Classic Musings: The Bride (1985)

A small, yet important subplot in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein led to the creation of the Bride of Frankenstein, expanding upon the writer's suggestion that the disfigured Monster deserves a mate despite his horrid appearance. Despite the "bride" not fully coming to life in Shelley's original story, she has expanded into an iconic staple of the classic monster-movie subculture due to other adaptations in which her creation was a success, with the 1935 sequel laying the groundwork for how the scenario could've played out. The tale of The Monster's Bride works because of how it feeds off the original creation of Frankenstein's Monster or Creature, though -- how a given version of the creature begins to think about life, passion, and companionship -- and jumping straight into a story focused on her creation lacks that buildup. That may be the bulkiest, most obvious constraint holding back Franc Roddam's The Bride, an ‘80s semi-remake of the original movie, but it's far from the only one.

Pop singer Sting embodies Baron Charles Frankenstein, which by itself is an unusual jumble of words that probably shouldn't be put together. The Bride picks up with this Dr. Frankenstein in the midst of his second experiment in reanimating flesh, as his first hollow-brained creature (Clancy Brown) watches in amazement, until circumstances lead the laboratory to be destroyed. Despite that, Frankenstein's experiment turns out to be another successful resurrection, producing a woman, Eva, without memories of her past life, who'll need to learn how to speak, and who'll be malleable to whatever she's taught about society. After fleeing from the castle, The Monster gets entangled with a traveling dwarf, Rinaldo (David Rappaport) who hopes to reconnect with the carnival atmosphere further down the road. As The Monster -- eventually named Viktor in this rendition -- builds a new relationship and encounters life lessons in his journey away from the lab of his creation, Frankenstein discovers the beauty of the woman he created for his first experiment.

Along with wondering what Franc Roddam was thinking in rolling with the relatively soft-spoken and dapper Sting as Dr. Frankenstein, The Bride poses a lot of questions by dropping in at this specific point in the narrative, mostly about The Monster's mental development and relationship with his creator. Everything comes across like it's following up on how Clancy Brown's rendition of the iconic character was created, yet that's information the audience doesn't have … or, more accurately, that the movie assumes the audience already has based on pop-culture knowledge of Shelley's novel and the ‘30s film. Thing is, Brown's take isn't really like either of those classic iterations, and the direction of the story doesn't feel like a natural extension of either the iconic monster movie or the author's more cerebral telling. The sluggish intelligence and naivete of The Monster are responsible for him sticking to his journey, and not knowing exactly how this version of his brain came to this state weakens the film.

Jennifer Beals provides an even bigger obstacle to The Bride than the creature, though, because she makes for a supremely dull cornerstone for the story's ideas. There's something appealing about Eva's wide-eyed absorption of the world once she awakens and begins her (initially nude) exploration of Frankenstein's castle, unable to properly speak or have a grasp on how to act. As she begins to enunciate her thoughts and feelings, Beals' languid performance marries with some abrupt jumps forward in her character's awareness, resulting in a banal, poorly-committed takedown of gender politics in which her creator's attempts to imbibe her with independence and determination lack genuine characterization. What Dr. Frankenstein expresses about his desires for Eva are compelling -- that he wants her to be just as driven and free to act as men are -- but the execution doesn't back up those pursuits. Despite the gumption and confidence found in her performance in Flashdance, Beals turns into a limp and directionless vessel that feels as if she isn't really learning at all.

The Bride bounces back-and-forth between the concurrent stories of Eve and The Monster, which only serves to underscore the issues involved with how this version of the narrative handles the minds of Frankenstein's creations. As Eva develops from a groaning mute to a passably cultured lady, The Monster remains at a consistent level of intelligence -- in fact, his awareness comes and goes at the behest of the story. If he needs more foolishness or naivete for something to occur in his travels, the script's control over his lagging monster brain will make that happen, all while Eva hones her speech and skills of observation into a formidable individual. Through this, director Roddam and his screenwriter, The Mummy's Lloyd Fonvielle, attempt to have it both ways: the side of Eva hopes to capture some of Mary Shelley's more intellectual ambitions, while the side of The Monster sticks to the lethargic, brutish monster-movie headspace of the James Whale classics. Without clearer, more credible explanations as to how both can be represented, the legitimacy starts to come apart at the seams.

Sure, maybe I've been spoiled. Showtime's TV series Penny Dreadful recently executed a phenomenal take on the Bride of Frankenstein idea, finding ways of transforming the woman who was created for The Monster into a uniquely intelligent, terrifying character empowered by her existential advantages. The Bride doesn't succeed in any of those areas: there are no scares coming from either of Frankenstein's resurrections, and the progression of events doesn't do any favors for Eva's brainpower as she navigates romance -- a young Cary Elwes complicates matters -- and her creator's oppression. What takes shape can be best described as a sort of gothic, faintly macabre drama above all else, and with Sting's more-bitter-than-mad scientist pulling the strings of later developments, The Bride loses a lot of energy amid a shallow culmination of themes centered on possessiveness and independence. Yes, it needs the world-building of its own telling of Frankenstein's original experiment to help it come alive, but that still wouldn't have kept the execution of what's there from burning out anyway.

For the full Blu-ray review, head over to [Click Here]


Post a Comment

Thoughts? Love to hear 'em -- if they're kept clean and civil.