The Bride of Frankenstein
Dir. James Whale (1935)
Dr. Frankenstein decides to build his original monster a mate.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
I had never seen The Bride of Frankenstein, the much-adored sequel to one of Universal’s most legendary monster movies. Most people say that this one is superior to the original, and I must confess that I was doubtful after the opening scene: Mary Shelley reveals that Dr. Frankenstein survived being tossed from a building by his monster and decided to make a bride, while we get a “Previously on Frankenstein”-style recap containing scenes from the original film. I suppose it makes a certain amount of sense, but it felt more like the opening of a serial than the beginning of a movie. After that, we see the monster straight up murder two people while escaping from a watery pit, putting to rest any sympathy that the creature obtained from the original (don’t worry, he gets his sympathy back).
It’s a cheesy beginning, but things absolutely got better from there. The film is almost a horror comedy, with humorous lines delivered by unhinged characters with the utmost sincerity in the backdrop of the classic, gothic Frankenstein’s castle. It’s a movie with many themes that flew underneath the radar of the censors at the time, a transgressive film whose messages would fine a more receptive home in 2022 than in 1935. It’s one of those beautiful old movies that aren’t scary in the slightest but are vitally important to the history of horror, especially queer horror. Whale was (allegedly) openly gay, which is fighter-pilot-levels of bravery in 1935, even in Hollywood. The film can be read as a gay parable, the procreation of the two male made scientists producing a proto-feminist female creature, not to mention the attacks against the monster becoming basically a lynching (which could easily be read as a dual critique of society’s hatred for both minorities and homosexuals). It’s a fascinating take on the film, one that is impossible to determine if it was ever intended by its creator. However, as scholars interpret the film now, it’s difficult to imagine a man like Whale not at least somewhat intending his subversive message.
Dr. Frankenstein’s Man Friend
“Go to your homes, just an escaped lunatic, merely wanted someone to handle it, that’s all, quite harmless.” By God, that’s one of the best delivered lines in horror history by the leader of the townspeople who are trying desperately to contain the rampaging Monster. The Monster himself is much more sophisticated in this film, drawn to classical music and the beauty of femininity. Is Frankenstein’s Monster gay? Who knows! As much as there may be something to those theories, it may all be poppycock as well, but there’s enough for sure meaning behind the film as to be worth an analysis anyway. The feminist message of the Bride’s outright refusal to mate with the Monster was lightyears ahead of its time, providing all the more reason to check this film out today and to view it through a modern lens.
She ain’t having none of that shit.
All in all, Bride of Frankenstein is a short movie that packs a huge punch, providing decades of analytical fodder and an entertaining film to boot. The acting is hammy and delightful, the script is smart and at times hilarious, and Whale’s flair for classical horror is fantastic. It’s a classic for a reason, and while it’s definitely not as entertaining as most modern horror, it’s worth a look for people who haven’t ever watched it before. There’s something pure about the film that is present in most of the horror films of the era, something that enables it to resonate today despite being filmed almost a century ago. It’s horror, but it’s also Old Hollywood, a decadent era filled with as much style as it was story. And the story isn’t half bad, either, filled with kidnapping, murder, and the formation of gods and monsters.
Who this movie is for: Classic horror fans; Black and white movie lovers; Queer horror historians
Bottom line: It’s been almost 100 years since its release, so even though it’s an all-time classic, I feel sure there are thousands of modern horror fans like myself who have never given this one a watch. There’s no excuse now because the movie is available for free on Tubi, and it’s literally an hour and fifteen minutes long. It’s easily digestible, filled with action and some of the hammiest acting around, and its one that can be endlessly analyzed from a sociopolitical perspective. It feels bizarre to be recommending a movie that’s almost a century old for people that somehow haven’t watched it before, but hell, I hadn’t seen it before, so maybe you haven’t either. Check it out.