Horror sequels are no new phenomenon. Returning four years after the original Frankenstein, 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein was early proof that it takes more than an angry mob to keep a good Monster down. After a handy “Previously on Frankenstein” recap from none other than Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon), Bride picks up right where we left off: having improbably survived the type of fiery mob justice only angry village-folk can provide, Frankenstein’s creature (Boris Karloff), is once again loose on the world, alone and confused and desperate for connection. Meanwhile his creator, Colin Clive’s harried Henry Frankenstein, is dragged back into the dark world of blasphemous experimentation by former mentor Dr Septimus Pretorious (Ernest Thesiger). Pretorious, a silky-voiced charlatan happily willing to out-mad Frankenstein, promises “a new world of Gods and Monsters”, blackmailing his old colleague into helping him create a new Creature – this time, a woman. There’s no way this can end badly…

The third and final Universal horror to be directed by James Whale, The Bride of Frankenstein is considered by many to be his best work and the superior Frankenstein film. Certain that a sequel would never match the heights of the original, Whale decided instead to have fun with the premise. The result is campy and sincere in equal measure, committed fully to each opposing mood. As a result, the histrionic shrieking performance of Una O’Connor, homunculi in jars, and the exploration of the loneliness of the human condition exist side by side in perfect harmony.

Bride of Frankenstein; Dr Pretorious

Courtesy of: Universal Pictures

As before, star Boris Karloff brings life and soul to the role that made him famous – and now, with a monster that speaks. Until now, Frankenstein’s Monster as interpreted by Universal Studios could only communicate in moans and growls wordless expressions of anger, frustration, pain, or fear. With the sequel, the decision was made to allow him to speak a creative choice star Boris Karloff was staunchly against. The Monster of the novel may eloquently quote Paradise Lost, but Karloff believed the Creature’s strange charm and appeal lay in his inarticulacy, an effect ruined by granting him speech. But some of the film’s most poignant moments come from his faltering expressions of torment, loneliness and self-hatred.

One of the most memorable of these scenes comes when the Monster encounters a blind hermit in the forest. Despite being mercilessly parodied to brilliant effect in Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein, the scene remains as moving as ever, with two lonely outcasts at last finding the connection they crave. The Monster, wounded and afraid after another violent encounter, is finally met with compassion. The hermit is a gentle soul who teaches his new friend the finer points of society food, drink, smoking, and music as well as some simple speech. But most crucially of all, he shows him friendship. “It is bad to be alone,” the hermit observes. It is a simple, timeless sentiment, and among the stormy castle sets and cackling scientists, it proves the movie’s driving force.


Courtesy of: Universal Pictures

Which brings us to the Bride, easily one of the most fascinating (and fleeting) characters of the film. After his fledgling friendship is inevitably smashed to pieces by cruel misunderstanding, the Monster seeks out Frankenstein to create a friend for him. Considering the film bears her name the eponymous Bride actually features very little, with hardly more than ten minutes of actual screen time. British actress Elsa Lanchester adopts a dual role, bookending the film by playing both author Mary Shelley in the prologue and the hissing, bird-like Bride in the final scenes. Mary Shelley is presented as the picture of childlike fragility. Here is a woman afraid both of the encroaching darkness of night and the raging storm outside, one who giggles coquettishly at the thought of her story chilling Lord Byron’s blood. Spending much of the prologue being condescended to, Lanchester pitches her Mary Shelley on just the right side of simpering, but with an appealing sense of darkness lingering just beneath the surface. Byron proclaims, “She is an angel!” “You think so?” replies Mary; it’s both a flattered response to a sugary compliment and a sort of mocking disbelief – is that what you think?

Casting Elsa Lanchester as both Mary Shelley and the Bride evokes a tantalising duality in keeping with some of modern horror’s best female leads. Think of Thomasin in The Witch, Amelia in The Babadook, Hereditary’s Annie, Midsommar’s Dani, or Adelaide/Red in Us the fragile and feminine gleefully giving way to the monstrous and unhinged. Whale conveys this brilliantly by having the two women mirror each other, flanking them both by men Mary by Percy Shelley and Byron, the Bride by Frankenstein and Pretorious who want to shoehorn them into gentle and submissive roles. The Bride is beautiful, but there is an undeniable weirdness about her, an avian physicality that supersedes the human. Twitchy and unblinking, her only vocalisations are shrieks, or strange swan-like hisses. When Karloff stands besides her, all pleading eyes and outstretched palms, the difference is stark.

Bride of Frankenstein: mary Shelley

Courtesy of: Universal Pictures

Bride of Frankenstein

Courtesy of: Universal Pictures

Despite the minimal screen time Elsa Lanchester, along with incomparable makeup artist Jack Pierce, created a character so iconic that even those who have never seen a single frame of a Universal horror could probably scribble a passable interpretation on a napkin. Perhaps the briefness of her uncanny appearance helped solidify her place in movie history. Yet, there is still something missing. In another world, her climactic creation scene is the beginning of her story, not the end.  For better or worse, The Dark Universe didn’t get off the ground, and we’ll probably never see the proposed Angelina Jolie reboot. But, like the Monster crawling from the smoking ruins of the burning windmill, remakes are hard to kill. After all, there is always resonance to be found in the tale of a woman rejecting the predetermined role foisted upon her. With the success of Leigh Whannel’s pared-down Invisible Man, and Karyn Kusama’s Dracula adaptation on the horizon, it could be the Bride’s time to walk down cinema aisles once again.