Feb 19 2010

Article XV – In Which I “Visit” the Wife of an Old Friend

The girl at the top left is Dr. Frankenstein's actual Bride.

I’m sure by now you’re all wondering (especially if you’re a friend of mine) if it was YOUR wife I visited.  Odds are at some time this would be true – don’t hold it against them, it was probably my fault.  Ladies, don’t think this discounts you, too.  I attract husbands as well.

No, this week I’m revisiting our mad friend: the good Doctor Frankenstein.  The Bride of Frankenstein was released in 1935, only four years after the original, and clocks in at a very black and white 75 minutes.  For my personal biographers out there this is also my first review of a sequel.  So I don’t have mobs of reporters bothering me – yes, I’m happy to do it; no, it won’t affect the quality of my future columns; and yes, you can sleep with me for an interview.  I’ll get the champagne wine gin.

This film picks up with Mary Shelley and two other men talking about how such a sweet little woman could come up with such a horrible story.  Naturally, she says that that wasn’t the end of the story, and that there was more for her to tell.  Clever way of beginning a new story if you ask me.  She says that the Monster was somehow not killed in the horrible fire and that he survived in the basement.  Also, that Dr. Frankenstein himself survived his horrible fall off the windmill.  Then the movie goes into a lot of Karloff wandering around in the woods, and a new (madder) doctor trying to get Frankenstein to create a woman Monster.  As the title states, this clearly does not happen.  Yes, that was sarcasm.

This movie… where to begin?  First off, all the perfect technical elements are back…BUT THERE ARE MORE OF THEM.  This is one of the first rules of the sequel – if it was good in the first movie, make sure to double it in the second one (then realize you went overboard and try to correct the tailspin of shit in the third one…but I digress).

In this episode of Franky: Karloff finds himself in a sticky situation!

As with the first one, the best thing about it is the atmosphere.  The cinematography is perfect, the painted backgrounds are amazing, and the sets are incredible.  Although you don’t ever really get the feeling that you’re not on a set, the style works for the film – it gives it an almost dreamlike atmosphere where nothing needs to be explicitly real.  Considering the movie is being told by Mary Shelly herself, I’d say that was fitting.  You’d be hard pressed to find a movie that looks this good in all the visual elements.  I’ll be honest – this may or may not be the most beautiful black and white movie I’ve ever seen.  And I’ve seen at least…five?

You can’t really watch a monster movie and not talk about the makeup.  So here it is.  The makeup is cool.  As the movie progresses, the Monster’s wounds that he’s accumulated since the beginning and through the film seem to heal and scar over, creating a (gasp) realistic quality to the Monster.

I guess in conventional reviews I’ve gotta cover acting, too.  So, I feel like this movie was a step down for Karloff.  While the Monster gets more opportunity to act and speak, this feels like a clear case of “less is more.”  I enjoyed the simplicity and creepiness of the original monster, and having him all over the screen in this film just kind of made me notice the flaws.  Frankenstein is upstaged in the mad scientist category in this film by a Dr. Septimus Pretorius.  Is this a good thing?  The madder the better, right?  Pretorius goes so far over the top, that you can almost see where Gene Wilder got his inspiration for Young Frankenstein.  I also want to say that Elsa Lanchester as Mary Shelly is stunning.  The best thing is she plays the Monster’s Bride as well.

Mary Shelly and two lame dudes.

I’ve gotta mention one scene in particular that stood out from the whole film.  There’s a bit where the Monster is wandering around in the woods (like he does for most of the film) and he hears some sweet electric violin music.  He wanders into the house to find a blind man playing.  A lot of this scene is ridiculously silly with the man teching the Monster how to smoke and drink and eat and whatnot – but in general, the scene is really very touching.  I don’t blame all you guys if you got something stuck in your eye around this scene and had to go to the bathroom to compose yourself wash your eyes out with alcohol and salt water like real men.

Which bring me to the special effects (nifty transition, I know).  There are a lot of cool “blowing up buildings” and “setting fire to sets” in this film.  I love it all.  But there is one point where Pretorius pulls out these glass jars with miniature people in them.  I cannot for the life of me figure out why this was in the film or what it had to do with the Monster or his Bride.  As far as I can tell, they figured out the cool special effects and just threw it in there for the hell of it.


I have one last thing to mention about this film before I tell you how you should feel about it.  The Bride.  Okay.  The movie is called The Bride of Frankenstein for God’s sake.  Not only does this mean the movie is about Dr. Frankenstein’s bride…but the Monster’s Bride doesn’t even show up until the last 5 minutes of the movie.  That would be like watching Ghandi and he only showed up at the end then blew up the lab where he was made.  It makes no sense.


Mad Doctor, Woman, Karloff, Madder Doctor

Me?  To be honest, considering this movie is really high up on the IMDB top 50 sci fi movies of all time list and ninety percent of the reviews I read about this movie are overwhelmingly positive, I was pretty disappointed.  Sure, as a sort of over-the-top parody of the first movie, the film positively excels.  On it’s own, its probably the best hammy sci-fi horror movie you’ll ever see that doesn’t take itself seriously at all and still has it’s good points.  But I was really hoping for something more along the lines of the first one which is a masterpiece of horror and pure science fiction.  The themes from the first film are all still present, but take the back seat to the funny and sometimes gratuitous plot.  The evil is clearly present in Dr. Pretorius, and Frankenstein himself is an unwilling participant in the experiment.

What was so great about the first film was that it didn’t give you a clear cut bad guy or good guy, except maybe the villagers.  Damn villagers.  It was a lesson in the dangers of science and playing God.  This movie undercuts and even goes back on some of those messages.

In all, I liked it for what it was – the perfect sequel to a movie that it could never hope to top.  Comparing the two is like having Airplane be a legitimate sequel to Airport! They cover the same subject matter in different ways.

I prefer to cover all subject matter the same way:

With grape jelly.

…I need to go clean my keyboard.

3 Responses to “Article XV – In Which I “Visit” the Wife of an Old Friend”

  • Mike Lukenbill Says:

    I really, really hate the Hollywood depiction of the monster having a comically square head. I always imagined him looking like that deformed giant dude from the Goonies, only more deformed, and not easily placated by a Baby Ruth bar.

    I think titling the movie after the Bride would work if the plot of the movie surrounded that second monster, and the moral questions raised by repeating the experiment. My assumption was that it was just skillful marketing. A hot girl monster? Ho ho, now that’s the cats pajamas!

  • Mitzi Says:

    I want to watch a better movie next time. This was disappointing.

    And I still say it would have been so much better without the tiny jar people and if they’d just gone straight to the blind guy’s cabin and not spent so much time establishing how no one wants the monster- YES. WE GET IT. YOU HAVE NO FRIENDS BECAUSE YOU’RE HIDEOUS. And of course, if the lady monster had been Dr. Frankenstein’s bride. She could have died, he would have selfishly brought her back to life against all his newfound ethics, and she could have run off with the monster to Teach Him A Lesson. So much better than what really happened. :/

  • Boner Johnston Says:

    So you didn’t sleep with my wife?

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