Saturday, September 22, 1973: The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) / Horror Island (1941)

Synopsis: On a stormy night in the early 19th century, Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester), her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and their friend Lord Byron are discussing Mary’s just-completed novel Frankenstein. Lord Byron marvels that the ladylike Mary could have penned such a ghoulish tale. He eagerly describes the plot of the story, and we see a montage of scenes from the original film. Lord Byron concludes by wondering what might have taken place after the monster was destroyed in the burning windmill.

Mary then tells the men that she has indeed devised a continuation of the story, and she begins to narrate a tale that begins where the 1931 movie ends.

As the flames of the windmill fire begin to die down, the pitchfork-bearing mob disperses. But the father of the young girl who drowned in the first film remains. He refuses to accept that the monster is dead until he sees its charred bones, and he begins to pick through the ruins to find them. The floor of the windmill gives out from under him and he falls into a flooded chamber below. The monster (Boris Karloff) appears nearby, evidently having been saved by the water in this subfloor, and the enraged creature drowns the man. The creature limbs up out of the ruins to find the man’s wife searching for her husband, and the monster kills her as well.

As the creature wanders the countryside, Henry (Colin Clive) recuperates at home. He is sorry for what he has done, but still gets that crazy gleam in his eye when he talks about the god-like power he had briefly harnessed. One night he is visited by Dr. Pretorious (Ernest Thesiger), a “professor of philosophy” who was fired from Henry’s university “for knowing too much”.

Pretorius wishes to form an alliance with Henry in order to create a new race of artificially-created humans. Henry has the power to restore dead tissue to life, but Pretorius claims to have mastered an entirely different trick – he can create new life out of inert material. To demonstrate this he takes Henry to his home, where – in a very odd scene – he unveils a series of tiny people he has grown in glass jars.

Meanwhile, the public learns that the monster still lives. It is captured and hauled into the village, but it soon escapes, leaving a trail of destruction behind it. Later it happens upon the cottage of a blind hermit, who befriends the creature, teaching it to speak a little, and to appreciate the finer things in life – namely, smoking and drinking. But a couple of townsfolk come looking for the monster, and in the course of the monster’s escape the cottage is burned down.

Pretorious wants Henry to use his knowledge of reanimating cadavers in tandem with his own knowledge of building new tissue. His plan is to procure the body of a young woman and create for it a blank brain that Pretorius has constructed. With a female, the monster will be able to reproduce and start a new race. Henry is tempted by the possibilities, but racked with guilt and uncertainty.

The monster stumbles into a vast crypt just as it is being raided by Dr. Pretorious and his assistants. Pretorious is not afraid of the monster in the slightest, and offers it a drink and a cigar, which the monster greatly enjoys. He brings it back to Henry’s estate, knowing that if Pretorious cannot force Henry to bring the new woman to life , the monster can….

Comments: The Bride of Frankenstein is the rare sequel that not only equals but surpasses the original. Its themes are more complex than those in Frankenstein, its humor is more subversive and the characterizations are far richer and more nuanced.

It’s rewarding to watch the movie carefully, because there is a significant sleight-of-hand going on here.  In the first movie we met Henry Frankenstein in the worst possible light: he and Fritz were preparing to dig up a fresh corpse in a graveyard.  His moral transgressions were countless and long-standing,  and he had already made a devil’s bargain in order to secure forbidden knowledge.

But in Bride of Frankenstein, we are asked to accept that Henry has been redeemed by the love of a good woman — almost mystically redeemed, in fact.  Presumed dead, Henry is brought to the Frankenstein mansion, and it isn’t until hearth angel Elizabeth touches him that his arm moves, recalling the initial stirrings of the monster in the first film.  The line between life and death, already hazy in Frankenstein, has become blurrier still.

We quickly learn that it’s necessary for Henry to be born again; he has work to do.  He must earn our sympathies in order to make way for a new antagonist: the sinister Dr. Pretorious, who is less interested in revealing hidden knowledge than he is in kick-starting a new moral code, one in which he, rather than God, makes the rules.  That the new code requires the creation of a new species is entirely incidental.  It’s clear that Pretorious would have been happy realigning the values of his own species.  Unfortunately for him, the society he favors — one in which we are  “all devils — no nonsense about angels and being good” lacks a significant claque of support among his fellow humans.  And Pretorious’ pursuit of such a society seems to be what has really gotten him “booted” from his teaching post, and has left him friendless and without portfolio.

But Pretorious can always make new friends, or at least grow them in glass jars, and losing his job has simply given him more time for mischief. When Henry refuses to go where Pretorious leads, the solution is obvious: Elizabeth is held hostage, and the monster is pressed into service as hired muscle.  Henry — oddly enough considering his resume —  is now presented to us as a victim, being made to do Pretorious’ bidding entirely against his will in order to save the woman he loves.

It all seems rather unlikely, yet somehow it works. The movie was well-received by critics when it premiered four years after the original.  “Another astonishing chapter in the career of the Monster is being presented by Universal on the Roxy’s screen,” proclaimed the New York Times on May 11, 1935:

In “The Bride of Frankenstein,” Boris Karloff comes again to terrify the children, frighten the women and play a jiggling tune upon masculine spines as the snarling, lumbering, pitiful Thing that a scientist formed from grave-snatched corpses and brought to life with the lightning.

So vividly are etched the memories of the Monster’s first screen appearance that it seems scarcely possible that the original “Frankenstein” was shown on Broadway in December, 1931. Three and a half years was long to wait to learn whether the Monster died in the blazing tower where the end of “Frankenstein” left him. With this second chapter we know, of course, that he survived.

[…]In more ways than one, this is a changed Monster. At first, one must recall, he was pretty much of a thorough-going brute, a killer for the killing’s sake. Now, possibly under the unfluence of Spring at Universal, he is slightly moonstruck, hungry for kindness and even—oh, perish the thought—for love. 

Well, anything’s possible at the movies, right?

Horror Island

Synopsis: Bill Martin (Dick Foran) is a happy-go-lucky entrepreneur with a losing streak as long as your arm. To date all of his money-making schemes have gone bust, and he is months behind on the rent on his crummy office down on the waterfront. He and his sidekick Stuff Oliver (Fuzzy Knight) are approached by a peg-legged sailor called “The Captain” (Leo Carrillo) who is in possession of half a treasure map. The Captain says that the treasure is located in a castle located on an island that Martin has recently inherited, and that if they join forces they might be able to claim the treasure.

Bill is visited by his scheming brother, who offers to buy the island from him for $20,000. This sudden interest only makes Bill suspicious that something of value is hidden there. They visit an expert in ancient maps, who assures them that the map is a forgery. Nevertheless, Martin sees this as another money-making opportunity: he takes out a newspaper ad promising an exciting treasure hunt that participants can buy their way into for $50.

After a standard-issue meet-cute with a wealthy young Wendy Creighton (Peggy Moran) Martin, Stuff, Wendy and the half-dozen tourists he’s assembled head out to the island. But someone clearly doesn’t want them to make the trip: a package delivered to the crew explodes after it’s accidentally dropped off the side of the boat, the compass has been tinkered with and the ship goes far off course before the sabotage is discovered.

On the island, the group settles in for the night at the old castle, and Stuff tries to give them their money’s worth by delivering ghostly laughter into a PA system they’ve set up. But a creeping entity called the Phantom has also gained access to the microphone, imploring the visitors to “Leave the castle!”

Soon the treasure seekers start being murdered one by one — and a mysterious body count appears scrawled on the wall in chalk. Who is the mysterious Phantom, and how can he be stopped?

Comments: The best thing you can say about Horror Island is that is was directed by The Wolf Man helmer George Waggner. The worst thing you can say about it is that it was produced by Ben Pivar, the guy responsible for such dreck as The Brute Man and She-Wolf of London. This movie is every bit as cheap as it looks: in fact, so rushed was the production schedule that the time that elapsed between the first day of shooting and the theatrical release was less than a month.

The plot is so half-baked that to chronicle all its inconsistencies and idiocies would take longer than the movie’s entire running time. But the most egregious plot holes reach out and sock you between the eyes. Bill Martin is a failed entrepreneur who is behind on his rent and constantly dodging his creditors, yet he happens to own an island with a castle on it? None of Martin’s past business ventures (rhumba lessons, a Depression-era male escort service) attempt to make use of this resource, and when we finally reach the island, the castle (well, it looks like a medieval castle on the outside, Universal’s familiar mansion set on the inside) seems ready to receive visitors, with fresh linens and a stocked larder. Aside from a minimal amount of dust and cobwebs it’s in pretty good shape, and the place certainly seems worth a lot more than the $20,000 (slightly more than $250,000 in today’s money) that Bill was offered for it.

The treasure-map device is threadbare and dreary, the motivations of the treasure-seekers are perfunctory and the supporting characters are so hurriedly sketched that we care nothing about them; in fact we’ve barely met them before they start getting murdered. As to the standard romantic subplot between Bill Martin and Wendy Creighton, it hardly exists at all — which is a relief, because the less time we spend on it, the better.

But as thinly-written as their parts are, the lead actors are at least familiar: Dick Foran and Peggy Moran had previously appeared together in The Mummy’s Hand, and both actors are likable enough, though no one will confuse them with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon.

The movie is perhaps best known today for an astonishing onscreen gaffe: a member of the lighting crew is clearly visible onscreen right around the 26-minute mark:

One comment

  1. For some reason, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN is probably my least favorite Frankenstein prior to Abbott and Costello, I just love it less than the others. HORROR ISLAND’s technical gaffe is evidence of its breakneck shooting pace, it’s amazing that it’s as watchable as it is.


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