She's Alive! Creating the Bride of Frankenstein

Synopsis: Documentary about the making of 1935's "Bride of Frankenstein."
39 min

It's an old clich that a sequel

is never as good as the original.

But director James Whale set that

on its head with Bride of Frankenstein,

the crowning achievement

of Universal's golden age of horror.

Never had a studio lavished so much

production value and acting talent

on a so-called monster movie.

Bride of Frankenstein

transcended its genre

and remains one of

Universal's best-loved films.

For Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein,

the attempted creation

of the monster's bride

was always part of her original vision.

How James Whale and Universal Pictures

played matchmaker

for Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester

is quite a story.

And, like a good cast,

well worth repeating.

Oh. I thought I was alone.

It's one of the great American films.

It's right up there with

Citizen Kane and Sunset Boulevard.

It's usually discussed as

"Oh, just a horror movie",

but it's much more complex.

Do you know who Henry Frankenstein is?

And who you are?

Yes. I know.

Made me from dead.

The various story elements,

the intellectual elements,

the artistic and acting elements

that came to bear in this film,

really crystallised all the things

that had been building

in that genre, at that studio, at that time.

I love dead.

Hate living.

You're wise in your generation.

The Bride of Frankenstein

quite simply is the most complex

and most brilliantly achieved

and conceived horror film ever made,

and certainly the crowning jewel in

Universal's initial series of horror films.

You make man like me?

No. Woman.

Friend for you.

It's a wonderful film. It's just delightful.

Certainly there are some scenes

where humour and terror

are all beautifully blended.

When you get into Bride of Frankenstein,

you're making it all up.

There are no rules. The only rules

are those of the imagination.

Whale had an extraordinary imagination.

There are some imaginations which are

best left to go do their own Gothic thing.

This isn't science.

It's more like black magic.

When Universal unleashed

the original Frankenstein in 1931,

it found a new formula

for box-office magic.

In a stunning portrayal, Boris Karloff

was catapulted to international stardom.

James Whale, well-regarded

for his British stage work,

had been imported to Hollywood

for his ability to direct dialogue.

Ironically, as movies were learning

to talk, it was a silent performance

that made the Hollywood careers

of both Karloff and Whale.

Universal's founder, Carl Laemmle,

didn't want his son, Carl Junior, to make

films like Dracula and Frankenstein.

But there was no arguing

with the box office.

As soon as Frankenstein was complete,

the studio began planning a follow-up.

This time it was

the director who objected.

James Whale didn't want to do

a sequel to Frankenstein.

He seemed to be trying to

squirm out of it, as it were,

avoid it, bypass it.

Do something else instead.

He said he'd gotten everything out of

the first one, that he'd "wrung it dry".

Maybe that was the phrase.

You have to remember that Frankenstein

was the Jaws or Star Wars of its day.

It was such a big hit.

The studio had so much invested in it

that finally he agreed to do it.

But again I love the fact that

he only did it on his terms.

Meantime, Universal again teamed Whale

and Karloff for The Old Dark House,

a sardonic thriller that introduced

Whale's mischievous sense of humour.

The Invisible Man, with Claude Rains,

mixed laughs and chills,

and showcased state-of-the-art

special effects.

The effects in The Invisible Man

are just extraordinary.

You still watch them

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David J. Skal

David John Skal (born June 21, 1952 in Garfield Heights, Ohio) is an American cultural historian, critic, writer, and on-camera commentator known for his research and analysis of horror films and horror literature. more…

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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