Review: Bride of Frankenstein

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Among the first of Universal’s classic horror pictures, James Whale’s 1931 Frankenstein remains one of the most iconic and influential films of the genre. Its 1935 successor Bride of Frankenstein builds on the legacy of the original, adapting previously untapped elements of Mary Shelley’s novel.

Rising from the fiery rubble under which he was left at the previous film’s climax, Frankenstein’s monster flees the society which fears and misunderstands him. Cornering his creator, he demands a mate be created for him; a bride to be for him the one thing he truly desires: a friend.

One of the most remarkable things about the 1931 Frankenstein was the astounding humanity attributed to the infamous “monster”. His violence was born rather of the misunderstandings and misguided preconceptions of society’s attitude toward him than an inherent monstrousness. Indeed, much as with The Invisible Man —also directed by Whale— the real monster of the tale was shown to be mankind, the chaos which occurred directly precipitated by their refusal to accept somebody different; somebody “ugly”. Frankenstein’s monster—in his fears, isolation, and yearning to be understood—was arguably ever more human than the film’s other characters, quick as they were to condemn that which differed to them. Building vastly upon Whale’s earlier Frankenstein, Bride develops its “monster” into a truly deep character, even ingeniously inviting consideration of him as a Christ-like figure and of humanity as the fearful masses who put to death what they seem unable, maybe unwilling, to understand. Subtle in his invocation of these potentially sensitive biblical parallels, Whale cleverly creates a wealth of religious symbolism, adding yet more depth to an already emotionally rich and profound fable. The key scene in Bride depicts the meeting of the “monster” and a blind man living outside society. Unable to see the creature, and thus unable to immediately assume the same notions as those who bear witness to his hideousness, the hermit instead embraces, offering a paternal concern, kindness, and care appropriately befitting the childlike innocence of the “monster”. Each finds in the other a friend, somebody who neither judges nor dismisses them based upon their surface flaws, but instead compliments their own qualities. An immensely touching and emotional scene, this is the definitive moment wherein the film reaches the all-too-rare emotional transcendence cinema can attain. When this new friendship is discovered by society, it is immediately misinterpreted and destroyed, perhaps the most crushing of the film’s many tragedies. And yet for all the film’s thematic darkness—matched, it should be added, in the splendid German Expressionism -inspired cinematography— it never fails to be entertaining and funny, bringing a witty charm to a chilling tale. Not only is Bride of Frankenstein one of precious few sequels surpassing its predecessor in quality —a feat doubly rare in this particular genre— it is also a characteristic representative of the quality of the definitive golden age of Hollywood horror.

Because it presents not a standard scary monster, but an empathetic creature with stunning depth of emotion; because it utilizes the all-too-underused transcendent power of horror to achieve true profundity; because it is charming and funny whilst never sacrificing the fundamental disturbing nature of its themes; because it holds a mirror to its audience and invites them to consider the monstrosity of humanity; because of all this and more, Bride of Frankenstein is a masterpiece of its genre, and indeed of cinema as a whole.

[notification type=”star”]90/100 – Deservedly touted as among the finest of the early Universal horror films, James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein is a masterpiece of religious allegory, emotional depth, and precisely constructed terror.[/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.