based on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Once upon a time, in the eighties, there was a film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein that claimed to be a feminist reworking of the 1935 film, The Bride of Frankenstein. It starred Sting as Baron Charles Frankenstein, Jennifer Beals as the titular bride, Clancy Brown as the monster, and Quentin Crisp as the film’s version of Igor. Crisp gets killed off in the first five minutes. The film never recovers.
Cats and kittens, may I present to you—The Bride. If you think the above description means you are in for an utterly bizarre ride, think again. You are in for a totally different utterly bizarre ride. Based on the trailer for the film and my own assumptions about why you would ever cast Sting in your movie, I thought that The Bride would largely be about Frankenstein teaching Eva (as he dubs her, after Eve) to be a modern woman and her subsequent rebellion from him, with mountains of dramatic lighting. Instead, it’s largely about the monster making friends with Rinaldo the Dwarf (played by the dashingly handsome David Rappaport) and running away to join the circus to gain the confidence and self-esteem necessary to return to face Eva and convince her they should be together.
I’m not sure if Lloyd Fonvielle is a genius or not for convincing people that this film had to be made. Watching the monster gain a much kinder humanity than the one he attains in the novel with Rinaldo’s help is actually engaging, if saccharine, but I can see where it might be a tough sell without tucking it inside a more titillating story about a man’s obsession with creating the perfect woman. These two stories are at constant odds throughout the film. Despite the charming conceit that Eva and the monster are physically linked due to the method of their creation, there doesn’t seem much of a connection until the monster returns to Eva’s story and rescues her from it.
Which is why I can safely say it really fails as a feminist reworking of The Bride of Frankenstein, despite never having seen the film in question. (My films to watch spreadsheet is almost as ferocious as my books to read list, despite being quite younger.) Despite the film highlighting Eva’s intellect, fearlessness, and sexuality, she’s merely an object in the narrative who does not move it forward in any way. Frankenstein educates and then sexually menaces her; the monster saves her. Frankenstein and a sinisterly ponytailed Clerval’s mocking of female agency is presented as a mark of evil, but the monster, who never contemplates that Eva might simply not like him, does exactly the same thing.
But the tragic thing is that Eva occasionally fights back, which means that the script had the material there for a truly feminist reworking. That would be a story where Eva rejects the narratives forced on her to find her own. (I am reminded of nothing so much as the love story in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, where Esmeralda falls in love with the only man in the narrative who treats her like a fellow human being and not a whore or an angel.) Jennifer Beals earned a Razzie nomination for her performance in this film, but her Eva—sharp, childlike, distant—is engaging, when we can actually spend time with her. She questions the world around her, which naturally brings her to questioning Frankenstein’s complete control of her. (He even rewrites her own story, telling her that she is an orphan he found in the forest.) When Frankenstein throws her true origins in her face, Eva stands firm: “You can do what you like! You can take apart the body you put together, you can take away the life you gave me, but you cannot have me. Not ever. Not even if you murder me and raise me up a thousand thousand times, you cannot have me.”
It’s always more painful to see potential wasted than to see something truly mediocre. Especially when the technical aspects are so well-done. The lighting, staging, and costuming are all gorgeous, evoking a classically romantic kind of horror. Shadows fall in deep slashes across bodies; mirrors retreat, fracturing over and over; Eva wakes in bed, unsettled. The camera is enamored with Sting’s icy beauty and the vast emptiness of Castle Frankenstein. The conditions are there, but without a story that treats its titular character like a character and not a device, The Bride fails at what it set out to do.
I streamed this film on Netflix.