Director: James Whale
Cast: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Valerie Hobson, Eernest Thesiger
Yet another classic horror film released as part of BFI’s ‘Gothic Season’, Bride of Frankenstein was screened (for free!) by Grimmfest inside the grandiose – and slightly off-putting- Reading Room of the John Rylands library, the gothic hive of Greater Manchester.
Released in 1935, Bride of Frankenstein is a smash hit feature length horror and sequel to the 1931 original. Akin to the recent plundering of Tolkien’s appendices, made necessary to beef out The Hobbit films, Bride of Frankenstein was adapted from a very minor sub-plot in Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, ‘Frankenstein’.
Picking up literally seconds from where the last left off, Frankenstein’s Monster rises from the ashes like a zombie phoenix and bolts (sorry) away into the night. As all havoc breaks loose in the Germanic countryside, the Lucifer-like Dr. Pretorius tries to convince the heavily jaded and guilt ridden Dr. Frankenstein to have one more stab at creating unnatural life…a wife for his undead son. This particular version was evidently different to the original cut; unlike the theatrical release, this film contained a distracting opener in which an actress portraying Mary Shelley herself begins to dictate the story off the cuff to Lord Byron and her fiancé – bizarre and unnecessary to say the least.
Bride of Frankenstein has aged rather well for a film of its time, and Boris Karloff as The Monster frightens with his presence as he lumbers through the woods crushing hapless maids and shepherds. His primal cunning and sheer strength are revealed at one point when he topples a huge stone monument and squeezes into the crawl space below to avoid his pursuers – this moment is actually paid homage to in last year’s Riddick, as Vin Diesel’s shiny eyed merc recreates the scenario in almost identical fashion. On the flip-side, Bride of Frankenstein often drifts into an overtly camp silliness and thus detracts from the horror; at times it really isn’t far off from Gene Wilder’s 1974 spoof, Young Frankenstein. Moreover, since The Monster is now able to speak and appreciate music and fine wine, a great deal of his initial menace is lost.
The rest of the cast do fine, but most fall foul of the ‘early talkies’ syndrome whereby they over enunciate to an absurd level, similar to an elderly person shouting down the phone during a long distance call for fear the listener may miss something. Valerie Hobson as the concerned wife serves her purpose and is duly ‘fridged’ so as to kick Dr Frankenstein into gear, but it is Ernest Thesiger’s vice stricken corpse meddler that really sticks in the mind. With his imposing voice and alarming, skeletal features he would have made an excellent Dracula in his day…he could have really been able to sink his teeth into the role.
Bride of Frankenstein is paired with a pace quickening score and contains some genuinely haunting imagery, and of course the cinematography is nothing short of iconic. Such effort went into set production that they couldn’t even afford stock footage of a bat – instead, they dangled what appears to be a couple of scrunched up socks from a string on the ceiling. It all adds to the charm though, and it’s plain to see why Karloff’s Monster endures as the Frankenstein symbol, even after dozens of remakes and semi-sequels.