Where ”Frankenstein” was a pioneer in gothic horror, ”Bride of Frankenstein” must be the pioneer of the horror comedy. The darkness has to a large extent been replaced with a giggle and I for one find it both appropriate and amusing.
The original “Frankenstein” was a huge success for Universal, but the inevitable follow-up took some time. This was primarily because the director, James Whale was reluctant to return to the story (according to various sources). When he finally did the sequel he chose a radically different approach, which essentially dispensed with its self-importance and instead added an element of humor. You can say that it created a distance to the story. The smart thing about doing that was that it in that way it would be difficult to compare it to the original, and that despite that the story follows right in the tail of “Frankenstein”.
I just realized that this is almost exactly what the Book says about the film, but I guess this just comes through very clearly in the film, so I am sorry for repeating the obvious.
The comedy elements are many, some subtle and some less subtle. The two most obvious examples are the obnoxious Minnie (Una O’Connor) and Dr. Pretorious (Ernest Thesiger). Right from the beginning Minnie’s shrill voice (and soon after her piercing cry) sets the tone. She is just wonderfully awful. Any pretense of being a serious or realistic movie is gone at this moment and it is just a question whether the film can lift the task of being a comedy. Seeing her running around as a half-crazed idiotic crone is just hilariously funny.
Dr. Pretorious is the new character and while being essential in bringing about a new round of fiddling with the dead he is also an agent of comedy. Partly by his shear presence. Has anybody ever seen a more over the top representation of the mad and sinister Dr. Dead? He is funny, but the comedy element gets that little push too far when he drags out his collection of creations. Those little people are just ridiculous, and if we had any doubts before we can certainly now apply the big stamp of comedy on this menagerie. I for one could have been without them. They are just not funny enough.
All is not hilarity in this film. The monster is loose, killing people (although with an abandon that is, well, comedic) and Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) is trying to recover from his close encounter with death (in multiple forms). His struggle between sanity and his perverse fascination with animating the dead is interesting and a highlight of the film. It is still fun, but with a layer underneath that is quite serious. This is a very ill man with burning eyes and a dangerous passion and he his fully up to his mad scientist part from the first “Frankenstein” film, but now with doubts.
The monster himself (Boris Karloff) has a far more prominent role in this film than in the previous film. He is also changed and not in a comedic sense. Instead he has been made a lot more human. He now has regular feelings and cravings and his actions are all very human. He misses and seeks human company; he feels compassion and wants basic things like food, music and simple indulgence (cigars!) like any other person. His humanization reaches a peak when he meets Obi-Wan Kenobi (or his clone) in the shape of O.P. Heggie in a hut in the forest. He is blind and therefore does not judge him on his appearance. Instead he befriends him and we see how the townspeople in their witch hunt rage have failed to see the sensitive child inside the brutal monster. Instead he is now presented as innocence itself and the Christ analogy is topped off by his crucifixion when they bring him into town to kill him for their sins. If Dr. Frankenstein is playing God, then the Monster is the son of God and the townspeople the people of Palestine who in their ignorance wants to kill him.
The allegory may seem farfetched and I am not sure what that makes Dr. Pretorius, but it illustrates how the film seems to point in many directions at once.
The objective of “re-animate the dead part 2” is to create a female monster to match the male monster. I am not really sure why. Only relative late in the process the monster appears and demands a friend and not necessarily a female one. My suspicion is that the reason is simply to do something else and a female monster would be cool. If you watch this movie for the sake of a female Frankenstein’s monster you may however be disappointed. She only appears for the last 5 minutes or so and her chief achievement in her short (re)life is to look at the monster and shriek in horror. Even she, foul as she is to behold, cannot see past the monstrous appearance of the monster.
Saddened by all this very human torment the monster decides to terminate the experiment and let dead be dead including the nefarious Dr. Pretorius. Boom, big explosions.
Without the humorous elements I am afraid “Bride of Frankenstein” could have become very pretentious. The religious analogies are even more pronounced than in the first movie and really, a long way this is all just an excuse to throw some more sparks and electro-magnetic energy into corpses. But by making it a horror comedy it becomes fun and worthwhile to go through the procedure again. I enjoyed it.