I’m not surprised that director Edgar Wright included The Bride of Frankenstein on his list of 1,000 favorite films. If anything, Bride of Frankenstein should be on everyone’s favorite list. It would certainly be on the list of “Greatest Sequels Ever Made”, and I believe it should be at the top. Sequels are tough, and they’re especially tough when you’re following up a bona fide classic like Frankenstein. And yet Bride of Frankenstein builds on the original in such a smart, inventive way to the point that while the monster and his mate may not end up together, it’s difficult to separate these two movies.
While you don’t need to have seen Frankenstein to appreciate the sequel (the second movie picks up right where the first left off—Frankenstein is assumed dead after a fire at a windmill), Bride of Frankenstein feels like the natural extension and conclusion for both Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and The Monster (Boris Karloff). The first movie ends with both characters assumed dead, and while that’s a tragic and fitting finish, James Whale’s sequel pushes both characters into new, more interesting directions.
For The Monster, Whale gives him a voice and desires. He’s no longer a rampaging killing machine that accidentally kills innocent little girls. He’s a more complex figure, still killing people in a fit of rage, and yet he also desires peace and friendship. He’s a combination of primal, basic urges and yet he can appreciate music and a good smoke. Whereas the first movie asks if you can create life from death, Bride of Frankenstein wonders if you can create humanity, and it doesn’t have a clear answer. In some ways, The Monster reaches the most human elements, and his scenes with the blind man are some of the most beautiful ever committed to film. And yet in the end, The Monster makes the most painful decision because he realizes that his humanity will never be fully realized. “We belong dead,” are his final words.
As for Henry Frankenstein, Whale has a far less flattering picture. While Frankenstein says he’s sworn off his twisted experiments and his work with Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) is initially the result of being blackmailed, over the course of the film, we can see that Frankenstein really didn’t learn anything from the first movie. He almost died, his monster went on a rampage, and yet he relishes the chance to try again. The Bride of Frankenstein darkly posits that even when faced with our own worst impulses, we can’t really change. We will always be ruled by our temptations, no matter how destructive we know those temptations to be. While it would be perhaps fitting for Frankenstein to die in the explosion at the laboratory, it’s an ironic twist that he’s spared by the mercy of his monster who understands love better than his creator ever could.
And yet for all of the darkness that surrounds Bride of Frankenstein, it is a goofy, weird movie and it relishes its absurdity. Rather than try to match the macabre elements of Frankenstein’s experiments, Dr. Pretorius’ demonstration of his “life from nothingness” is played like a circus act where he reveals little people in jars having satiric interactions. Bride never shies away from these weird tonal shifts, and yet it totally works. Whale puts us inside the madhouse, and only at the exit does the world make sense even if a dark portrait of karmic justice comes into focus.
It should be noted that, oddly, the titular Bride is barely in the movie, and yet her iconic design is unforgettable. I suppose one could argue that the movie should give her more agency, and yet I feel like that her lack of agency is where the film hits its biggest gut-punch. You have two men who have created a woman for the purpose of a man they created. Rather than mirror the story of the Garden of Eden where man and woman must face a cruel world together, Bride shows a woman who rejects her chosen mate and the Monster, feeling the full force of that rejection, understand that love is impossible for such monstrosities. The movie deprives the Bride of her humanity because it argues that humanity can’t be created. The Monster understands this and decides they shouldn’t exist. It’s bleak, but it’s fair.
While we’ve gotten plenty of Frankenstein movies over the years, Universal is now in the process of remaking Bride of Frankenstein, and I’m curious to see what they’ll do with it. There’s room for this character to go in new and interesting directions and comment on modern society. But before it comes out, you owe it to yourself to see the original, which is weird, funny, and tragic in the most beautiful ways.
Check out the other installments in our ongoing, 19-year odyssey to review all of Edgar Wright’s 1,000 Favorite Films:
- Edgar Wright’s 1,000 Favorite Films Reviewed: ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’
- Edgar Wright’s 1,000 Favorite Films Reviewed: ‘Nosferatu’
- Edgar Wright’s 1,000 Favorite Films Reviewed: ‘Safety Last!’
- Edgar Wright’s 1,000 Favorite Films Reviewed: Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Gold Rush’