Bride of Frankenstein is the first sequel to be just as good, if not better than the original. It’s easily one of the greatest sequels ever made. I’d even go so far as to call it the best Universal monster movie. Bride of Frankenstein is the only sequel that belongs with the rest of the classics. A big reason being the returning director, cast, and creative team. The idea for a follow up came as early as before Frankenstein was even released. Despite his reservations, James Whale proved himself too capable as a director for scientific men meddling with nature.
Bride of Frankenstein is undoubtedly Whale’s magnum opus. Even compared to already perfect horror films like Frankenstein or The Invisible Man. The idea for Bride of Frankenstein actually originates from Mary Shelley’s original novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. Dr. Victor Frankenstein creates, then destroys a mate for the Monster that he never brings to life. A lot of the sequel deals with unexplored aspects of the book that are reworked to create Universal’s first female monster. Bride of Frankenstein is another childhood favorite that made me appreciate the Monster even more…
Bride of Frankenstein does what any great sequel should do. It deepens the story, adds depth to established characters, does something new, and pays homage without repeating itself. Whale’s direction is pushed even further with haunting black & white cinematography that maintains the grand scale that came before. The first Frankenstein only credited author Mary Shelley as the wife of romantic poet Percy B. Shelley. Bride of Frankenstein gives Shelley far more appreciation with a dramatic recreation of the dark and stormy night where Mary, Percy, and Lord Byron held a competition to see who told the better scary story. Frankenstein is cleverly recapped with her fellow author’s recounting events, but Mary Shelley isn’t quite finished telling her story.
Frankenstein’s Monster is presumed to have died in the burning windmill. Henry Frankenstein is taken away, but some villagers aren’t entirely sure the Monster is dead. E. E. Clive and Una O’Connor essentially play the same high ranking authority figure and overly excitable woman they respectively played in The Invisible Man. Giving Bride of Frankenstein mild comic relief that thankfully doesn’t distract from the horror. The Monster kills the rest of Maria’s family in a fit of anger, but this is actually the most sympathetic he’ll ever be. The Monster’s child-like innocence is explored in great detail. All he wants is a friend, but the villagers continue to fear and chase after him until he’s captured. The sequel puts more emphasis on religious allegory that the newly established Hays Code heavily censored.
Despite worsening alcoholism that would soon claim his life, Colin Clive gives even more depth to Dr. Frankenstein. He becomes a Baron and chooses not to continue his work. Valerie Hobson replaces the original Elizabeth, but manages to give her more confidence when defending her fiancée. Ernest Thesiger plays new character Dr. Pretorius with a tinge of flamboyance that some believe is gay subtext. Pretorius is an even madder scientist who toasts to a new world of gods and monsters. Pretorius also meddles with nature by creating truly bizarre miniature humans in glass jars. Frankenstein refuses to create a Bride for his Monster until Pretorius gives him no other choice. The Monster makes his only real friend when drawn to the music of a blind hermit. It’s a beautiful sequence where the hermit thanks God for his new friend and helps the Monster to speak.
Hearing the Monster speak is another reason to love the sequel, but Boris Karloff was initially against it. After his brief turn as the Mummy, Karloff returned to the bolts and flat top that made him famous. The Monster continues to grunt, but he’s also given the limited vocabulary of a child. The hermit teaches him the difference between good and bad. He even learns to embrace fire when the hermit tells him smoking is good. Unfortunately this brief moment of happiness is short-lived when villagers discover the Monster. The Monster seeks comfort in a crypt where he ends up crossing paths with Pretorius. He manipulates the Monster by promising him a friend and having him kidnap Elizabeth to force Frankenstein’s assistance. Dr. Frankenstein is joined by Dwight Frye as another hunched over assistant who isn’t Igor. Pretorius crosses the line by having Karl kill a young woman to give the Monster’s mate a fresh heart.
The laboratory is much more elaborate with greater detail given to the scientific process for creating life. The Bride of Frankenstein makes her debut at the very end, but her limited screen time is worth the wait. The lovely Elsa Lanchester plays Mary Shelley and the Bride in order to bring things full circle. The Bride is just as iconic with bandaged arms, a large white dress, and tall black hair with a white lightning streak. She’s the original female monster if you don’t count Dracula’s unnamed brides. The Monster thinks he finally found someone like him, but all she does is scream in terror. Her rejection is the final nail in the coffin that forces the Monster to accept that they’re better off dead. Concluding with the destruction of Frankenstein’s laboratory that should’ve been the perfect ending. Bride of Frankenstein brings much needed humanity to horror.