BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (October 21st)
YOU'VE GOT RED ON YOU TAKES PART IN THE 31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN CHALLENGE; WATCHING ONE HORROR MOVIE A DAY THROUGHOUT OCTOBER. SOME OF THEM OLD, SOME OF THEM NEW, SOME OF THEM HAVE JUST BEEN ON OUR SHELVES FOR YEARS GATHERING DUST, STILL IN CELLOPHANE...
During last year's 31 Days Challenge (or maybe the one before) I managed to work my way through several features from my Universal Classics collection. It's the 8-film box set that most horror fans have – and if you don't have it, you really should. I'm a little embarrassed to say that it's only recently that I've really made an afford to watch the classics from this era and if I am being honest, I would say that during my years as a horror fan, I have devoured copious amounts of genre films but the old black and white PG rated stuff didn't have the same appeal as the nastier/scarier stuff from the 70s and 80s. They were my 'classics'. However, quite frankly, I was an idiot and I have got great enjoyment from watching Dracula and The Invisible Man and Frankenstein and am something of a Universal convert at this point. The only two films in my boxset I haven't seen are Arthur Lubin's Phantom of the Opera (1943) and James Whale's Bride of Frankenstein (1935). I went for the latter.
The film begins with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley having a chin wag with author of Frankenstein, Mary Shelly about her best selling book. Not the real people, mind you – they obviously died about 100 years before this film was made. Mary Shelley reveals to them that there is more of the story to tell – and we switch to the end of the 1931 film Frankenstein where Henry Frankenstein and the monster both seemingly died in a fire. But SHOCK HORROR! They aren't dead. Henry is taken back to his ancestral home (presumed dead) but his wife soon realises that he is alive. Meanwhile, Frankenstein's monster is basically just trying to survive day to day. I mean, sure, he is drowning and scaring the shit out people but hey, he's not got much of a choice. All the villagers are assholes. Henry is then visited by his former mentor, Dr Pretorious, who tries convincing Henry to help him with an experiment. Namely, he wants to create a female companion for Henry's original creation...
As expected, I kinda loved Bride of Frankenstein. I adore the original but I think this has a little bit more going for it generally speaking. It's campier, more self aware and there's a strong comedic edge that its predecessor doesn't have. Of course none of it is 'scary' to modern audiences. The scenes where people are killed are actually mildly amusing. Watching Frankenstein throw someone off the roof of a building – when it's obvious he's just chucking a man sized doll over the edge – is great fun. However, during production it actually fell foul of the censors who had problems with certain bits of dialogue that compared Frankenstein's work with that of God himself and there were also concerns that there was a bit too much of Mary Shelley on show in the opening scene, which now seems laughable. But this film was made 85 years ago and that's worth remembering ultimately.
That fact also makes the technical quality of the movie so impressive too. It's got that whole German Expressionist look perfected and the sets and lighting are beautifully constructed. The practical and special effects are quite stunning too. There's one scene in particular where Pretorious shows Henry a little set of miniature humans that he has created (and stored in jars). It's ingenious. Karloff looks amazing as the big ol' monster – although I am not mad on the fact that they decided it was a good idea to have him 'talk'. Even Karloff himself thought it was a bad idea. To be fair, his vocab is pretty limited and basically just entails him asking for cigars and booze, which is pretty great. Frankenstein's monster has always been a sympathetic character and it's really difficult to not view him as the hero of all of this. He just wants to fit in and find love and not scare the shit out of every one he comes into contact with. There's a lovely five minute section in the middle of the movie where he befriends a blind man and the two of them soon become best buds. Ernest Thesinger also deserves a mention as the wonderfully twisted Dr Pretorious and he arguably has most of the best lines of the film.
The criticism from most people that have watched (and love) this film is that (SPOILER ALERT) we get to see shockingly little of the eponymous Bride. She's in it for about five minutes and doesn't really do much. However the climax of this movie is so wonderfully realised that it's hard to feel too much frustration or disappointment. This sits right up there with the best of the Universal movies and I'm a fool for waiting so long to finally see it.