Frankenstein & The Bride of Frankenstein; or Playing Happy Families with Boris Karloff

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Twofer Tuesday, where you get two horrors for the price of one! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, who would like to remind you that, no matter what, making a living creature from the parts of the dead is a long-term commitment, so be sure not to just create a monster without thinking through the consequences.

Today’s film offerings: Frankenstein & The Bride of Frankenstein

Andy: Now this is some proper old horror. Released in 1931 and 1935, respectively, there’s not really many older horror films that you can sink your teeth into – there’s Dracula, released in 1929, and stuff like The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and Nosferatu and The Hands of Orlac and…OK, well there’s loads, but my point is this film is pretty much one of the baselines on which the rest of horror is built.

And you probably know that, as a reader – that these films are hoary old ‘classics’, historical relics worth doffing your cap to before diving into the more modern, post-Night of the Living Dead landscape.

But you know what? These films are actually, y’know, good. And you should watch them. Both of them.

Lilly: It’s not just about paying your horror dues on these ones, people. It’s about really enjoying something that just happens to be one of the horror giants.

To be clear, Frankenstein is the man who made the creation, not the creation's name. So. Come on.
To be clear, Frankenstein is the man who made the creation, not the creation’s name. So. Come on.

Andy: Frankenstein is a sort of bare-bones retelling of the original novel, shorn of its framing story and a lot of exposition. Gone is the ugly yet tortured and erudite philosopher monster of Mary Shelley. Instead, we get one that is almost mute, strong, yet childlike and curious, and abominably treated by his creator.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. A young woman named Elizabeth is concerned for her fiance, a brilliant young scientist engaged in mysterious experiments in the nearby mountains. Unbeknownst to her, his experiments are even more macabre than she expects, involving body-snatching, grave-robbing, and in one case, theft, culminating in a wild, stormy night where his creature is give life. It’s alive I tell you! I needn’t say that the scientist’s name is Dr Henry Frankenstein.

After being tormented by one of the most despicable characters ever put to film, one of Frankenstein’s assistants, the creature eventually escapes, and wanders into a local town – one where the marriage of young Elizabeth and Frankenstein is about to take place…

Lilly: Dun dun duuuun.

James Whale’s Frankenstein is a painful tale of an outsider who just wants to live amongst others, but is unaware that he is breaking the rules of society by merely existing. Dead are dead, and the creation that Boris Karloff so brilliantly plays is not dead in the least. He is, as Andy mentioned, curious, innocent, and wanting to explore. One of the most heartbreaking and touching scenes in any film I’ve watched is when the creation experiences sunlight for the first time. He lifts his hands to the sky and seeks out the warmth he feels on his skin, to hold it and understand it. The rest of the film is a series of experiences had by the creation where, when he reaches out inquisitively, he gets burnt (sometimes literally) by those around him. The humanity that Karloff puts into the creation makes the audience instantly react to his torture by Fritz, not to mention pity him after a misunderstanding that leads to an act that the creation surely didn’t mean.

While the film takes only the bare bones of the original tale, it does capture the failure on the part of the doctor to care for his creation and the effects it has on both parties. It also beautifully questions who the monster is by having it made so obvious that what the creation was doing, he was doing because he didn’t not know better, or was afraid. It’s a great take on the story, and very much worth watching for that reason alone.

Andy: Bride of Frankenstein is framed a little differently. On a stormy night (noticing a theme here) Lord Byron and Percy Shelley praise Mary for her story of the monster. She insists that there’s more story to tell.

Lilly: Fun fact! Mary Shelley’s story originally came about after a dark and stormy night much like the one seen here, where her and her writing buddies got together and dared each other to write some awesome scary stories. Frankenstein was her offering. True story!

Make that The Bride of Karloff and I'm there.
Make that The Bride of Karloff and I’m there.

Andy: Having somehow lived through the end of Frankenstein, the titular ‘hero’ and his ‘monster’ go their separate ways, unaware of the other’s survival. Henry is nursed back to health by Elizabeth, while the monster heads off for various unpleasant encounters with the outside world. Henry has sworn off his monsters – until the arrival of his mentor, the sinister Dr. Pretorius, who insists they try again. 

Later, Dr Pretorius meets the monster, and rather than rejecting him as everyone else has, welcomes him as an old friend. In fact, he’s building him a companion…

Lilly: Not to mention weird little people, but that’s just this film’s thing, I guess.

Now, unlike Dr.Frankenstein, who wants to make a monster for science and knowledge and knowing, etc., Dr.Pretorius honestly comes off as someone who wants to make life just to, you know, play with it. He is a detached creep of a creator, and the beauty of his creation is almost in direct contrast with the underlying nasty that is driving the doctor.

In fact, the beauty of ‘the bride’ is frankly unnerving, the more you think of it, and especially when you see her beside the creation. Frankenstein’s monster was made to see if life could be returned to dead flesh–no need to fuss about with him looking human when that is the goal, after all. However, the bride (Elsa Lanchester) is beautiful, made-up and sporting that amazing hair. Someone thought it was relevant in her creation to make sure she was appealing visually. For why? If she was purely a gift to the creation, why did beauty play into it? He had no concept of what was attractive or not. It’s creepy. Just think about it. Blech.

Andy: There’s absolutely no excuse for not watching these films. They’re paced excellently and very brief – together they are roughly the same length as The Shining – but the sheer brilliance of James Whale’s tale of Gods and Monsters drips through every frame. Boris Karloff has never, ever been equalled as the monster, and Elsa Lanchester has past through ‘iconic’ into part of a kind of background radiation of pop culture.  

But which one’s better?

Lilly: Frank

Andy: Bride

Lilly: But…

Andy: …Yeah, just watch both.

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