“I love dead. Hate living,” are the tortured words spoken by Frankenstein’s monster in the timeless 1935 classic Bride of Frankenstein, which turns 85 on May 6, 2020. The legendary film was directed by James Whale (Frankenstein 1931, The Invisible Man 1933) and released by Universal in 1935, and depicts the struggle of a man-made monster during a frightful murderous rampage. Frankenstein’s monster, played once again by iconic horror legend Boris Karloff (Frankenstein 1931, House of Evil 1968), is simply in search of a friend. A companion. Some beauty. We sympathize with him when everyone else that he encounters recoils in horror.
Finally, a bride, played by Elsa Lanchester (The Ghost Goes West 1935), is created for him by mad scientist Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger: The Ghoul 1975) and a conned Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive: Frankenstein 1931).
In the opening scene of the film, Mary Shelley is being praised for her work. She claims Frankenstein was not merely a monster movie, but had a deeper moral lesson: “The punishment that befell a mortal man who dared to emulate God.” In this case, that man is Dr. Pretorius. However, it seems our monster can find some peace as the film draws to an end. We see, in the final scenes, his utterance of the words,”We belong dead,” and his pulling of a lever which obliterates himself, his beautiful bride and Dr. Pretorius all at once, ending his own, and what would surely be his bride’s, sorrow-filled lives. We see he isn’t fond of Dr. Pretorius, and there is a vengeful motive to his murder. Frankenstein’s monster has finally taken some control in his short life and committed an altruistic act.
The movie is undoubtedly a classic of horror and of film in general as well, and is touted as one of the best sequels of all time by critics and fans alike. Many can agree that Bride of Frankenstein transcends the limits of horror and has carved out a niche market all its own.
The film originally received much controversy due to the implications in the script that the two doctors that brought both Frankenstein and his bride to life were somehow playing God. Also, the amount of murders depicted in the film was said to be too high for the censors’ standards at the time. The film was cut and released to Universal’s approval, yet still made worldwide moviegoers squirm. In some countries like Hungary, the sequel was banned outright as the monsters in it were created from body parts of the dead. This was seen as borderline necrophiliac in some scenes, and was too extreme for the time. All of this aside, Bride of Frankenstein was still a box office smash, and instant classic.
Bride of Frankenstein has developed quite the cult following over the past 85 years, inspiring a classic of our time with Bride of Chucky (1998). There are rumors that Universal will dust off the story of the Bride of Frankenstein and cast Angelina Jolie in a new version. Not sure how I feel about that one.
One thing is certain, the memory of this movie isn’t going anywhere any time soon. There are Disney rides dedicated to it. There have been many stage variations of it. The bride’s iconic hairstyle and hiss will forever go down in history as a symbol of female badassery. Whale had a hand in writing the script for Bride of Frankenstein. As an openly gay director in 1930s Hollywood, he created a piece of work that had critics and fans alike noticing the various feminist and homoerotic aspects of the film. For example, the fact that Pretorius interrupts Frankenstein’s wedding to a woman to talk of the prospect of going off with him to create life all on their own rings a homosexual bell.
Mary Shelley was still a teenager in 1818 when she wrote the novel, Frankenstein, using her true name rather than a male pseudonym as was commonly done by female authors of that time. I am so glad a female counterpart was created to run alongside the iconic Frankenstein’s monster. Bride of Frankenstein is a powerful film, shrouded in a patchwork quilt of camp, comedy, female power, feminism, homosexual undertones and taboo subjects even for the standards of horror today. Still, the lighthearted fantasy of the movie makes it an easy watch and a memorable film to last throughout the ages.
May 5th marks the 85th anniversary of this timeless film that we have come to adore. We look to the monsters in Bride of Frankenstein, and the original Frankenstein, as icons and legends of horror. We will forever be thankful for the rebellious and fearless spirits of Whale and Shelly who chose to defy the odds and create art in a time when perhaps it may not have been accepted. Our Halloweens and spooky movie nights couldn’t possibly be as entertaining without them.