Monday, October 24, 2016

Frankenstein Month: 'The Bride' (1985)

The Bride begins where other Frankenstein movies end, with a confrontation between Frankenstein and his creation leading to the destruction of Frankenstein's lab and the apparent death of the creature. In this case it mirrors the end of James Whale's The Bride of Frankenstein, as Baron Frankenstein (Sting) has agreed to create a female creature as a companion for his original creation (Clancy Brown), and once the potential bride (Jennifer Beals) has been animated, she recoils from the creature and sends him into a rage. What happens next is what director Franc Roddam (Quadrophenia) and screenwriter Lloyd Fonvielle are most interested in, as the creature goes into exile and Frankenstein decides to keep the bride as a companion for himself.

Its Whale-referencing opening aside, The Bride isn't much of a horror movie; it's more of a costume drama and a romantic tragedy, as the bride (given the name Eva by Frankenstein) and the creature (given the name Viktor, since Frankenstein here is named Charles) lead separate frustrating existences trying to find their places in the world. For the majority of the movie, Frankenstein's two creations are apart, and their storylines are far from equal. The movie spends the bulk of its first hour on Viktor's adventures with his new friend Rinaldo (David Rappaport), a dwarf circus performer who takes Viktor under his wing. They have an easy chemistry, but Rinaldo's circus career takes over so much of the narrative that the movie threatens to become the story of a circus dwarf, with a bit of Frankenstein on the side.

Meanwhile, Eva becomes cultured and charming, in contrast to Viktor's limited intelligence, and while Frankenstein first asserts (to his obnoxious friend Clerval) that he wants to make Eva into the world's first independent woman, he quickly becomes possessive and controlling, especially when she falls for a pretty-boy military officer played by Cary Elwes. Sting (during his brief period as a would-be movie star) makes Frankenstein into a petulant, whiny douchebag, while Beals is mostly blank and reactive as Eva. The filmmakers have said that they set out to make a feminist version of the Frankenstein story, but Eva gets so little screen time that it's hard to see her as a progressive or proactive heroine. Mostly she expresses wide-eyed amusement at learning about the world.

Eva and Viktor share an ill-defined psychic connection that shows up at random moments and is a thin justification for their eventual reunion, despite their obvious mismatch in intellect, temperament and outlook. Brown makes Viktor an alternately endearing and irritating simpleton, but he never comes off as a romantic hero. A real romance between the monster and his bride, given time to develop and take some dark turns, could have been an interesting alternate take on the Frankenstein mythology. But this flat period piece has none of that romance or darkness, and all of its goofy circus antics make for poor compensation.

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