"The Bride Of Frankenstein" is certainly one of the most impressive horror films ever made. To this date it is still one of the only horror films that transcends the genre to the point that it is no longer looked upon as an actual genre film. "The Bride Of Frankenstein" has reached the point where it is widely regarded as one of the best films ever made in Hollywood. It is director James Whale's ultimate masterpiece, and sadly also the last horror film he ever made. God only knows how he could have rattled the horror genre and the Hays Office that rated films at the time - if he hadn't decided to retire only a few short years after "The Bride Of Frankenstein" was finished.
Upon watching the movie once again as part of Universal's newly released "Classic Monsters" collection on Blu-Ray, it is still simply astounding how Whale managed to get this film made within the traditional and restrictive studio environment of the time.
In terms of cinematography and dramatic style, Whale was exploring many ways that were quite unusual for the period, but it is truly his narrative skill and his witty cinematic sarcasm that can be found throughout the movie, that were way ahead if their time. If used only slightly blunter, this film would never have made it past the ratings board, and only because of Whale's skill to hide his subversive observations within seemingly insignificant pictures are we able to see what level of sophistication he was actually capable of.
After a short introductory scene that connects viewers with the events of the first film, "The Bride Of Frankenstein" picks up immediately where the original "Frankenstein" had left off. We find ourselves at the burnt mill where a mob has incinerated the creature. When most of the villagers leave the scene, only the father of the little girl that was killed in the first film and his wife remain. He wants to make sure the monster is really and truly dead and descends into the burned-out remains of the mill, where, in a pool of water, the creature (Boris Karloff) has survived. Frightened and angry, the creature kills the zealous man and stumbles out into the night, killing more people on the way, until the creature finally makes its way to the old cemetery to find refuge in one of the ancient crypts.
At the same time, Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) receives a strange visitor, Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), a former teacher of his. Pretorius tells Henry that he, too, had been successful at creating life and suggests a collaboration. He takes Frankenstein to his own laboratory where he shows him his collection of Homunculi, small-scale human beings, artificially grown by Pretorius within a laboratory environment. He harbors the idea of creating a mate for Frankenstein's creature.
But Frankenstein has second thoughts and in order to put a little more punch behind his arguments, Pretorius befriends and teaches the creature, and eventually uses it as the ultimate weapon against Frankenstein himself. Although by forced hand, Henry Frankenstein is soon once again obsessed by the thought of creating life from dead tissue, and we get to witness the memorable birth of the bride of Frankenstein.
Many things in this film differ from the first "Frankenstein" movie, and it is quickly obvious that most of these changes serve to allow director James Whale to tell an entirely different story and thus avoid the sequel-pitfall. The most notable difference are the huge sets used in this film, clearly a result of the higher budget, fueled by the success of the first film. Other changes are visible in the story itself, too. Unlike in the first film, Frankenstein himself plays a rather insignificant part in this movie and the focus is clearly shifted towards the creature itself, as we watch it develop, learn and battle its emotions.
The film also introduces us to Dr. Pretorius, one of movie history's most memorable mad scientists, perfectly portrayed by Ernest Thesiger. Pretorius is an enigmatic character with a truly devilish aura - look out for his own reference to that in the film. He is irresponsible and clearly a loose cannon in scientific terms, almost an alchemist performing his black magic. His character is fascinating and his on-screen presence steals the show, especially when he practically puppeteers Frankenstein and the creature to his will.
"The Bride Of Frankenstein" contains another phenomenally successful highlight however, the bride herself. To this date, Elsa Lanchester as the Bride is the only lasting female villain that ever came out of the classic monster movies. Even today, almost 70 years after the film's making, her likeness is as widely recognized as that of Boris Karloff's creature make-up.
"The Bride Of Frankenstein" is a highly polished jewel of a film for every film lover, and lends itself to endless hours of interpretation and observation. No matter how many times you have watched this film, every time you will detect a new nuance and intimation that James Whale has hidden in it. Be it the subtle emotional growth of the creature, the word twisting of Una O'Connor's character Minnie when she introduces Dr. Pretorius as coming "on a secret grave matter," as opposed to "a secret matter of grave importance" as he put it. Look out for the forest backdrop change from a lush environment to a horrific and cold setting when the creature is chased or how the creature is tossing over the statue of a religious figure in the cemetery scene, declaring his sympathy with the Dead. The film is almost exploding with these kinds of references that give it depth, but also show very nicely how well Whale understood to combine the macabre with the almost blasphemous humorous without ever becoming persiflage.
But, in many ways, the best thing is yet to come. The presentation of the film. It is almost unbelievable, how incredible the film looks on this new Blu-Ray transfer that Universal is delivering here. Although 70 years old, the film looks fresh and clean, as if it were made much more recently. Wonderful gray levels, deep blacks and balanced highlights give the image a truly marvelous look throughout. The level of details is staggering, to say the least, allowing you to study Karloff's make-up in never before detail as Whale zooms in on him in his extreme close-ups. Grain is at a bare minimum. While present, it is very much held back, once again, making the film look much more recent than it actually is.
While "Dracula" may have undergone the most extensive restoration in the "Classic Monster" collection, it is "Bride of Frankenstein" that offers up the best-looking transfer, by far.
The release also contains the film's original mono soundtrack in a 2-channel presentation, and once again it is obvious that it has been carefully restored for this release. Without any pops and a rather low level of noise and hiss, the soundtrack is clear and always well understandable, while also maintaining a lot of the original ambient noise floor.
Recycled from the previous DVD versions, the film features a commentary track by film historian Scott MacQueen, which still is rather disappointing. During the first 25 minutes of the commentary MacQueen talks too fast for audiences to follow AND watch the film, and after 25 minutes he slowly runs out of things to say at all. Oftentimes the commentary is referencing scenes that have appeared many minutes ago, and sometimes it is referencing scenes completely out of context. MacQueen fails to comment on important scenes of the film like the one at the lake when the monster is angry at its own reflection in the water, only to go on and help a shepherdess after she fell in the water. Both of them are important extensions of the creature's character from the first film and would definitely have been worth an explanation. The same is true in many other instances that make "The Bride Of Frankenstein" such an exceptional film. James Whale has his signature all over with sarcastic observations and very subtle ironies that can easily go unnoticed if you don't know what to look for. Unfortunately the commentary entirely misses the opportunity to point all these small gems out to the viewers, and the entire track has an overly dry and unattached character. If only Universal had created a new commentary track by someone who is a bit more susceptible to, and perhaps knowledgable of the film.
David J. Skal's documentary "She's Alive!" is much better in that respect and makes the importance and many elements of the film and the man who created it understandable. With love, care and attention to detail, Skal covers many reported facts, anecdotes, technical issues, as well as matters of content. Much like the documentary found on "Frankenstein", "She's Alive!" is a great addition to the disc. There is also an extensive photo gallery on the release, ranging from poster art from across the world to promotional stills and rare behind-the-scenes photographs. Rounded up with the film's theatrical trailer, production notes and a cast & crew biography section, the disc once again delivers much of what fans of this classic movie expect.
"The Bride Of Frankenstein" is a masterful film and it is great to find such an absolutely remarkable presentation on this Blu-Ray disc. Although it is not as complete as the release of "Frankenstein", the film itself is historically much more important and shows many attempts to avoid the regulation system that was firmly established in Hollywood at the time. It shows perfectly what an outstanding filmmaker James Whale really was and how he managed to play with people's emotions on a very subconscious level, for the first time combining horror with satire in a way that had not been seen before. You have to have this disc!