Hey, even monsters get lonely sometimes. After a long day of terrorizing villagers, drinking the blood of fair maidens and creating various forms of mayhem, what monster wouldn’t want to just curl up with a loved one and unwind? Maybe not next to a roaring fire, of course… Both Universal and Hammer walked stellar entries down the monster matrimonial aisle, and many consider them to be the very best of those studio’s genre films.
James Whale was hesitant to take on the studio-‐mandated sequel to their first sound horror hit, but it would have been a terrible blow to horror film history had he not changed his mind. THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) is so delightful, balancing the melodrama with sly humor and creating visual icons that remain instantly recognizable eighty years later. The movie is clustered with little cinematic gems, making it a joy to experience from beginning to end.
Picking up right where FRANKENSTEIN left off, it turns out that the Frankenstein Monster (Boris Karloff) survived the fire in the windmill, as did his creator Henry (Colin Clive). While the Monster terrorizes the countryside, Henry is visited by the malefic Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), who suggests that they work together on a new experiment: the creation of a woman. When Henry refuses, Pretorius enlists the aide of the Monster to force the matter, and the Bride is born… with catastrophic results.
The cast shines in their roles, from the tormented Clive to the snooty Thesiger and a dozen sparkling characters in between. Screeching harpy Una O’Conner is on hand as a sort of Greek chorus, and O.P. Heggie is sweet and sincere as the blind hermit who briefly befriends the wounded Monster. Dwight Frye is actually funny as a repulsive henchman to Thesiger. Karloff was allegedly against having the Monster speak, but the dialogue helps define the humanity of the character, and results in arguably the best performance of his career. Then there’s Elsa Lanchester, all twitchy and vulnerable as the titular creation. And watch for young John Carradine as an unwanted visitor to Heggie’s hut.
The Franz Waxman score is rich with both pathos and whimsy. Jack Pierce’s makeups are simply remarkable, especially Karloff’s Monster, whose scorched hair actually grows back during the course of the film! In the Universal Monster universe, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN definitely catches the bouquet.
A quarter century later, director Terence Fisher sent another classic monster to the altar, in Hammer’s THE BRIDES OF DRACULA. This was the first sequel to their 1958 hit HORROR OF DRACULA, but despite the absence of Christopher Lee as the original Count, it’s got plenty going for it.
Peter Cushing returns as the intrepid vampire hunter Doctor Van Helsing, who befriends a young woman (Yvonne Monlaur) while traveling the Transylvania Turnpike. The academy Marianne is attending soon becomes the buffet table for one of Dracula’s “disciples,” Baron Meinster. Van Helsing, being an authority on the subject, recognizes the danger and sets out to destroy the Baron and his growing horde of vampire brides.
Cushing infuses Van Helsing with his usual charm and conviction, rattling off scientific jabber and making it sound credible. He is also as heroic as in the previous film, swinging on chains and leaping on windmills like a champ. David Peel plays the bloodthirsty Baron Meinster, and while he may not have the imposing presence of Lee, his vampire is convincingly dangerous. Monlaur is pretty as the endangered heroine, but she suffers from the fact that her character is, well, an idiot.
After spending a terrifying night in the Baron’s castle, she allows him to court her and accepts his marriage proposal. This one glaring garlic clove in the film’s plot may have to do with some reported eleventh hour rewrites to the script. Interestingly, the most iconic image from BRIDES is that of sultry Andree Melly, as a fellow student who falls victim to the Baron. With her beautiful, saucer-sized brown eyes and sharp fangs, Melly has been a favorite subject of many classic monster artists over the years, including myself.
Director Fisher was considered Hammer’s best, responsible for such classics as THE MUMMY, THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF and THE DEVIL RIDES OUT. With THE BRIDES OF DRACULA he gives the audiences some terrific, colorful action despite the occasional (and forgivable) fake bat. The sequence in which Van Helsing himself is bitten by the Baron — and then must administer a most severe treatment to the wound — is quite suspenseful. With Fisher at the helm and Cushing in the lead, BRIDES is among the best of Hammer’s bunch.
Neither of the nuptials work out so well in these two films, but watching them is definitely a horror honeymoon.