Guest Post: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Hello there, friends, I hope you’re having a great day. Once again, I get to take a slight break today (slight bits of editing and image searching doesn’t count as work, shut up), and lean back as my wonderful and amazing friend Mary gives us a third (and final) guest post for this Month of Spooks. So without further ado, let’s see what she has to say about “Bride of Frankenstein”.

Four years after audiences were delighted and horrified by Boris Karloff’s first outing as the Monster in James Whale’s Frankenstein, the director followed it up with a sequel. In this, he promised to find the lab-made man a bride. Whale was not interested in directing a sequel and Universal toyed with the idea of pursuing one without him, until he was finally persuaded to come on board.

The horror sequel drifts even further from Mary Shelley’s source material and – sadly – from the tone and emotion conveyed in the original movie. Nevertheless, it introduced audiences to a female horror icon, complete with startled eyebrows and lightning bolt hair.

The title credits roll and, whilst Karloff is given top billing this time, the actor playing the Bride is simply left as a question mark as a way to build suspense and keep your interest.

In a similar vein to having Frankenstein introduced by a bow-tied MC, Whale opens his sequel with a conversation between Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon), Percy Shelly (Douglas Walton) and, of course, Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester in a dual role). Mary insists that having her Monster die in a flaming windmill was not the ending she had in mind for her story – there are flashbacks to the original movie here in case you had forgotten what happened. Instead, she had planned for … cue wavy screen transition into the start of our new movie. It’s extremely twee and rather out of place.

The score is far more lively this time around, with sweeping violins and thunderous percussion in almost every scene. The expressionist inspired shadow techniques are once again prominent here – but only for the male characters in their laboratory. The females tend to get that soft focus close-up effect that makes everyone’s face look like a glowing moon.

Colin Clive is relegated to a relatively minor role in this sequel, owing to a broken leg (you’ll notice he’s sitting in most of his scenes) and his ongoing battle with alcoholism (making him increasingly unreliable on set). Valerie Hobson replaces Mae Clarke as the love interest, Elizabeth, and is given about as much to do as her predecessor.

Two new characters are introduced in prominent roles. The first is quite possibly the most annoying character to ever grace the screen. Minnie the maid (Una O’Connor) is seen – and heard – long before Henry or the Monster. She’s a gossip, scuttling around, over enunciating her Estuary vowels. Prepare to roll your eyes every time she appears on screen. Part of this is the poor, two dimensional “maid roles”, the other part of this is terrible overacting.

In contrast, we have the nefarious Doctor Pretorious, brought to life with a maniacal laugh by Ernest Thesiger. He is shot most beautifully, practically from his ankles to create a looming sense of doom and lit like something from The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. He takes on his own quest for creating new life, goading Henry back into the lab once more to stitch together some other poor soul. Thesiger barely blinks in the role and has a rich, deep Vincent Price-esque voice, making him the perfect villain of the piece.

Karloff has a far more to do in this film and we get to see even more of the Monster’s tenderness. The scenes with the blind violinist (O.P Heggie) are so touching. The violinist the only character to befriend him because he literally cannot see that he is a “monster”. The scene where he tucks him in for the night – resulting in a tear rolling down the Monster’s cheek – is a bit overdone, but rather sweet.

And, as the exclamation point on the promotional materials promised, we get to hear the Monster speak, giving the famous “Alone … Bad … Friend … Good” line. Karloff is alleged to have argued with the studios as he didn’t want the Monster to speak at all, but he was clearly overruled. And he was right – it turns the Monster into almost a comedy figure as he chomps away on bread and cigars, pointing out the new words he has learned.

Rather disappointingly, in a film called The Bride of Frankenstein, we do not get to see this ravishing creation for any longer than five minutes – and not until the very end of the film, either. It’s a shame that what could have been a very early prominent female horror role is reduced to nothing more than a gimmick for the finale of a film dominated by men and their desires. That being said, Lanchester looks truly resplendent in the role. Although she is not given too much to do, her jolting head movements, hissing and startled eyes convey all that they need to – she does not want to be there.

In fact, the gender politics are more prevalent than ever, here. Female characters are seen to be gossips or hysterical; fainters or screamers. It is the men who are brave and strong; daring and scientific. Yes, it’s the 1930s but it all feels a bit two dimensional. No female character is given any depth or, quite frankly, anything to do that doesn’t involve a male.

This definitely feels like one of these sequels that almost didn’t need to be made. It does look and feel relatively similar to the original, but tonally it’s all over the place, veering wildly from comedy maids to cackling villains. It’s clearly trying to capitalise on the popularity of the Monster by giving him more screen time but, in doing so, it almost changes the way you perceive him.

However, Karloff is once again excellent in the role and – despite the brevity of her screen time – Elsa Lanchester makes for a fantastic woman of horror.

Written by Mary Palmer

Guest Post: Women Led Horror

Hey there, hope you’re doing well. So once again, I will be taking a bit of a backseat on a post. Because for the second time ever, we have a special guest giving us a little treat. And wouldn’t you know, it’s none other than my good friend Mary, who recently wrote another great piece for us. So without further ado, let’s see what Mary has to say about female-driven horror movies. Take it away, Mary!

When it comes to horror movies, it’s fair to say that female characters often get the shite end of the stick. Paraded around in skimpy outfits; tripping over tree branches whilst being pursued by the movie monster; sexual activity rewarded with being the first to die … These movie tropes are deeply ingrained and highly condescending. And whilst they still haven’t completely disappeared, there are plenty of alternatives. Narratives where women are strong, logical protagonists or well fleshed out villains are becoming easier to find. They are there to do so much more than scream and flee.

So, who laid the groundwork and who is benefitting? Traces of which 60s and 70s classics can be found in which contemporary movies? Here are some of all the most iconic performances from women in horror movies.

Rosemary’s Boby (1968)

Carrie (1976)

The image of Sissy Spacek, drenched in blood has to be one of the most iconic of horror cinema. She gives a phenomenal performance here as the titular character – a social outcast and a victim of her mother’s religious fervour. It’s a performance that requires a lot of credibility – telekinesis has been used rather ropily before and since – but Spacek is commanding yet vulnerable.

Suspiria (1977)

Garishly nightmarish, the original Dario Argento movie is a giallo classic. Jessica Harper gives an impressive performance as the ballet dancer, Suzy Bannion, who quickly realises that all is not quite right with her new dance school. Despite disorientating colourscapes and the Goblin soundtrack, her performance does not get lost in amongst it all. She is determined to be believed …

Alien (1979)

It’s no secret that the character of Ripley was written as a man, which is perhaps why Sigourney Weaver’s take on the role is so important. She’s not softened or “feminised” in any way. Instead, she’s quietly commanding, physically capable and intellectually three steps ahead of her colleagues. She is perhaps the most memorable “last woman standing”.

Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Freddie Kruger – a horror icon himself – is busy invading the dreams of small town teenagers and picking them off, one by one, in this Halloween classic. However, he and his knives are no match for Nancy Thompson, played by Heather Langenkamp.  Director Wes Craven has acknowledged that he wanted a cliché-free, progressive female lead.

Misery (1990)

From hero to villain, now, as Kathy Bates takes on James Caan in this Stephen King adaptation. Despite presenting as a mousy, introverted middle aged woman, Annie Wilkes is one of the most terrifying female villains. Bates turns on the charm – and the scares – at the drop of a hat and it is this duality that makes her so scary.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Yes, Anthony Hopkins is the consummate movie maniac here, but it is Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling who deserves all the plaudits here. A rookie FBI investigator, she holds her nerve when faced with Hannibal the Cannibal. It’s all about the power dynamic here and Foster gives a convincingly reassured performance.

Scream (1996)

Whilst everyone was talking about – and buying – those ghoulish white masks, it is Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott who stands out in Scream. She is another well-written, multi-dimensional female lead with vulnerabilities and strengths. She even mocks the masked killer with comments as to how scary movies are always about screaming women running the wrong way from their pursuers.

Audition (1999)

You could be forgiven – on first watch – for thinking that the villain of the piece was the sleazy Shigeharu Aoyama, the man who is literally auditioning girls to be his new wife. That is, until you see that garbage bag move … Eihi Shiina gives a truly fascinating performance as the seemingly sweet but ultimately twisted as fuck Asami Yamazaki.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

This irresistibly shot Iranian movie centres around a female vampire, played by Sheila Vand, who is picking off deviant male victims one by one. So not only is this movie beautiful to look at, it also has a strong feminist message and female lead. Vand gives a thoroughly engaging performance, with so much being conveyed through a look or her physicality.

Midsommar (2019)

Florence Pugh’s Dani is both victim and victor in Ari Aster’s movie. She starts the film suffering emotional trauma and being gaslit by her douchebag boyfriend. Pugh really draws you in to her character – it’s an incredibly physical and demanding performance – so that by the time that enigmatic little smile crosses her face, you’ll be fully onside. But should you be?

Written by Mary Palmer

Guest Post: Frankenstein (1931)

Hey there, friends, hope you’re doing well on this spooky October day. So today we’re doing something a little different. For once, you’re not putting up with my terrible opinion(s). No, instead this piece is written by my dear friend Mary, who is the first proper guest writer we’ve had on the blog, so that’s exciting. Anyhow, I won’t dawdle any longer.
Let’s just sit back and enjoy as Mary takes us through the 1931 classic “Frankenstein.

Frankenstein is one of the most culturally impactful monster movies released by Universal Studios. The appearance of the Monster and the notion of a “creator” has influenced everything from TV comedies (such as The Munsters); to fantasy cinema (such as Edward Scissorhands); to sci-fi horror (such as Ex Machina). It’s not just about the flat top head and the neck bolts, it’s about our desire to understand life and, most crucially, what makes us human.
The Monster made his first outing in 1931, in a movie directed by James Whale, who went on to direct The Invisible Man and The Bride of Frankenstein as part of Universal’s original horror canon. The very image of the Monster that we see to date is influenced specifically by this movie, and not the Mary Shelley novel on which it is – very loosely – based.

The film opens with a bow-tied Master of Ceremonies warning the viewers that what they are about to see is both disturbing and horrifying. The feels like an unusual move for a horror movie but, perhaps, back in 1931 it was deemed necessary before introducing the Monster to movie-goers who had never seen such a character before. The cast list roles up, with every player’s name listed apart from the actor playing the Monster. It’s a neat little marketing hook.

Centring around Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and his lab assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye), Whale’s adaptation of the gothic horror novel really homes in on the titular character’s God complex and his quest to create new life without the aid of a higher being. A mix up at the university sees Fritz steal an “abnormal, criminal” brain – as opposed to a “normal, good” one – and thus the Monster is born. Boris Karloff – who had been a farm hand and a truck driver as well as a bit part player – brings the Monster to life in his first outing in the role.

The use of light and shadow throughout is straight out of German expressionist films. The creeping shadows up the spiral staircases are straight out of Nosferatu. It feels dreamy in its grandiose at times – the sheer scale of the windmill laboratory or the wedding celebrations – and often tapers this with close ups so tight you can see the stage make up. The only thing that prevents all of this from truly drawing you in is often the furniture and backdrops. At times, it looks like most pieces could be knocked over with a strong cough and you can see the paint brush marks on the “clouds” or “village” in the background. It feels cheap in contrast to the spiraling violins and ominous organ music accompanying it.

However, it’s not all corny. Colin Clive is excellent as Henry Frankenstein, his desperate cries of “Now I know what it feels like to BE God!” neatly summing up everything you need to know about his character. He believes himself to be a man of science; a discoverer; a creator. Yet he’s also bound by social expectations of marriage and children. Clive does well at conveying this conflict. In such a short run time, he is probably one of the most nuanced characters and, as such, you’re able to flit between empathising with and condoning his actions.

But it’s Boris Karloff you’re really here to see. The “big reveal” is teased, slowly, and he doesn’t actually appear until just around the halfway mark. His Monster is misunderstood – trying to make sense of his place in the world, acting on impulse and frightened by human behaviour. This all-but non-verbal performance is incredible to watch. The child like joy he expresses upon seeing flowers float is so sad. The close ups of his tear-filled eyes and curious expression are stunning. His appearance was achieved through practical hair and make-up effects, as well as having Karloff remove his dental bridgework to create a sunken in face.

Dwight Frye is good in his short amount of screen time as Fritz – a lab assistant who has no doubt faced his share of cruelty (owing to his own appearance) and, yet, it is he who treats the Monster the worst. Frederick Kerr, as Baron Frankenstein, is supposed to bring some comic relief but is just rather annoying. Mae Clarke, as Elizabeth, doesn’t really have much to do other than scream or look doe-eyed but, hey, it was the 1930s. That’s what blondes did in pictures, right?

What’s so interesting watching the movie now is the themes and imagery it throws up. Just years after the movie’s release, all across Europe, many were being rounded up and driven out as people became afraid of “the other”. Windows were smashed and fires were set then, too. What right to we have to say who lives and who dies? And, of course, it asks the question “What makes us human?”. Are the braying mob, bullish and jeering, any better than the Monster? Where is their humanity?

Frankenstein feels more like a melodrama-come-morality tale, as opposed to a horror (even if it does introduce us to the Monster for the first of many outings). The surprisingly nuanced performance from Boris Karloff is what makes this movie really worth watching. And, despite the ropey sets and even ropier acting, it is a classic and absolutely worth checking out this spooky season … just don’t expect to be too spooked, despite the pre-film “warning”.

Written by Mary Palmer