In collaboration with the Manchester Gothic Festival, The Dancehouse hosted a double bill screening of 1931’s Frankenstein and 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein, both directed by English filmmaker James Whale, and starring the iconic Boris Karloff. The screening, held in the beautiful Dancehouse theatre, was preceded by a talk by Sir Christopher Frayling about the history of Mary Shelley’s timeless story. He also gave a brief overview of the evolution of the cinematic adaptations, from the 1910 Edison motion picture, to Kenneth Brannagh’s 1994 version.
A re-imagination of Shelley’s creation, Karloff’s monster in Frankenstein has shaped the way we see the character today. Dwight Frye’s hunchbacked lab assistant, Fritz, is the inspiration for minions and sidekicks across hundreds of novels and on-screen productions since, and Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein arguably lays down the foundations for the generic mad professor trope which is a staple of so many science fiction and horror pieces.
It is this adaptation and modification of Shelley’s characters, along with the superbly handcrafted Gothic visuals, which makes Frankenstein arguably the most significant horror film ever made. The scale of the sets used for Frankenstein’s castle is astounding, with indisputable inspiration from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) in the young scientist’s laboratory.
The Bride of Frankenstein was Whale’s attempt at extending Shelley’s story, taking elements from a subplot in the original novel, and transforming it into an immediate sequel. Karloff returned to reprise his role, and Elsa Lanchester was enlisted to play yet another iconic role, albeit brief: the titular ‘Bride’.
A rare example of a sequel held in higher regard than its predecessor, Bride of Frankenstein (a title which, as pointed out by Frayling, suggests that the films’ distributors had the similar problem as many have, in confusing the scientist Frankenstein for the monster) gives Karloff’s monster much more screen time, and deservedly so. He cuts a tragic, alienated figure, whose only desire is to have a friend. The sinister Dr Pretorius, played in brilliant camp fashion by Ernest Thesiger, grants him this wish, in creating a bride for the monster.
To see these two films resurrected on the big screen at The Dancehouse was a true pleasure, in a surrounding not too dissimilar to that which would have hosted the original releases of both classics. Whale’s films have provided a multitude of iconic scenes and characters, from which images have resonated and have been paid homage to for nearly a century in the world of cinema.
Despite the vast array of remakes and reboots which have been emerged, and which will continue to be churned out (Javier Bardem will attempt to fill Karloff’s monstrous shoes in Universal’s upcoming adaptation), these 30s masterpieces are not only definitive Frankenstein, but definitive horror.
Sir Christopher Frayling’s Frankenstein – The First 200 Years is available now, and Universal Studios’ remake of the Bride of Frankenstein, starring Javier Bardem as the monster, will be released February 2019.