Fear and Loathing in Transylvania!
Okay, technically it was Bavaria, Germany, but the title sounds so much cooler this way!
Ironically, a sequel to Frankenstein was not something Whale wanted to make. On the road to Show Boat Whale had sought out his dream projects, hoping to appease Carl Laemmle and Junior Laemmle's desire for a sequel with 1933's The Invisible Man. Thankfully, he did return to the characters that made him a success, and delivered to movie fans a sequel that actually exceeded the original. Bride of Frankenstein is a great movie, thoroughly entertaining and engrossing, featuring top notch acting (especially by Boris) and a smart streak of humor to boot.
In the years between Frankenstein and its first sequel, RKO's King Kong (which was influence by Frankenstein's "Sympathetic Monster" motif) had been released as had, as mentioned, Whale's The Invisible Man. Bride of Frankenstein shows the influence of both here, giving us the lost and lonely monster (to an amplified degree) now searching for a mate, or, at least, a friend. Whale also ups the Science-Fiction ante here, giving us a much more flashy Lab and a much more lofty goal than before. As much of a debt as Bride of Frankenstein owes to Mary Shelley's original novel, an equal debt is owed to Whale and his wild imagination, strange humor and high-concept ideas.
In a simply inspired method of recap, we're brought back in time to a meeting between Percy Shelley (Douglas Walton), Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon, no relation) and, of course, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (the strikingly beautiful Elsa Lanchester). At Byron's request (he's fascinated by the idea that such a tale of horror could come from such a lovely lady), Mary retells, in brief, the events of the first film and leads us up, gleefully, to the next chapter in our ongoing play.
When we last saw our main Monster (Boris Karloff), the villagers had set about their Torch-and-Pitchfork style Exit Interview for him, burning down his Dad's Windmill Laboratory, and, they think, baking him inside it like a Pilgrim's Pride Rotisserie. But the Monster didn't die. Before long he is discovered in a tiny aqueduct beneath the ruins, his hair has been burned off and his face has been strained. Needless to say he's about as happy as a clam... on a cracker. You can guess what we're in for when he kills off our comic relief (Mary Gordon) right away! And so the rampage begins.
Meanwhile, Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive, of course) is recovering from being thrown off the lab roof onto the windmill blade and finally onto the ground. This is quite a feat, considering the fact that from the way his limbs bent it looked like he had every bone broken, man! Finally at peace, with his "Son" dead, Frank-o sets about to finish up his wedding plans to the short, blond coiffed Elizabeth (now played by Valerie Hobson, a long-haired brunette who was every bit of fourteen when the first film was released). He's not aware of Ol' Flat Top's rampage because CNN hadn't been invented yet.
And also because of the fact that "Rampage" isn't quite accurate. Although he did kill as soon as he emerged from his watery tomb, let's face it, who isn't at least a LITTLE annoyed by Mary Gordon? In truth, he's only looking for a friend (by aaron pruitt). True to form, the friends he finds are soon met with disaster. Karloff's performance during these painful moments is incredible. Even before he learns to formulate words, the Monster's face speaks volumes of pain and longing, and most surprisingly, joy, when applicable. The man is a fantastic actor.
Luckily, or unluckily for him, as the case may be, there is more drama to come. If you thought Clive's Dr. Frankenstein was a "Mad Scientist", you ain't seen nothin' yet, kids. Enter Ernest Thesiger's Dr. Pretorius, an evil genius who has discovered the means to invent human beings and their parts in his lab. However, to make them both full sized and stable, Pretorius requires the techniques of one Henry Frankenstein. Through blackmail, terror and threats, Pretorius gets his way. Their first joint project is to create a woman, a female version of the Monster. Of course, in the Monster's need for Friendship, he quickly becomes a servant of the Mad Doctor and is only too happy to serve the goals of the project, as Dr. Pretorius has offered him "Woman... friend for you!" (One brief note... in the absence of Dwight Frye's Fritz, another creepy lab assistant was needed. Luckily one was available at a moment's notice in the form of Dwight Frye's Karl! Whew! What a UNION!)
The experiment is on! The result is one of the most recognizable Movie Monsters in history. Technically, "The Bride of Frankenstein" should apply to Elizabeth, but hey, if the Monster is Frankenstein's SON, then, hell, why not call him "Frankenstein" too? Don't be so uptight, kids! The figure of the title character is striking because of that iconic stand-on-end hair with the white streaks, the scars, the reveal... and that face. Yes, The Monster's Mate was also played by the beautiful Elsa Lanchester with stiff, confused menace. It's hard not to be both enchanted and disturbed by the Bride whose corpse-like movements, frightening look and mesmerizing eyes evoke a whirlwind of emotions in the audience, especially when Karloff is in the room. This kid just can't catch a break!
The finale is one of the most memorable (and imitated) climaxes in film, helping to seal Bride of Frankenstein's influential place in Film History. In truth, Bride of Frankenstein may have even more ripples of influence than its predecessor. The Bride is as immediately known as the green face of the Creature itself. The very dialogue of the movie has transcended mere Sequel Status as well, bringing forth some of the more quoted lines of the classic era of film. For many, these two films blend perfectly into one.
The acting is certainly of aid in this, as is Whale's great ideas and directing, along with the writing of William Hurlbut, John L. Balderston and no less than seven uncredited writers. However, the Gothic look of the film is assisted greatly by Art Director Charles D. Hall! Hall's handling of everything from a creepy "ray gun sci-fi" lab to a moody mausoleum to a provincial peasant's home to an opulent Baron's Castle is greatly to be praised, especially since all of this was filmed right there in Universal City!
And let's not forget the man who gave us these great monsters, the legendary Jack Pierce! So much attention to detail was paid to the Makeup Design here that we actually see the Frankenstein Monster's hair slowly growing back (from being singed off in the fire) as the film progresses. Pierce and his associate Otto Lederer weren't content to merely allow cookie cutter prosthetics to be applied uniformly throughout the film. The Monster evolves, and, combined with Karloff's great acting, matures along with his thickly constructed visage. Pierce was also wise enough to leave the Kissable face of Lanchester alone. Aside from some frightening scars, her makeup is primarily a vaguely Goth-oriented Glamour job. But oh, that hair! With that coif she actually stood taller than Karloff. Man, oh, man! Truth be told, most of that is indeed her real hair, weaved into a cone-like latticework, invisible to the camera eye. This, combined with the face, the sparingly used scars and a costume equal parts Bridal Gown and Mummy's Bandages makes for an all time fan and critical favorite.
Bride of Frankenstein is just that: a Favorite. This movie is remarkably well done, smart and funny with great acting and amazing special effects. The fact that all this was manageable in 1935 and still holds up so very well today is nothing short of astounding. Four and One Half Stars out of Five for Bride of Frankenstein, most definitely one of the best movies of all time, not to mention The Summer of Horror! Watch them together, watch them separately, watch them with friends, watch them alone... but most certainly, watch them. This is a walk down Horror Road to remember! To quote the crazy Dr. Pretorius, let's drink a toast "To a new world of gods and monsters!"
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