James Whale returns to direct the sequel to 1931’s Frankenstein which finds the monster still alive beneath the collapsed windmill. Where the first movie featured horror in its purest form, this film would continue along similar lines but also take a turn into comic book territory with a villain in Pretorious who’s mad doctor persona was taken to a more exaggerated level. It had been four years since the first movie about Mary Shelley’s famous monster and after a long wait it was found to indeed be worth it. The movie would go on to be just as famous as the first film and be one of the first pictures to ever start a franchise, much less having a sequel. Whale’s direction is flawless in this film with many memorable scenes not only featuring Boris Karloff in the role of the monster, but a new creature after which this film is entitled.
As the movie starts out, we find that not only did the monster survive, but so did Henry, though much those worse for wear. As the film progresses Henry recovers from his wounds as does the monster and though their paths run separate for a while, they soon come together once more. Enter Dr. Pretorius, Henry’s former mentor, who after hearing of what his pupil has done, wants to repeat the experiment and create a bride for the monster. As they argue about it, the monster of Frankenstein is running for his life from the villagers until he comes across the cabin of an old blind man. What follows is one of the most famous scenes in all of cinema as the old man treats the monster with kindness, something he had never experienced up until this point. After a confluence of events, the monster, Henry and Pretorius are back at the castle and creating a companion, a bride for the monster, all the while breaking the laws of nature once again.
The film is a truly beautiful piece of cinema and it can all be attributed to not only the expert direction by Whale, but also the cinematography by John J. Mescall and the art direction by Charles D. Hall. The film flows perfectly from one scene to the next with some of the most stunning shots are once again within the castle. There are many inventive camera angles chronicling the birth of the monster’s bride and the doings of the scientists and it lends to the ominous air of the picture. When the castle explodes it is a frenetic bit of filmmaking that sees the scene cutting back and forth from the interior to the exterior as it all comes crashing down around Pretorius and the monsters who are still inside. Whale and company create a wonderfully moody and atmospheric production, as good as the first film, which also helps to further the thematic structure that began in the first film of life and death and man versus nature. Aiding in this venture were William Hurlbut and John L. Balderston with a script that found the monster being able to speak and able to emote what he was feeling without simply growling. What could have been more of the same turned out to be surprisingly, much more.
Starring Boris Karloff once again in the role of the famous monster, he would oppose the monster being able to speak off camera, but in the end he lost out and what followed would be some of the most classic scenes ever caught on film. Karloff’s performance would not be as subtle as the last film as the script required him to be a bit more aggressive as the monster is no longer as innocent as he first appeared. His monster now understood things and it gave Karloff some material to work with as his character was able to advance with this picture, though sadly it would also end with this film. Joining Karloff once again was Colin Clive, a well-known alcoholic by this point in time, but whether it affected his performance you could never tell as he still plays the doctor with a touch of madness to his personality. Clive who was far more electric in the first film is still vibrant, but as his character wants no part of what is going on, he is much more subdued than his original performance. It does not take away from the film by any means as his mentor Pretorius more than makes up for it.
Ernest Thesiger plays the aforementioned Dr. Pretorius. He is almost cartoonish like a Disney villain in his portrayal of a mad scientist. To perpetuate his look, he has the wild looking hair, the ebullient personality and the crazy demeanor to go along with it. He is in a way, perfect for a horror film, but it would have been nice to see just a little bit of that excitement transfer back over to Clive. The film also stars Valerie Hobson taking over for Mae Clark as Henry’s fiancée and Dwight Frye returning to the film, not as Fritz but as Karl in essentially the same role he played during the first movie. Starring as the bride-to-be was Elsa Lanchester. Though she had a minimal role, she became the most memorable part of the entire movie with her striking appearance. Covered in bandages, with pure white skin and hair standing on end, she is frightening and beautiful at the same time. The fact that she too is scared of the monster really plays upon the viewer’s emotions by making you feel sympathy for the creature who just wants someone to spend his life with. While Frankenstein’s Monster would go on to further pictures, this would be the one and only time that his bride would appear in a film.
With the first sequel, and by no means the last, to Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein offered up a nice progression of the story and the characters from that film. While the movie continued to adapt elements of Mary Shelley’s story, it did so to fit the big screen and did it well. What resulted was a second iconic picture from Universal Studios and another horror film to frighten audiences. This time the horror was a bit more subdued, as at times we were meant to pity the creature and his creator. A monster though, is a monster and when the creature raged, it did evoke that fear response in the audience. Pretorius and Henry were also quite disconcerting at times, playing god once again and trying to subvert the laws of nature through science. Though the film almost felt like a different kind of horror from the first movie, it still managed to convey the feelings that go along with the genre, just in a manner unlike the other. When one thinks about the face of horror, this is one of those films that come to mind.
4.5 out of 5