Universal Monsters: “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935)
In celebration of one our favorite holidays, Halloween, we at Dreampunk decided that this week would be the perfect opportunity to do something that we had always planned on but had never gotten around to–namely watching some of the classic Universal horror films, which had such a huge impact on the zeitgeist that their depictions of some of literature’s most famous monsters have become the pop culture collective unconscious’s iconic versions of them.
Due to their surreal atmospheres and the dreamlike quality of the old-fashioned effects, sets, and imagery, they seemed perfect for a Dreampunk film festival. The films are Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Wolf Man (1941), and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).
Today, we continue with Bride of Frankenstein…
For years, I had heard that Bride of Frankenstein was the crowning jewel in both the Universal Monsters catalog and in director James Whale’s career, so when I first started watching these films, this was one of the ones that I’d anticipated the most. It’s one of those films whose imagery is so iconic that, even though the vast majority of people today haven’t seen it, practically everyone knows of it.
And I’m delighted to report that it more than lives up to the hype. This is the grandly Gothic, brilliantly camp, strangely surreal, lushly and melodramatically scored classic horror film that I’d been hoping for ever since watching Dracula. Though I’ve enjoyed each of the films to varying degrees, particularly Frankenstein and The Invisible Man–and looking back on it, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that all three of the films I’ve loved up to this point have been directed by James Whale–this in many ways feels like the definitive black-and-white horror movie, ranging from nearly operatic levels of grandiose theatricality to some genuinely bizarre flights of the imagination to unexpected moments of dark comedy.
Here, we have mad scientists, grotesque creations both pseudo-scientific and magical in nature, comically and not-so-comically grotesque humans, murder, mayhem, and even surprising moments of tenderness and humanity. The one thing I was surprised to find not that much of was the Bride herself. Her legend has become so notorious that I naturally assumed that she would be present for the majority of her eponymous film, when she actually doesn’t appear until the very end. Putting aside my slight disappointment in that regard, however, there is a reason she is only in a very small portion: she is the climax to the creature’s journey over the past two films.
And this film actually improves on the first, as it manages to further humanize the creature in such a way that retroactively improves his depiction in the first film. That isn’t to say that Karloff wasn’t brilliant at infusing the creature with moments of surprising tenderness in the first film, but–as I spoke of in my Frankenstein post–that the film couldn’t seem to decide whether or not the monster was something to be feared, pitied, or both.