Last October, Arrow in the Head presented a column called UNSEEN HALLOWEEN, in which the staff recommended movies that are by and large very obscure. This yeah, UNSEEN HALLOWEEN RETURNS! But with a twist! Each writer is now tackling a very popular horror movie that has somehow eluded them throughout the years. Yeah, we expect to hear it from you guys, but so what! It's Halloweentime, baby!
PLOT: Having survived the fiery attack that left his mountaintop lab ablaze, Dr. Frankenstein and his bolt-necked monster make the acquaintance of an even madder raving lunatic - Dr. Pretorious - who kidnaps Dr. Frankenstein's wife and blackmails him into creating a new monster: THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN!
REVIEW: I can already hear the resounding refrain from rabid fans everywhere - "how in the hell have you never seen BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN...you call yourself a horror authority?" Indeed, I have never, and therefore, I am not. No excuses. I love the 1931 original, seen it a half dozen times or so, but for whatever reason, it's lighter and campier counterpart has always eluded me. So, when asked to tout a classic horror movie that, for whatever reason, we've failed to see it in the past, I couldn't think of a better movie to celebrate than BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN during this year's Return of Unseen Halloween. And as timing would have it, TCM just happened to be airing the title a day later. Kismet, yo!
And so, yes, we're getting down with some old-school, black and white, Universal monster movie classicism. You know the deal...fill up the goblet, roll a Marley spliff, kick up the old feet and dim the motherf*cking lights. We're taking a trip back to the freaky environs of 1935!
First off, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN has everything you want in a sequel. It's bigger, bolder and dare I say, despite the comedic stylings and reduced death toll, even more brazen. In fact, made four years after the original, director James Whale finally ditched his reluctance to continue the thread going and finally decided helm the more outwardly comedic horror addendum. And a more germane continuation you could not have, as BOF starts with a cheeky prologue featuring Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester) introducing the action, before instantly picking up where the original left off. That's right, inside that fiery castle laboratory that the townsfolk burned to the ground with pitchforks in hand. We all thought Frankie and his morose monster went up in flames, right?
Wrong. They escape through a labyrinthine tunnel system, only to eventually be spotted by a hysterical harridan working in cahoots with an even madder scientist than Frankenstein himself (Dr. Pretorious, played by Ernest Thesiger). Before we press on however, mention must be made of Colin Clive in his role reprisal and how fevered and fanatical he plays Frankenstein with. Apparently Clive had been in a deep fit of alcoholism at the time, but Whale insisted on keeping him on board not just for continuity, but precisely because of his hilarious hysteria. Karloff, however, was less amused.
Actually, the horror hall of famer took quite a bit of umbrage with BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. First off, he lost 20 pounds by sweating under a heap of makeup, often having to lay down between takes. Detesting the final product, Karloff also thought it was a grave mistake to give the monster the ability to speak...arguing it would sully his entire horrific mystique. This is why the monster's mandibles seem fuller, not as gaunt as the original, to make the monster audible. Far be it from me to disagree with ol' Boris, but I think by having the monster to speak and express himself through words actually humanizes the character in a way that allows for greater audience sympathy. I always thought of Frankenstein as a trapped and tortured soul, a misunderstood spirit, and giving him the ability to talk somewhat permits the monster to break the inner-shackles and show a true side of himself. It's a part of the flick I actually dug quite a bit, both in terms of the humor and the horror. And even though I've seen random clips of the monster speaking over the years, I wasn't quite expecting him to speak in this film, and certainly not as much as he did.
All this to say, I'm damn glad I finally got around to unveiling THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. It's not only a worthy movie on its own, it's arguably a superior sequel. One thing that isn't up for debate is how organic a continuation from the first film BRIDE feels, as James Whale literally picks up the action from where the first chapter left off. And honestly, if you played the two back to back, the result would play like a seamless 145 minute feature. To me, now higher compliment could be bestowed!
BEST SCENE: Speaking of surprises, I had no idea that the title character would only really appear in the final few minutes of the film. Somehow I thought the bride (also played by Elsa Lanchester) would be created early on and paired up with the monster, and we'd see their romantic exploits together. Not the case. Instead, in what I think is the best scene of the film (if not most iconic), is that lab-set finale where doctors Frankenstein and Pretorious resurrect the bride and present her as property to the monster. The crackling lightening, the spinning dials, the dangling chains, the cluttered workbenches, the elaborate scientific contraptions, the ambience is beautifully macabre.
"She's alive...alive!" is uttered by Dr. Frankenstein in almost a match-cut from the original, which plays a cool hair-raising callback. Then, not to be outdone, the sentient eyeballs of the bride herself is shown, her body erected, her person introduced to the monster in a way that really feels triumphant. There's a point in the film where you stop fearing the monster and actually root for his marital bliss. It's one of the great achievements of the movie, to make sympathetic the otherwise grotesque. Too root for the happiness of a what's essentially a patchwork zombie.
- Take a sip of suds for every one person killed in the film
- Douse a shot every time the monster utters a word or phrase
- Finish the bottle when The Bride appears