Film 33 (b): The Bride of Frankenstein

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) dir. James Whale. USA.

One advantage of horror movies is that they permit extremes and flavors of behavior that would be out of tone in realistic material. From the silent vampire in “Nosferatu” (1922) to the cheerful excesses of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in Hammer horror films of the 1960s, the genre has encouraged actors to crank it up with bizarre mannerisms and elaborate posturings. The characters often use speech patterns so arch that parody is impossible.

The genre also encourages visual experimentation. From “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1919) onward, horror has been a cue for unexpected camera angles, hallucinatory architecture and frankly artificial sets. As mainstream movies have grown steadily more unimaginative and realistic in their visuals, horror has provided a lifeline back to the greater design freedom of the silent era. To see sensational “real” things is not the same as seeing the bizarre, the grotesque, the distorted and the fanciful. There is more sheer shock in a clawed hand unexpectedly emerging from the shadows than in all the effects of “Armageddon,” because “Armageddon” looks realistic and horror taunts us that reality is an illusion.

— Roger Ebert

Abigail: This is a very good movie, and the stylization can’t be beat.  These films are getting me very excited for the Universal reboot of the Monster Universe.  Their other-worldliness and staunch camp is refreshing and exciting, even 90 years later.  I disagree that it is better than Frankenstein – it is definitely bigger, bolder, and more off the leash.  But I maintain my belief that a limiting factor is absolutely necessary in art, and a limiting factor of studio approval seemed to do well for Whale and his Monster.  Ebert reiterates an idea that Whale espouses homosexuality in this movie.  I am not sure if that is true.  It, in fact, seems to diminish his spectacular craft and style as a director, chalking his success up to his sexuality.  It seems to me that more than being shaped by his own homosexuality, he shaped gay culture with his flamboyant style and unique flare and the first foray into camp as art.  I really loved the framing device, and the depth of the Monster.   These were just fun, well handled films.

Forrest:  This wasn’t, I think, quite the equal of Frankenstein.  It couldn’t have been, though — Frankenstein set a visual template that was so influential it’s difficult to overstate.  “Bride” didn’t –couldn’t — improve upon it, but it did solidify it.  Whale remains a spectacular director, one whose personal life has, I think, overshadowed his artistic brilliance.  The Bride is a triumph of design, and the Monster remains a beautifully rounded tragic figure.  Now I want to see “The Mummy,” “The Invisible Man,” and the rest of Universal’s monster flicks.

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