Monday Movie: The Bride, by David Bax
Every Monday, we’ll highlight a piece of writing from our vaults. This article originally ran as a Home Video Hovel review.
Contrary to what certain clickbait rags might tell you, we have always understood that the real villain of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is Dr. Frankenstein himself, not the monster he created. Franc Roddam’s The Bride (out now on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory), a sort of reimagining of The Bride of Frankenstein, sticks to that blueprint. Roddam once again shows us how the rules and hierarchies of so-called civilized life are a lie that those in power tell in order to stay in power. But Roddam and screenwriter Lloyd Fonvielle go further than that, seeking to reclaim the framework of the story for Shelley’s bold feminism, from which it was born.
The Bride reunites Roddam with Sting, whom he directed in 1979’s Quadrophenia and who here plays Frankenstein (rechristened Baron Charles Frankenstein). Despite his top billing on the cover art, he’s more of a supporting character to Jennifer Beals’ Eva, the bride herself, and Clancy Brown’s Victor, the monster. Also appearing in the surprisingly stacked cast are David Rappaport (Time Bandits), Cary Elwes and, very briefly, a young Timothy Spall.
Though released under Shout!’s Scream Factory arm, The Bride is less horror than it is gothic romance with a healthy side of picaresque. In the aftermath of Eva’s electric, fiery creation, Victor flees and joins the circus along with Rappaport’s trapeze artist. Meanwhile, Frankenstein decides to educate Eva, Pygmalion style, in part to prove his stern belief that women are equal to men. The two stories unfold in a mix of lush, provincial location photography and grandly designed, detailed medieval castle sets, all of which is backed by a sweepingly romantic score by the great Maurice Jarre. Roddam’s eye for beauty is unabashedly fanciful and glamorous; one sequence involves an entire party being doused in cascades of glitter and then spending the rest of the night with brilliantly shimmering hair.
Eva’s life—attending balls, riding horses, reading classic literature—may seem like a more desirable one than Victor’s, scrounging by from village to hamlet. But Roddam, Fonvielle and Brown make it clear that fraternity is preferable to luxury. Victor and Rappaport’s Rinaldo become true friends and, cleverly, the make-up on Brown becomes increasingly more human over the course of the film. Meanwhile, Eva grows ever more frustrated with Frankenstein, who only regards her paternalistically. For all his talk of egalitarianism, his entire approach depends on his benefiting from a power imbalance in his relationship to Eva. The Bride is a feminist work that, despite being made by men, reserves its harshest critiques for male feminists (we might call them allies today) who only approve of equality between the sexes if it’s earned on their own terms. It’s just more patriarchal control under another name and The Bride wields its fanciful melodrama in such a way that it has gotten to the heart of something universal and wounding before you’ve even realized it.