Guide to the Horror Movie Genre

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)


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Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

James Whale returned to the Shelley novel and used as his source material all the sections he'd missed out in Frankenstein. This is a stylish and witty film, with many moments of camp humour, and has been described as one of the greatest horror films of all time. The images are dramatically framed throughout, from the burning mill surrounded by pitchfork-brandishing peasants at the start, to the collapsing castle at the finish. Karloff brings his usual wounded dignity to the part of the Monster, which speaks for the first time, in wondrous, mangled syllables. Our villain is Dr Pretorius; Ernest Thesiger relishes his role as the amoral, corpse-stealing former mentor of Henry Frankenstein, who creates miniature people and keeps them in specimen jars. Dr Pretorius is the evil genius behind the new experiments with the creation of life, Henry Frankenstein is reduced to the reluctant helper, who cannot face up to his mistakes of the previous film. Where once he had pretentions to create life, he is here represented as weak, indecisive and bumbling beside the razor-sharp cunning of Pretorius. Elsa Lanchester, in full frightwig and make-up, is touchingly confused and vulnerable as the Bride who simply does not want to exist. The story is treated with delicacy and finess, a far cry from the full-on gore-and-gash prosthetic close-ups that Branagh uses in his 1994 version.

  • Filmsite.Org - hooray!

  • Two useful encyclopedia entries

  • ****Bright Lights Film Journal - assesses how Whale's homosexuality expresses itself through the film****

  • Lengthy Rogert Ebert review
  • Rotten Tomatoes - wade through the ads for lots of useful material, including posters, trailers etc

  • More from the very cool Frankenstein website

For a touching, thoughtful twist on the James Whale story, watch Gods & Monsters, starring Ian McKellen & Brendan Frasier. What makes a man make such a set of monsters? It's a lovely film in its own right, and gives an insight to the man who wrote many of the rules of the genre.

Mad Scientists

It is worth noting that mad scientists were also represented in this decade's horror films. The next generation of Caligaris included Dr Moreau (Charles Laughton in The Island of Lost Souls - 1933), Dr Griffin (Claude Rains in The Invisible Man -1933), Paul Lavond (Lionel Barrymore in The Devil Doll - 1936), Dr Mirakle (Bela Lugosi in Murders in the Rue Morgue - 1932), the wheelchair-bound Ivan Igor (Lionel Atwell in The Mystery of the Wax Museum- 1933), and not forgetting Peter Lorre's crazed turn as a lovesick surgeon in Mad Love (1935). 1933, the year Hitler came to power, saw something of a peak in mad scientist movies; it seems the genre was horribly preminiscent of the scientific horrors to come in the Nazi-run concentration camps over the subsequent decade.

Further Reading

  • The Men Who Made the Monsters - Editors' Guild article on the editors constructing these classics

  • Queer Horror: Decoding Universal's Monsters - Bright Lights Film Journal
  • The Decline in Average Weekly Cinema Attendance: 1930 -2000

 Horror movies of the 1940s: The Wolf Man, Cat People, Universal Monsters, Val Lewton, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Horror Eats Itself

Wartime horror movies were purely an American product. Banned in Britain, with film production curbed throughout the theatre of war in Europe, horror movies were cranked out by Hollywood solely to amuse the domestic audience. The studios stuck with tried and tested ideas, wary of taking risks that might suggest they had no measure of the zeitgeist, and trotted out a series of variations on a theme. This was not an age of innovation, but horror movie memes were, nonetheless, evolving.

If the horror movies of the 1930s had dealt in well-established fictional monsters, looking back towards the nineteenth century for inspiration, the 1940s reflected the internalisation of the horror market. The Americans looked at themselves as “safe”, whereas everything else, particularly anything hailing from that frightening, chaotic, unreasonable and uncontrolled place known as Europe was dangerous. Yet, try as they might, the Americans could not keep themselves separate and pure, their basic European roots kept peeking through, their links with the lands of their ancestors eventually pulling them into World War Two. In the same way, many horror films of this period deal with roots peeking through – in the form of men or women who were subject to the emergence of a primal animal identity. It's interesting to see this device in Disney's Pinocchio (1940) as the bad boys are turned into donkeys. What does it all mean...?

Hungry Like The Wolf Man

It wasn't donkeys but wolves who posed the main global threat at the outset of the 1940s. Hitler himself strongly identified with the iconography and legends of the wolf. The name 'Adolf' means "noble wolf" in Old German. He used "Herr Wolf" as a pseudonym early in his political career. Various Nazi party HQ were named for wolves - Wolfsschulcht (Wolf's Gulch) in France, Werwolf (Manwolf) in the Ukraine and Wolfsschanze (Wolf's Lair) in East Prussia. The SS were "my pack of wolves", he made his sister change her name to 'Paula Wolf' and his favourite secretary was one Johanna Wolf (he referred to her as 'Wölfin' (she-wolf).

“One of his favourite tunes came from a Walt Disney movie. Often and absent-mindedly he whistled "Who's Afraid of The big Bad Wolf?" —an animal, it will be recalled, who wanted to eat people up and blow their houses down."
—p27 The Psychopathic God: Adolf Hitler Robert G.L. Waite (Da Capo Press 1993)

The imagery he used caught on in not-so-flattering ways. Propagandists of the period habitually depicted him as the Big Bad Wolf of fairy tales, as demonstrated by this 1942 cartoon entitled Blitz Wolf (Check out the other WW2 propaganda cartoons posted by this user). It seemed the marauding wolf typified the predators lurking in the corners of public consciousness.

So it seemed a natural step for Universal to follow up their minor 1935 hit, The Werewolf of London. Although there is a well established werewolf mythology extending back to the ancient world, there was no single established story (as with Dracula and the vampire myth) ripe for easy adaptation. It fell to screenwriter Curt Siodmak (who had fled the Nazi wolves himself in 1937) to pen a story to fit the title Universal had been knocking around for a while. The Wolf Man (1941) is a mishmash of several wolf legends, with added ingredients. Siodmak stirs pentagrams, gypsies, silver bullets and the full moon together to create a robust myth. It owes little to established European traditions, but established a new set of cinematic rules which Hollywood lycanthropes would adhere to for decades. Set in a contemporary Wales (where no one has ever heard of the war), the story follows Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr) who returns to his ancestral home from America, only to become infected by a bite from a gypsy named Bela (Lugosi). With a starry cast including Claude Raines, and spectacular makeup and special effects, the picture was a big hit.

Never one to miss a trick, Universal followed this up with Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man in 1943. This sees a revived Wolfman (he was shot in the end of the first film) seeking the help of Dr Frankenstein to cure his lycanthropy. The good doctor has passed on, but Talbot instead runs into the frozen Monster (played this time, rather confusingly, by Bela Lugosi. It's even more confusing when you remember that Lon Chaney Jr played the monster in Ghost of Frankenstein 1942). There's a battle to the death between the Monster & the Wolfman – all good clean fun. It was a hit, and Universal really milked the sacred cow dry with House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945).

Once Bitten - Flick Filosopher article by Mary Ann Johanson

Headhunter - review

Detailed synopsis + some interesting comments re incest theme

House of Frankenstein spins the casting merry-go-round another couple of turns with Boris Karloff playing a mad scientist vowing to emulate Dr Frankenstein, cure Larry Talbot and reactivate the monster. He murders a carnival freak-show host, and then uses one of his horrors (Count Dracula) to try and murder his enemies – unfortunately Drac is zapped by the first rays of the sun. yes, they all die at the end, only to be revived for House of Dracula, which involves the Count and the Wolfman desiring to be cured of their foibles. They go & ask a kindly mad scientist, who inadvertently revives the Monster to complete the unholy triumvirate. They all die in the end, apart from the Wolfman, who, apparently cured, rides off into the sunset. The increasingly desperate (and ridiculous) combinations of monsters effectively killed this phase of the horror film. From lovingly-crafted masterpieces like Bride of Frankenstein”, the genre had totally devoured itself within a decade. It was only left to Abbott & Costello, in their series of horror parodies (Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) etc) to hammer the final nails into the coffin. The Universal Monsters (Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, The Monster) who had cast such terrifying shadows on their debut, would never be frightening again.

  • Full list of ...Meets..., Son/Daughter ofs and House Ofs

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