“The Bride of Frankenstein”
An American masterpiece this is the only sequel in the horror genre that is superior to the original. James Whale is an overlooked genius he was truly the first auteur. I would go far to say he laid the foundation for Coppola and Nolan in the case of taking a commercial genre piece and creating something personal and intelligent that goes beyond the confines of the genre. Whales wicked sense of humor that had begun in his previous films like The Invisible Man and The Old Dark House is at its most overt. In many ways it’s the earliest example of the hybrid of horror comedy and also the best example of being a truly affecting horror film and a very bawdy campy comedy. This is a representation of Whales himself who as an infantryman in World War I dealt with the horrors of war with dark humor.
Horror films around this time were perhaps at their most effective in relating to the audience. In a time in which for the first time men came home from war looking like monsters because of the use of chemical weapons and with prosthetics to replace their missing body parts. Whales experience in World War I is seen in his design of the Monster whose scars and stitches are reminiscent to those of WWI vets.
Whales also continued his empathy towards the outsider. In the Monster it could be said it’s the most base level child like interpretation of being an outsider that Whales brings across. At the same time the character of the mad Dr Pretorius could be seen as an example of outsiders who don’t wish for acceptance by a society they do not respect.
The film’s use of Christian imagery is one in which the symbols are inverted. The Monster is the antithesis to Christ; he is raised from the dead and then crucified. The Monster is a mockery of the Divine and if it was meant to or not it gets to the bottom of what the Frankenstein stories are about which is defying nature (i.e. God for Christians).
One thing that should not be forgotten are the performances. Karloff is the only of the original monster movie actors who showed a genuine respect for the role he played. The Monster is not a prop but a fully realized character who has an arc. Ernst Thesiger gives a performance of absolute brilliance as the Mephistopheles-like Doctor Pretorius.
Bride should be lauded for the absolute audaciousness of its director in his ability to take a genre film and create a personal statement that is as personal a statement as Welle’s Citizen Kane and Renoir’s Grand Illusion.