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Review: The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Directed by: James Whale

Premise: The sequel to the 1931 edition of Frankenstein. Immediately following the events of the original film, Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) is visited by the mysterious Doctor Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) who plans to build a female companion for The Monster (Boris Karloff).

What Works: The Bride of Frankenstein is among the best of the classic Universal monster films. This series of pictures made by Universal in the 1930s and 40s, which includes Dracula, The Wolf Man, and The Mummy as well as all of their sequels and spinoffs, have a consistent style, looking less like a realistic or specific place or period of European history and more like the setting of a European fairy tale. Bride of Frankenstein represents the height of that style and the cinematography and the set design create a coherent story world that sells the fantasy. One of the underappreciated features of Universal’s monster films is their acting and character work. Universal specialized in creating tragic creatures whose monstrosity was a curse and Bride of Frankenstein does this wonderfully. Although the reveal of Frankenstein’s Monster in the original film is not to be topped, this film smartly avoids trying to recapture that moment and instead continues to develop the character, incorporating and progressively restoring his humanity and thereby amplifying the character’s empathy. This is done especially well in the scene in which the Monster takes shelter with a blind hermit (O.P. Heggie) and the film achieves great emotional appeal for the Monster that pays off later. The other monster of this film is Doctor Pretorius, played wonderfully by Ernest Thesiger. This devilish character takes on the role of the mad scientist, superseding even Doctor Frankenstein, and his ego and diabolical contempt for humanity make him a memorable villain. He is also a source of humor for Bride of Frankenstein, and the film manages to incorporate a healthy amount of it while never turning the story or the characters into a joke.

What Doesn’t: The only notable flaw of Bride of Frankenstein is in its resolution. The ending is satisfactory but it is also very abrupt and the story’s time with the Bride is very limited. 

DVD extras: The Bride of Frankenstein is packaged in The Frankenstein Legacy Collection DVD set, which also includes the original Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, The Ghost of Frankenstein, and House of Frankenstein. The set also includes commentary tracks, documentaries, featurettes, and trailers.

Bottom Line: The Bride of Frankenstein is one of the great horror pictures not just of its time but in the history of the genre. It is one the best examples of fantastical storytelling in Hollywood cinema and its influence can be seen in films as diverse as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Empire Strikes Back, and Bride of Chucky.

Episode: #310 (October 17, 2010)