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: 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

Movie Review: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Our journey through the Universal Monsters blu-ray set  continues, with the first (and only) sequel within it. So let’s put our neck-bolts on and get ready to talk about it.

Ladies and gentlemen… “Bride of Frankenstein”.

Set immediately after the horrifying events of the first movie, we follow the Monster (Boris Karloff) as he makes a daring escape, trying to just be left in peace. All while the somehow still alive Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) once again is in the business to create life. This movie is a little falsely advertised. The bride does technically exist in this movie, but spoiler alert, she’s barely fuckin’ in it. She only shows up for a minute right at the end, barely playing any role in it. The story leading up to that is excellent, and I don’t mind the bride scene either… but when your movie is named after something that’s only there for a minute, then you kinda fucked up, I feel. It’s like if you took “Fight Club” and named it “The Harassment of Raymond K. Hessel”, yes it happens in the movie, but it’s such a minor element that it’s not worth naming the movie after it. Wow, I spent a lot of time on that one thing… but I guess I can justify that with “the movie is very mismarketed”.  Anyway, the rest of the story is great, they get some excellent drama of the Monster being on the run from the mob of scared people. There is a lot of nuance within the narrative, it is emotionally engaging. But man, that title snafu really bugs me.

The characters in this are colorful (ironic, given the monochrome) and entertaining. Let’s start with Boris Karloff as the Monster. He’s a tender creature, someone who doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but is sometimes forced because he’s trying to survive. He has such a beautifully tragic arc in this movie, and Karloff’s performance is fantastic. Colin Clive returns as Dr. Frankenstein, and he’s a little more reserved this time around… and Clive does a good job with his performance. And the supporting cast, containing people like Valerie Hobson, Ernest Theisger, Elsa Lanchester, Dwight Frye, O.P. Heggie, and more, all do quite well in their respective roles. Theeeeeen there’s one cast member I don’t like. That is one Una O’Connor. She was also in “The Invisible Man”, in which she was kinda fun. Here however she doesn’t fit. Her performance doesn’t work with the serious tone of this… and she has a lot of screen time. Do you see the problem with that one? But yeah, one really big sore thumb in an otherwise great cast.

The score for the movie was composed by Franz Waxman, and I think he did a good job with it. It’s fun, it’s decently emotional, and it overall does fit the whole mad science/gothic vibe for it. It just works for this movie pretty well.

The director of the first movie, James Whale, came back to direct “Bride of Frankenstein” as well, and once again his direction is spectacular. This man was very much ahead of his time, giving scenes a lot of exciting camera movements and angles that almost felt ahead of their time. Whale’s direction is electrifying, and when you combine that with the cinematography of John Mescall’s cinematography, you get a movie that is beautiful to look at.

This movie has been very well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 98% positive rating and a “Fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 95/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 7.8/10. The movie even was nominated for an Oscar in the category of Best Sound.

So yeah, I don’t love “Bride of Frankenstein” as much as most people. It has some flaws within its title-story ratio, and also one painful performance… but it’s still a solid flick. It has a good plot, okay characters, great performances, good music, and great direction/cinematography. Time for my final score. *ahem*. My final score for “Bride of Frankenstein” is an 8.11/10. So while flawed, it’s still worth buying.

My review of “Bride of Frankenstein” is now completed.

The film twitter people are gonna kill me for me… and then reanimate me so they can kill me again.

Movie Review: The Invisible Man (1933)

And our journey through the Universal Monsters blu-ray set continues!

Invisible ladies and invisible gentlemen… “The Invisible Man”!

Scientist Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) has managed to find a way to turn himself invisible. This has however come at the cost of his mind, turning him into a homicidal maniac. So now we have our little horror/sci-fi plot. And I kinda loved this story. It’s relatively simple, not aiming for any lofty mindfuckery. But what we do get is a fast-paced, eerie, and quite fun narrative of public paranoia and scientifically induced madness. And while there’s been overall fun factors in the previous Universal Monster movies we’ve covered, none have been as gleeful about it as this one. Seeing Griffin’s invisible rampage through England is an absolute riot, as it’s handled with a surprising amount of dark comedy. Yes, the idea of an invisible man running around and terrorizing people is really scary, but the way it’s done here manages to perfectly balance fear of the unknown with a big, mischievous grin. And I found the blend to be very entertaining.

The characters in this can seem a little bit cartoony at times, but I do find them to serve the narrative quite well. First we have Jack Griffin, mad scientist and resident invisible man. He’s a highly intelligent man, always being able to outsmart his opponents. Combine this with his science-induced madness, and you get a highly entertaining central protagonist and villain. And Claude Rains is fantastic in the role, giving us an electrifying performance. We also get performances from people like Gloria Stuart, William Harrigan, Una O’Connor, E.E. Clive, Holmes Herbert, and more, all doing very well in their respective roles.

The score in the movie was composed by Heinz Roemheld, and while it’s used very sporadically, the few times it shows up it is pretty good, composed in a way that perfectly fits the whole mad scientist thing.

Based on the 1897 science fiction novel by H.G. Wells, “The Invisible Man” was directed by James Whale (who also directed “Frankenstein”), and I think Whale has outdone himself here. His direction has a lot of energy to it, never letting a moment sit too long or get too dull, all without making anything feel rushed. And the editing in this is absolutely superb, this especially shown during a really fun and snappy montage where news of the invisible man spread to the people of the country. Speaking of imperceptible fellas, holy fucking shit, that effect is still impressive to this day. I do know HOW they achieved that effect, but it still feels a little mindblowing how they managed to achieve this in the early 1930s.

This movie has been quite well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 94% positive rating and a “Fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 87/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 7.7/10.

So yeah, “The Invisible Man” is another great horror classic. It has a great story, pretty good characters, great performances, okay music, an amazing invisible man effect, and great directing/editing. Time for my final score. *Ahem*. My final score for “The Invisible Man” is a 9.77/10. Which means it gets the “SEAL OF APPROVAL!”.

My review of “The Invisible Man” is now completed.

I love the smell of mad science in the weekends.

Movie Review: Frankenstein (1931)

Greetings, friends. As promised every other review will be of a classic Universal monster movie from a snazzy blu-ray set I bought. So yeah… today we’re doing one of those.

Ladies and gents… IT’S ALI- I mean, “Frankenstein”.

With the help of his assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye), Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) aims to perform one of the biggest scientific feats ever seen… stitching together body parts and try to animate it into a living creature. And as we all know by now, this experiment succeeds. We all know the story at this point. But how good is the execution of it? I would argue it is fantastic. You get that dark, gothic, spooky goodness, but you also get a surprisingly nuanced exploration of the line between genius science and mad science, and I am honestly surprised how much relative depth there is in here, while still being an accessible and enjoyable monster movie.

The characters in this are, much like the narrative, a lot deeper and more interesting than they have any right to be. For example, seeing the duality of Dr. Frankenstein is quite interesting, as he often teethers the line between a little mad and quite compelling and relatable. And Colin Clive is really good in that role. And let’s not dilly-dally, Boris Karloff plays the reanimated creature. And his performance is amazing. It does have some of the monster menace one expects from that look, but there is also a childlike innocence to him, making him kind of a tragic figure. Dwight Frye (who also was in “Dracula”) is really good as Fritz, the humpback assistant of Frankenstein. And in supporting roles we have Mae Clarke, John Boles, Edward Van Sloan, and more, and they all do well in their respective roles.

Like with “Dracula”, this movie doesn’t really have a score. And that works well here. There is music in like the opening and end credits, but between that there’s really nothing. And for those asking “If there is no music, why still have a music section?”. Because if nothing else, I am consistent… also, I gotta find a way to waffle that word count up somehow, ya know.

Based on the 1818 novel of the same name by Mary Shelley, “Frankenstein” was directed by James Whale, and I think he knocked it out of the park. He shows here how to build a quiet intimacy with his characters, while still being able to create haunting and eerie images that add to the drama of movie. And when you mix this with Arthur Edeson’s frankly beautiful cinematography, you get one of the most visually inspired and gothically stunning movies ever.

This movie has been very well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 100% positive rating and a “Fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 91/10. And on imdb.com it has a score of 7.8/10.

So yeah, “Frankenstein” holds up marvelously nearly 90 years later (blimey). It has a great story, good characters, great performances, and excellent directing/cinematography. Time for my final score. *IT’S ALI-*, no not yet. My final score for “Frankenstein” is a 9,78/10. So it gets the “SEAL OF APPROVAL!”.

My review of “Frankenstein” is now completed.

Now? Okay, cool. AHEM… IT’S ALIVE!!!