NOTE: This review was written seven years ago.
It’s odd that one of the first horror sequels ever created comes close to upstaging its predecessor. Quite a feat, considering that very few sequels after The Bride of Frankenstein managed to do the same thing. Frankenstein was a pivotal film, and it would have been easy for the sequel to replicate its formula. But James Whale knew better. He took his masterpiece and expanded upon it. Nothing was senselessly regurgitated for the sake of familiarity. He even threw a few more genres into the mix. Bride isn’t just a horror film; it encompasses both touching drama and a pinch of black comedy
. A clever prologue introduces us to Mary Shelley, as portrayed by Elsa Lanchester
(who also plays “The Monster’s Mate”). She relates the continuation of her infamous novel. I was hoping that we would return to her for an epilogue, but a wrap-around story of sorts just wasn’t meant to be, I presume. Anyway, Henry Frankenstein survived the fall he endured at the end of the first film. As he’s recovering, he’s visited by Dr. Pretorius.
Pretorius is officially my second favorite mad scientist of all time, second only to Dr. Herbert West. Ernest Thesiger gives the maniacal genius a wave of morbid enthusiasm. Pretorius is menacing, intriguing, and amusing all at the same time. He tells Frankenstein that he too has brought life to the dead. Later on, we get to see his “experiments.” He has pint-sized people imprisoned in jars. I have to admit, these special effects were much more impressive than I thought they would be. The blue screen isn’t too noticeable and thankfully, we don’t see the actors’ shadows against their backdrop (leave that up to Toho...sorry, but it’s true!). Pretorius lets Frankenstein in on his idea to create a mate for Frankenstein’s monster. He refuses to assist Pretorius in this “blasphemous” and “wicked” experiment, but he’s eventually forced to participate.
This entire time, the monster is roaming the countryside, getting himself into all sorts of trouble. Boris Karloff fills the monster’s boots once again and gives a stunning performance. He was solid enough in the original when he wasn’t given any dialogue to work with, but here, he’s even better with dialogue. Yep, “zipperneck” has been practicing his vernacular. His dialogue is simplistic, yet potent. He says more with two words then some characters say with extensive monologues. I loved the scenes with the blind hermit. Both characters are incredibly lonely and only ask for companionship. They form somewhat of a bond with one another, only to be separated by angry villagers. I can only accept Karloff as the monster. Not even Christopher Lee can hold a candle to his performance. The only other person who I could’ve seen doing justice to the role would’ve been Fred Gwynne (Herman Munster is God).
I dug Lanchester as The Bride, but I was hoping to see more of her. This complaint stems from expectations that weren’t met, so it might not be fair of me to deduct points because of it, but I felt that The Bride should’ve played a bigger role in this film’s events. Once “She’s alive!!!!!!,” it’s only a couple of minutes before the end credits roll. I wanted the two monsters to mingle and communicate more before it was all said and done. That said, I love The Bride’s frenzied hairdo. It’s amazing that she’s become a horror icon when her screen presence is so severely limited. I’m shocked that she didn’t make an appearance in a subsequent Universal offering.
The pace rarely lags. There’s much more action here than in the original. And while I’m comparing/contrasting these two classics, I’ll go ahead and state which one I prefer. I...can’t decide! Bride is a fluid, entertaining accomplishment, but I have an attachment to the first film. It’s hard to put into words. As far as horror/sci-fi goes, I’d have to give the edge to Frankenstein. However, Bride is far more diverse and a tad more polished from a directing standpoint. I guess it could go either way. If you dig archaic genre gems, then there’s really no excuse for you not to check this flick out. Of course, I’m being a little hypocritical since it took me awhile to get around to watching it myself. I’m glad to have made the effort.