How To Make A Sequel

The_Bride_of_Frankenstein_(1935_poster)
Wikipedia

We all know there’s a way to make a sequel and a way not to make a sequel, and 1935’s The Bride of Frankenstein is a sequel that mostly got it right, because it both revisits what came before and does it one better. I know I’m not the first one to say this but it can’t really be helped.

The movie opens on a dark and stormy night, where Frankenstein author Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester) and her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Walton) are sitting around visiting with their good chum, George Gordon, better known as Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon). Byron wants to know why Mary ended her story so abruptly, and Mary slyly replies that there’s more to her macabre tale of misunderstood creatures.

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After that, the movie picks up where the 1931 film left off, at the burning windmill with the torches and villagers. They think the Monster (Boris Karloff) is dead but he really isn’t and scares the jeepers out of a few of the remaining folks before lurching off into the night.

He really has nowhere to go, but he stumbles into the hovel of a blind monk who has no idea who he is but who befriends him and teaches him how to talk. The Monster loves it when the monk plays his violin and gets very protective of his new buddy. It lasts until a couple of the villagers show up looking for him and The Monster has no choice but to run away again.

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Meanwhile, back at the castle, Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) still hasn’t recovered from his ordeal. He and Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson) are planning to get married and go away as soon as he’s well enough to travel. In walks Doctor Pretorious (Ernest Thesiger) who wants to partner with him on a new project, and he’s got quite the resume. For one thing, he pulls a bunch of glass cases out of his satchel that all have what seem to be miniature historical figures. Well, they look like historical figures. They also squeak like rats.

Henry isn’t interested. He’s out of the corpse re-animation racket and wants to move on with his life. Elizabeth has also been having some terrible visions and is afraid for Henry’s safety. However, Pretorious strong-arms Henry into it, especially after the Monster comes lurching back in. Pretorious is holding Elizabeth hostage and unless Henry helps him, Elizabeth is dead.

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Through all of this the Monster is still looking for a friend, and Pretorious hits on the idea of crafting him a wife. They’ve got the cadaver already; all they need is a heart from a freshly deceased person and they’re in business.

Long story short, the Bride (Elsa Lanchester) comes to life and seems a bit bewildered at her newfound vigor. Everything’s pretty new-ish and scary. How will she react when she sees her new husband? Will they gaze and smile tremoulously at each other like the soulmates they’re supposed to be?

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Put it this way: Love is a battlefield.

So what does The Bride of Frankenstein do right? Quite a bit. It fills out the Monster’s character, as previously he was just a misunderstood victim of circumstances he had absolutely no control over. He gets a little bit of dignity. We even get to see some of the intelligence lurking in that stitched-up head of his coming out in his speech, and it’s kind of fun to see how people are thrown off-guard when the Monster haltingly says, “Friend.”

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I also like the humor in the film. James Whale wanted to be a comedic director so badly he could taste it, and we get a peek at what he could do in Bride of Frankenstein, particularly in the scene with the royals in bottles. And it’s cool to see Mary Shelley and her husband hobnobbing with Lord Byron at the beginning of the movie, which not only lends a tiny bit of history to the proceedings (Byron really was friends with the Shelleys). I wish that angle could have been worked into later movies, to be honest.

On that note, Elsa Lanchester is the one minor beef I have with the movie: While the movie might be called Bride of Frankenstein its titular character is not seen until almost the ending credits. She’s more of a dangling carrot, really, and it’s kinda too bad because Elsa Lanchester is wonderful. She jumps off the screen, even if we only get fifteen minutes with her.

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The Bride seemed to be tailor-made for Lanchester, who had a rather unconventional marriage to Charles Laughton. There were times she couldn’t hardly stand to be around him and retreated into extramarital relationships, albeit fairly platonic ones, with other men, but she and Laughton were married for over thirty years.

However, it wasn’t Lanchester’s favorite role. According to film historian Alberto Manguel, she wasn’t a fan of James Whale, who was, in her words, bitter and nasty, not to mention he was routinely unkind to Boris Karloff, calling him a “truck driver.” This has been chalked up to Whale’s off-putting manner and sense of humor, but either way it doesn’t make for a fun filming experience.

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None of this detracts from the film, though, which is one of those rare sequels that both stands up next to its predecessor, but can even stand on its own. The actual Bride may be peripheral to the movie, but once she’s there she’s pretty unforgettable and iconic.

Another review is coming up on Thursday. As always, thanks for reading and I hope to see you then…


The Bride of Frankenstein is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.

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If you’re enjoying what you see on Taking Up Room, please look for additional content on Substack, where you’ll find both free and subscriber-only articles. I publish every Wednesday and Saturday.


Bibliography

Manguel, Alberto. Bride of Frankenstein. Camden, England: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019.

Worsley, Victoria. Always the Bride: A Biography of Elsa Lanchester. Albany, Georgia: BearManor Media, 2021.

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