Why ‘The Bride of Frankenstein’ is the Best of the Universal Monster Movies
The Bride of Frankenstein is my favorite horror film of the 1930s. Here’s why!
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
The best of the Universal Monster movies, The Bride of Frankenstein marks the highlights for the careers of Boris Karloff and James Whale. It’s amazing to think that it might not have even happened without the original’s director.
Released four years after the original, the film was attempted to be made by the producers much earlier, and director Whales was asked to participate again and again. He finally agreed (and probably wasn’t too happy, I bet) to do the sequel, and instead of doing a retread of the original, he continues the storyline in the most enjoyable of manners, adding energy and imagination to a rich and moving screenplay.
The Bride of Frankenstein opens just moments after the events of the original (following an unusual and fascinating prologue that features The Bride’s Ella Lanchaster as Mary Shelley herself), with The Monster (Karloff) having survived the burning of the mill. He wanders the woods to be screamed at and attack again and again by village dwellers not understanding his dislike for violence and yearning for acceptance.
Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive), meanwhile, has decided to abandon his God-like experiments and move on with his life, when another mad scientiest (Ernes Thesiger), an old mentor of his, shows up to persuade him to collaborate on a new experiment.
While the film as a whole works beautifully, there are two sequences that raise the film from a great piece of work to an enduring classic. After receiving nothing but fear and hatred from everyone he turns to, The Monster hears a violin playing in a small little cottage in the forest. He goes inside to find a lonely man who is in desperate need for a friend. The Monster is afraid upon entering, thinking that he will be just like everyone else, but there is something unusual about the man. He is blind. The old man takes him in as an equal, and the two bond together and form a friendship.
This section of the movie is so joyous that it’s hard to imagine how well the movie would have worked without it. Whoever came up with the brilliant idea of matching The Monster with a blind man who just wants a friend should be commended for adding an extra layer to the main theme of the movie.
The tragedy of the sequence occurs when two men with rifles, looking for the “murderer,” come upon the cottage and find The Monster inside. They try to kill him, and he attacks the intruding men. The blind man listens in horror, whisked away from his precious home, and The Monster accidentally starts to a fire, burning the cottage to the ground. Not only does The Monster lose his friend, but he destroys his home, the only thing the blind man has in his possessions.
The beauty of the sequence is in the small moments. For example, the blind man teaches The Monster to talk. All of this material could’ve been played for easy laughs in the midst of the horror that bookends both ends, but it’s all played for real, as if the blind man were a professor and The Monster were a pupil. “Alone, bad. Friend, good,” The Monster says, a tear falling down his cheek.
He didn’t ask to be given life in this world. He just wants someone to help him, show him on his way. The blind man is the only one who will be there for him as a human being as opposed to an attacker or maniacal scientist. This section of the film would later be spoofed in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, and it’s material that many people know of despite never seeing the film. It’s enduring and chilling stuff.
The second sequence that works beyond belief is the climax, back in the castle, as Dr. Frankenstein, blackmailed into helping the other mad scientist, work to bring The Monster a mate. All of the storylines collide in the end, bringing Dr. Frankenstein and The Monster back together, with The Monster now wanting a friend of his own.
The climax features what people love about sequels. We get to see material similar to that of the original, only different. That quality can be taken for granted in most lame sequels, but here, the return to the laboratory is warranted, and highly entertaining, at that.
The reveal of the Bride is something extraordinary. It features one of my favorite musical cues in any movie I’ve ever seen. The Bride starts to breathe, and Dr. Frankenstein says a version of his immortal line, “She’s alive, alive!” She is lifted up off the ground, and then a dissolve brings us to her first reveal.
Much like the way The Monster was revealed in the original, we keep cutting closer and closer, all the way up to her face. She looks around, like a little child just being born into the world. Cut to the other scientist, who says in the most melodramatic of manners, “The Bride of Frankenstein.”
Cut to a wide of the Bride as a loud, booming, bells-clinging musical cue strikes, the camera pushing in to see The Bride in a wide shot. It gives me chills every time. We’ve been waiting the entire movie to see her, and her reveal, so exquisite, marks the work of a true master like James Whale.
Whale could’ve just gone through the motions with this follow-up to the equally compelling 1931 original, but he didn’t. He offered up a little masterpiece of a movie that works even better, and more so than any of the Universal Monster movies.
Although The Invisible Man may be more entertaining as a whole than Bride of Frankenstein (there are some moments with Dr. Frankenstein that lag a little bit in this sequel), the thematic elements, the unforgettable climax, the priceless material with the blind man, and the performance by Boris Karloff, who is nothing short of brilliant in this film, make this movie worth seeing over and over again. The Bride of Frankenstein is a true classic of the horror genre.
Brian Rowe is an author, teacher, book devotee, and film fanatic. He received his MFA in Creative Writing and MA in English from the University of Nevada, Reno, and his BA in Film Production from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He writes young adult and middle grade suspense novels, and is represented by Kortney Price of the Corvisiero Agency.