The cycle of films produced at Universal Studios in the early 1930s represents, in important ways, the advent and elaboration of the twentieth century horror genre. Among the many themes introduced in films such as Dracula (1930), The Mummy (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is that of God and Man. In this paper, I intend to explore this theme by closely investigating the creation of the bride that takes place near the end of Bride of Frankenstein. Although a variety of narrative codes operating in this scene illuminate the film’s meaning, it is the fine line between God and Man that deserves critical scrutiny.
The creation of the bride scene opens up with the kites being released into the oncoming storm in hope of catching the electricity from a lightening bolt. We then cut to a low angle shot of Frankenstein running down the stairs towards the laboratory. After reaching the bottom, he runs to a giant electrical machine, the view tilted so as to give the feeling of anticipation as he holds the switch and bites his lip. Dr. Pretorius is shown from a low angle, with light splayed across his face and dark machines looming in the background giving him an almost god-like status.
The next shot is a high-angle shot of Dr. Frankenstein, making it seem like he’s cowering in submission, a slave to Dr. Pretorius. With various close-ups of machines crackling and sparking with electricity, we again come upon Frankenstein, looking around, waiting to throw the switch that would begin the process to start life in the dead. By this time he has fully accepted the fact that he is a part of this great misdeed. We then come to an extreme close-up of Frankenstein’s face, underlighting of his face, a serious look on his face like he knows he is meddling with the work of God.
Dr. Pretorius then runs to the four large switches and dramatically clicks them on in a shower of sparks (a close-up of the switches hitting their connectors reveals a shower of sparks). A close-up of his face disappears when an electric explosion occurs right behind his head, illuminating the screen. His face reappears looking down upon the creation, wanting it to come alive, disregarding the fact that he is going against God and nature in his actions. Machines crackling and sparks flying from various angles, briefly looking at Dr. Frankenstein’s face again. A tilted shot of Dr.
Frankenstein gives the impression that he’s lying down on the machine, trying eagerly to look at the reaction of the body. Cut to a close-up looking up at Dr. Pretorius, then back to Dr. Frankenstein with a top-view, going back to the master/slave relationship between the two. Explosions rock the laboratory, smoke rising to the roof in showers of spark. An eye-level full shot of the laboratory reveals arcing electric bolts and sparks showering the tables with fire. We then have a low-angle view of Dr. Frankenstein which then changes to a high-angle view as he yells upwards, “it’s coming up!
” His gloves and white jacket, coupled with the pale make-up and dark lips gives him an almost sinister look. The body then ascends the wall of the laboratory, the camera placed about halfway up the wall and follows it all the way till it passes by and reaches the top. After seeing part of the contraption disappear through the roof, we cut to a extremely long shot of the whole tower with the machine rising above the roof, after which the camera cuts to a full shot of the body being hooked up to various wires by Dr. Pretorius’ workers. The most critical arrangement of shots then occurs the moment before life is given to the body.
The camera cuts back to the lab with an aerial close-up of Dr. Frankenstein who has shadows cast across his face from underlighhting. The same for Dr. Pretorius as we cut back and forth between the two. As the shots go back and forth, the lighting on their faces gets gradually brighter making their eyes seem to sink back into their heads and disappear, leaving only empty sockets. This plays into the theme that they are no longer controlled by God or nature, but by evil. The section ends with Frankenstein appearing on the roof after awakening from his slumber.