of Frankenstein
Directed By – James Whale
Written By – William Hurlbut

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