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Frankenstein is not what it’s hyped up to be. I like it, but it’s not a grand film. Great, classic horror it’s not. The characters are flat, unnecessary subplots impede a reasonable pace, and, especially disappointing, the movie only hints at the Monster’s capability of being a complex creature. In a rare exception to the rule, the sequel was far superior. While The Bride of Frankenstein parallels the first film in some ways, it’s incredibly complex, much more interesting visually than plenty of horror movies from recent years, or even the past few decades.

James Whale, the director of those two Frankenstein movies, had a tough job for the first film. He had a script based on a book, and everyone has some idea how tough it is to translate written language into visual images and accompanying sounds. The movie is clichéd in parts, especially the romantic subplot(s); and it feels like a classic Hollywood film, not even a classic Hollywood horror film, considering it takes forever for the Monster to become a part of the story. However, for Bride, Whale had an original, inspired screenplay to work with, and he was able to roam freely with his style. He seemed more comfortable with Bride, whereas Frankenstein, overall, felt like a combination between the look of Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and the editing of The Maltese Falcon.

As moral a story as Frankenstein is, Bride is more religious. Christian symbols, mostly crosses and Christ figures, are galore. When the villagers capture the Monster in the woods, they tie him in such a way that his arms are at right-angles to his body. However, his arms are bent at the elbow, as if he is an imperfect symbol of Christ. During the first scene with the blind man, as the Monster lays down to rest and the scene fades out, we see only half of a cross on the wall, as if the Monster embodies only part of the symbol. In the Bible, Christ didn’t volunteer to be crucified: God told Him that He would need to sacrifice himself in order to allow the people on the earth to be saved. (Well, it’s not a direct parallel, but close enough.)

I found it interesting how the sequel referenced and brought up a couple questions about its predecessor. After the Monster saves a woman from drowning in Bride, we have to wonder if he intentionally killed the little girl in Frankenstein. Near the beginning, a townsperson sees Dr. Frankenstein move and shrieks, “He’s alive!” Sound familiar? The doctor ends up taking a part in an interesting role reversal in which he is the one being toyed with (as he toyed with his creation, in a sense).

The story introduces a small facet of psychology to show the Monster’s humanity. In Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, he lays out the different categories of needs that people have. In the movie, the Monster exhibits almost all the basic physiological needs: water, food, breathing, sleep, etc. The only one he doesn’t display is sex. (Forget the fact that it was impossible to show sex on-screen at the time.) We see no mate for him, and we forget about such a role for a creature that we, at first, viewed only as a scientific experiment, not a human being.

In the end, the film is even borderline existential. In the second blind-man scene, one of the villagers says, “[The Monster] is not human!” Essentially, though, he is. He did not choose his predestined existence, just as we do not choose to become alive: it just happened to him. He cannot help he is “the Monster,” and he tries to live the best he can. Isn’t that all that we can hope for anybody? That he/she try to live a good life and leave the rest up to fate, destiny, chance, or whatever?

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