Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1935)

Just about every performance is so over-the-top it’s embarrassing (with Dr. Praetorious and that maid taking the cake).  The plot structure’s an absolute mess, from that shoddy prologue with Lord Byron and Friends to an ending that even Hitchcock would call abrupt.  The decision to have Karloff speak was so stupid you can’t help but roll your eyes when he puts together those sentences in broken English monster-ese.  All these flaws, and one has to ask why it’s considered perhaps the best and most enthralling of all horror films, and better yet, why I was so completely enthralled by such a flawed film.  To say that realism in the situations and performances aren’t suited for this material is obviously an understatement.  This movie is expressionism defined.  Scenes like the monster’s visit with the blind man and the unveiling of the Bride (one of the most famous images in all of cinema, and yet she has less than 5 minutes of screen time) are completely burned into our heads by now, whether we’ve seen the movie or not, not because of some unifying story, but because of the mood that it all conveys.  Those little people in Praetorious’ bottles, for example: so pointless to the plot, and so silly with their appearance and the music in today’s context, but like so many other scenes, it’s all for mood, for a state of mind, and sacrifices logic to simply show us something we’ve never seen before.  Sure, some of the humor, like Praetorious himself, those little people, and the monster becoming a wino just falls flat, but put together with the stark surrealism of these two mad scientists and their quest to become gods (namely the purely expressionistic visual process of creating life) creates a mood that, like the deepest recesses of our minds, defies all logic but affects us in ways that logical thought cannot.  The final sequence, with the lightning and all the gadgets splayed in darkness, the huge lightning rod ascending into the heavens, the Bride’s heartbeat acting as a perfectly ominous drumbeat: it’s a scene of such visual beauty and perfection that I was completely drawn in by the moment, rather than a unifying story.  The themes of misunderstanding those different from you and the perils of playing god are of course made obvious by the form of the movie, but in a purely visual and expressionistic way that feels oddly natural in the world we’re presented with.

I’m making no sense, rambling on and on.  😦   I guess that’s exactly what Bride of Frankenstein does if you look at it as a narrative by today’s standards.  Those stupid performances and story, along with the visuals and feel that’re stunning in a way i never could’ve anticipated after watching the first 20 minutes or so, probably make this the best “bad” movie I’ve ever seen  😛


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