I love the Universal monster movies! The Frankenstein films are my favorites. The first three entries in the series are just plain fantastic. I continually go back and forth as to whether the original Frankenstein or the sequel, The Bride of Frankenstein, is better. The third film, Son of Frankenstein, is criminally underrated. Every few years we end up getting a new take on the Frankenstein story. We’ve gotten everything from the Robert DeNiro version to, most recently, Aaron Eckhart as an action hero version of the monster. In the 80’s, though, there came a version that took Universal’s second Frankenstein film as the springboard for new story, starring a rock star and the girl that made sweatshirts with torn off collars all the rage. It’s 1985’s The Bride.
Essentially, our story picks up in what is the final minutes of The Bride of Frankenstein. Doctor Charles Frankenstein (Sting) is about to throw the switch on his second attempt to breathe new life into creature sewn together from corpses. His first creation (Clancy Brown) was only somewhat a success. This time, he has created a much more shapely specimen. With the help of Dr. Zaihus (Quentin Crisp) and his Fritz/Ygor-like helper, Paulus (Timothy Spall), they harness the power of lighting and bring to life a lovely woman they name Eva (Jennifer Beals).
Of course, the monster assumes she is for him and she doesn’t react well to this arranged relationship. There is an explosion, fire, etc…the tower is destroyed. But this time, unlike in Universal’s version, the monster survives and escapes into the countryside. Meanwhile, Frankenstein sets out to start teaching Eva to be a part of civilized society. She does begin to become somewhat cultured, only occasionally reverting to screaming and hissing. She even manages to attract the attention of a young captain (Carey Elwes), which, of course, enrages the lustful Frankenstein.
At the same time, the monster has made a friend in a dwarf named Renaldo (David Rappaport) who is heading to Budapest to join a circus. He finds the giant of a man to be a useful companion when facing folks who usually push someone of his diminutive size around. Both end up in the circus and become a popular act. But when a nasty circus performer named Bela causes a mishap that results in Renaldo’s death, the monster (now called Viktor) takes his revenge before heading back to face his creator and claim the girl he’s been dreaming of.
I was glad that the makers of The Bride chose not to remake the original film. That’s a classic they just should never touch. Rather, this is more of a continuation of the story and on that level it is somewhat intriguing. Truth be told, the title is somewhat misleading. Though the film probably gives fairly equal time to the two storylines, the story of the monster and his friend Renaldo is much more engaging than the story of “the bride.” It helps that Clancy Brown’s take on the monster is a bit more “human” than other incarnations. There are no bolts sticking out of his neck, no square head, and even though his size is imposing, he doesn’t inflict terror at first sight. David Rappaport, who I always remember as Randall from Time Bandits, makes a perfect companion for the monster. At first he seems driven by the advantage that having a towering companion around would bring to someone short in stature like him. But as the film progresses their friendship becomes genuine and ultimately reinforces the human qualities of the monster.
The other half of the story is not so good. This film came right at the time where there was a real effort to turn Sting into a movie star. He appeared in several films in the mid 80’s, most notably Dune just a few months before this film was released. The Bride is a prime example of why it is a good thing that he abandoned this pursuit and stuck with focussing on music and tantric sex. From the delivery of his lines to the flaring of his nostrils his performance is completely over-the-top. Jennifer Beals does a better job, but ultimately has no depth and wanders aimlessly through much of the film. This is disappointing considering that in Universal’s film, Elsa Lanchester’s Bride is one of the most compelling characters in the classic series, despite having mere minutes of screen time.
The Bride really isn’t that much of a horror story. It does have a few playful nods to the classic Universal series of films, though. The re-animation sequence that opens the film is a fun mixes the classic lightning filled laboratory of the classic films with some purely 80’s touches. I also love that the evil circus performer is named Bela, I assume after Bela Lugosi, and Quentin Crisp bears a bit of a resemblance to Bride of Frankenstein’s Dr. Pretorious. In the end, though, while there are some enjoyable aspects of The Bride, the unevenness of its story makes it somewhat difficult to recommend.