Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.
The Covert: Bride of Frankenstein
Director James Whale reluctantly returned to direct this sequel to his 1931 smash Frankenstein, but we’re sure as Hell glad he did. Ultimately, Whale agreed–Bride of Frankenstein isn’t just one of his best films, it’s one of the Greatest Movies of All Time.
Bride picks up not long after the events of the original movie. We probably don’t need to recap them here, but just in case: the maniacal Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) had discovered the secret to life itself and assembled a creature out of body parts stolen from fresh graves. Using machines of his own design, he gave his creature (Boris Karloff) life. Said creature–or rather, the public’s fear of it–wreaked havoc on Frankenstein’s life, until an angry mob burned it alive in a windmill.
This sequel reveals that the creature survived the climax of the last film, escaping into nearby mountains. A guilt-ridden Dr. Frankenstein, meanwhile, receives a visit from his former mentor, Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) who has discovered his own means of creating life. Pretorius threatens to destroy Frankenstein and his family, unless the he teams with Pretorius to create a new creature–a woman.
By now the story beats of Bride of Frankenstein have become part of popular lore–here’s a movie so popular and influential that most of the public knows the story, the dialogue, the images, even without seeing it. What much of the public doesn’t pick up on, however, are the homoerotic flourishes James Whale added to the story. Whale, a flamboyant gay man who never hid his sexuality, made Bride as a sort of joke on the public: it’s a movie about two men trying to have a baby. The gayness doesn’t stop there, either. The Creature eventually finds comfort living with a blind hermit in a kind of domestic partnership, and Thesiger, as Pretorius, plays his mad scientist to camp heaven. Even in 1935, audiences picked up on Pretorius’ effeminacy and sensed he was one of those of people. In other words, he was one of us.
Chock full of stunning black and white photography, groundbreaking make-up and special effects, and mad dark comedy, classic horror doesn’t get much better than Bride of Frankenstein. It doesn’t get much gayer, either. So, this weekend, grab the popcorn, pour a drink, and dim the lights for this masterpiece. Don’t be ashamed to scream–or giggle–along the way.
Streams on Peacock, Amazon, YouTube & VUDU.