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The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

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Director James Whale (Waterloo Bridge) was given free reign by Universal Pictures to craft a sequel to his highly successful Frankenstein. The result is a more daring and stylized film considered by many to be the most remarkable in all the studio’s legacy of classic monster movies. In The Bride of Frankenstein, both Frankenstein and his monster survive their apparent deaths at the end of the first movie. While the monster wanders the countryside looking for food, shelter, or any shred of kindness, the recovering Henry Frankenstein is met by a fellow scientist even more eccentric and dangerous than himself — Doctor Pretorius. After Frankenstein initially refuses Pretorius’ offer to collaborate on creating a mate for the monster, Pretorius turns to the monster himself to gain leverage in bargaining.

Boris Karloff returns and further embellishes his iconic performance as the monster. The character now engages in rudimentary speech and more complex reasoning, giving the actor more to sink into. Karloff even gives the film unexpected moments of tenderness, especially when the monster finds temporary friendship with a blind hermit in the woods. Colin Clive also returns as Henry Frankenstein, but the film centers much more around the scene-stealing Pretorius, played with malevolent glee by Ernest Thesiger. Thesiger colors Pretorius with erudite condescension and effete pride, making him every bit as operatic as Karloff’s monster or Elsa Lanchester’s Bride. Lanchester may have only five minutes of screen time, but she certainly doesn’t throw the opportunity away. Her Bride is a raw, feral delight.

The Bride of Frankenstein is much more humorous than the original film, particularly with the over-the-top characters of Pretorius, Dwight Frye as Frankenstein’s assistant, and Una O’Connor as a hysterical house servant. I’m not always a fan of comedy wedged into horror movies, but Whale carefully calibrates it to ease us into a film that dabbles with topics like homosexuality, necrophilia, torture, and perhaps most egregiously, with blasphemy. The resulting movie is one that can be enjoyed simply as a comedy horror flick, but there’s juicy subtext to be mined if you’re inclined to do so. Whale’s genre-bending, self-aware approach to a horror sequel works so well, that it’s been deployed in follow-ups to other successful horror films over the years, including Tobe Hooper’s outrageous Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and Joe Dante’s satirical Gremlins 2: The New Batch.

At just one hour and fifteen minutes, I almost wish The Bride of Frankenstein took more time to unfold — if only to see what additional grace notes might be found in the expansion. I’m hard-pressed to think of another horror movie from the 30s or 40s with such high production values, striking cinematography, memorable performances, and large, evocative sets. Franz Waxman’s dynamic score is another highlight — one of the first expansive uses of original music in a movie.

Oscar Nomination: Best Sound Recording