B is for…Bride of Frankenstein

Frankenstein’s Monster: You make man like me?
Dr. Praetorius: No. Woman. Friend for you.
Frankenstein’s Monster: Woman….Friend….Wife

Many, many versions of Frankenstein and his Monster exist at this point. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s novel has been adapted and changed, used as a reference point for new writings and for films.

BPerhaps the most well-known of film adaptations are the versions featuring Boris Karloff, especially the 1931 film Frankenstein and the 1935 film Bride of Frankenstein. 

The quest to create the Bride informs the whole of James Whale’s 1935 masterpiece. Everything–the fits that Elizabeth Frankenstein throws, the (rather impressively rendered, especially given the time) Homunculi in jars, especially the Queen’s distaste for the King and King’s dogged pursuit–it all leads to the last moments of the film when the Bride is finally revealed.

And my god, is she something. We first see the Bride all wrapped up, much as Frankenstein before her. The expressionist film techniques (highly informed by German films like Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece, Metropolis), the light and shadow, play marvelously as a storm rages, giving the machines that Frankenstein and Praetorius have built the power they need to create. Sometimes the Bride, wrapped on the table, is just a human-like for from far away. Sometimes there are close-ups, and the shape of a woman is clear.

Elsa Lanchester plays both Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and the Bride of Frankenstein in the film, and what do we do with that? As Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, at the beginning of the film, she settles down with Percy Shelley and Lord Byron to tell the rest of the story. As the Bride, she’s entirely different. Or, almost entirely different.

Much like the stage tradition of the same actor for Hook and Mr. Darling in productions of Peter Pan, I think it establishes continuity of character. Further than that, though, it suggests that the female imagination is haunted in its own way. This is further underscored by something Lanchester herself said once.

She reportedly wrote in her journal that “Whale felt that if this beautiful and innocent Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley could write such a horror story . . . then somewhere she must have had a fiend within, dominating part of her thoughts and her spirit . . . My playing both parts cemented that idea.”

And then there’s the immortal image of Elsa Lanchester, white dress billowing around her, lighting-bolts of silver in her blown-back hair. She moves sharply, quickly, when she moves—she’s somewhere between bird and human. She hisses at the Monster, rejecting him even as Dr. Praetorius plays father figure and tries to give her away to the Monster.

She doesn’t blink. She faints a bit, unsure of where she is or what is going on. To be brought back must be very trying (Recall the Monster earlier saying: I love dead. Hate living.) And though there are no words, the Bride makes her dislike of the Monster and of being returned very clear—the hisses and screams from her, the jerky head movements and unblinking eyes suggest confusion, fear, and anger.

And then she’s doomed to die as soon almost as soon as she’s created. The Monster says “we belong dead” and readies to blow up the lab, killing himself, the Bride, and Dr. Praetorius. But that’s the price of returning to normalcy. Though it’s been the humans, by and large, who’ve been monstrous, and who can continue being so, the monsters must be destroyed as the story closes.

That’s part of what our monsters do. They’re destroyed so we can live, so we can learn. So we can see our own monstrosity.

(Surprise! A Neil Gaiman video:)

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26 Comments

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  1. Another great article. Thanks for sharing your female monsters with us. The original Bride of Frankenstein is a true monster classic. I love all the old B&W movies. Keep up the great work!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Frankenstein is one of the most interesting pop culture monsters of our time (even though most adaptations are a far, far cry from the original monster Shelley penned). I think it’s really awesome though, to see how far a vision can go. He might even be the original fan remix that became more popular than the original source. 🙂

    I, like others, have never watched Bride, but I watched the clip of her rejecting him. It’s a very powerful scene, in that neither monster is wrong — she should not have to accept him because she was made for him, and he has every right to wish for something like himself, and a meaningful relationship.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes to all of the things. 🙂

      I love Frankenstein’s story so much. And it has been taken and made so many different things, as you said, which I think is part of the genius of it.

      You know, I’m now wondering what the most often adapted stories and novels are.

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  3. I’ve never seen Bride of Frankenstein but I agree with you that monsters in literature and in movies exist so that we can see how we are often so much worse than the “monsters”. Very nice post, Diana.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I loved that bit, too, and I so agree that monsters are usually meant to be a mirror to our own mistakes. I’ve seen several Frankenstein adaptations, but not Bride of. Might have to watch that soon!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Thanks!

      And you should definitely give the movie a try. It’s really an interesting film with a lot of thought-provoking material. Still so relevant.

      Like

  4. The whole idea of the ‘good’ Mary Shelley being haunted within-, I get visions of yin and yang. And when it comes to humans creating monsters, just WHO the monster? thanks for a really goooood post. Jeri (over from a to z and delighted to be). storytellingmatters.wordpress.com

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by!

      I think a great portion of the allure of a monster story is that it makes us question what that word even means and who we should apply it to.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I totally agree! I have a friend who wrote a zombie novel that posed that question as well. It was very dark, gritty, violent… not usually my bag, but I was very impressed with the philosophical and societal lens he used while writing it. That’s what makes monster media so great!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I flipping love Elsa Lanchester! She is one of the all time film greats and so under valued. She had a way of making a tiny part perfectly memorable. She has a 2 second walk on in Mary Poppins that I’ll never forget. Thanks for this reminder. I feel the need to watch Murder By Death now. I think that was her last film. : )

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I tend to drift to the humour side rather than horror, so my favourite version is the 1974 movie Young Frankenstein with Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman. Madeline Kahn was priceless in her role as the future Bride of Frankenstein 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We’ve actually got that one in the queue. I haven’t seen it, which is fairly odd for me, but I’m also writing a post on Frankenstein later this month for the Great Villain Blogathon and it’s research. 😉

      Like

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