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Bride (1985), The

Shout Factory // PG-13 // September 25, 2018
List Price: $25.36 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted November 7, 2018 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

A small, yet important subplot in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein led to the creation of the Bride of Frankenstein, expanding upon the writer's suggestion that the disfigured Monster deserves a mate despite his horrid appearance. Despite the "bride" not fully coming to life in Shelley's original story, she has expanded into an iconic staple of the classic monster-movie subculture due to other adaptations in which her creation was a success, with the 1935 sequel laying the groundwork for how the scenario could've played out. The tale of The Monster's Bride works because of how it feeds off the original creation of Frankenstein's Monster or Creature, though -- how a given version of the creature begins to think about life, passion, and companionship -- and jumping straight into a story focused on her creation lacks that buildup. That may be the bulkiest, most obvious constraint holding back Franc Roddam's The Bride, an ‘80s semi-remake of the original movie, but it's far from the only one.

Pop singer Sting embodies Baron Charles Frankenstein, which by itself is an unusual jumble of words that probably shouldn't be put together. The Bride picks up with this Dr. Frankenstein in the midst of his second experiment in reanimating flesh, as his first hollow-brained creature (Clancy Brown) watches in amazement, until circumstances lead the laboratory to be destroyed. Despite that, Frankenstein's experiment turns out to be another successful resurrection, producing a woman, Eva, without memories of her past life, who'll need to learn how to speak, and who'll be malleable to whatever she's taught about society. After fleeing from the castle, The Monster gets entangled with a traveling dwarf, Rinaldo (David Rappaport) who hopes to reconnect with the carnival atmosphere further down the road. As The Monster -- eventually named Viktor in this rendition -- builds a new relationship and encounters life lessons in his journey away from the lab of his creation, Frankenstein discovers the beauty of the woman he created for his first experiment.

Along with wondering what Franc Roddam was thinking in rolling with the relatively soft-spoken and dapper Sting as Dr. Frankenstein, The Bride poses a lot of questions by dropping in at this specific point in the narrative, mostly about The Monster's mental development and relationship with his creator. Everything comes across like it's following up on how Clancy Brown's rendition of the iconic character was created, yet that's information the audience doesn't have … or, more accurately, that the movie assumes the audience already has based on pop-culture knowledge of Shelley's novel and the ‘30s film. Thing is, Brown's take isn't really like either of those classic iterations, and the direction of the story doesn't feel like a natural extension of either the iconic monster movie or the author's more cerebral telling. The sluggish intelligence and naivete of The Monster are responsible for him sticking to his journey, and not knowing exactly how this version of his brain came to this state weakens the film.

Jennifer Beals provides an even bigger obstacle to The Bride than the creature, though, because she makes for a supremely dull cornerstone for the story's ideas. There's something appealing about Eva's wide-eyed absorption of the world once she awakens and begins her (initially nude) exploration of Frankenstein's castle, unable to properly speak or have a grasp on how to act. As she begins to enunciate her thoughts and feelings, Beals' languid performance marries with some abrupt jumps forward in her character's awareness, resulting in a banal, poorly-committed takedown of gender politics in which her creator's attempts to imbibe her with independence and determination lack genuine characterization. What Dr. Frankenstein expresses about his desires for Eva are compelling -- that he wants her to be just as driven and free to act as men are -- but the execution doesn't back up those pursuits. Despite the gumption and confidence found in her performance in Flashdance, Beals turns into a limp and directionless vessel that feels as if she isn't really learning at all.

The Bride bounces back-and-forth between the concurrent stories of Eve and The Monster, which only serves to underscore the issues involved with how this version of the narrative handles the minds of Frankenstein's creations. As Eva develops from a groaning mute to a passably cultured lady, The Monster remains at a consistent level of intelligence -- in fact, his awareness comes and goes at the behest of the story. If he needs more foolishness or naivete for something to occur in his travels, the script's control over his lagging monster brain will make that happen, all while Eva hones her speech and skills of observation into a formidable individual. Through this, director Roddam and his screenwriter, The Mummy's Lloyd Fonvielle, attempt to have it both ways: the side of Eva hopes to capture some of Mary Shelley's more intellectual ambitions, while the side of The Monster sticks to the lethargic, brutish monster-movie headspace of the James Whale classics. Without clearer, more credible explanations as to how both can be represented, the legitimacy starts to come apart at the seams.

Sure, maybe I've been spoiled. Showtime's TV series Penny Dreadful recently executed a phenomenal take on the Bride of Frankenstein idea, finding ways of transforming the woman who was created for The Monster into a uniquely intelligent, terrifying character empowered by her existential advantages. The Bride doesn't succeed in any of those areas: there are no scares coming from either of Frankenstein's resurrections, and the progression of events doesn't do any favors for Eva's brainpower as she navigates romance -- a young Cary Elwes complicates matters -- and her creator's oppression. What takes shape can be best described as a sort of gothic, faintly macabre drama above all else, and with Sting's more-bitter-than-mad scientist pulling the strings of later developments, The Bride loses a lot of energy amid a shallow culmination of themes centered on possessiveness and independence. Yes, it needs the world-building of its own telling of Frankenstein's original experiment to help it come alive, but that still wouldn't have kept the execution of what's there from burning out anyway.

Video and Audio:

Shot in locations throughout France, The Bride has chosen a beautiful setting full of rustic landscapes for the events to transpire, complimented by expansive interiors both within actual structures and on a studio lot. Shout Factory's Blu-ray, which has been framed at 1.78:1 within a 1080p AVC transfer, latches onto fine detail wherever it can, especially during closeups of both people and horses. Strands of hair, skin textures, bristles of facial scruff, and a few garments project decent enough clarity, yet it's once the camera pulls out on more expansive shots that the fineness suffers, especially in the density of forests where the leaves get murky and blurred even at modestly closer quarters. Depth is all over the place: shots in both exteriors and interiors are assisted by decent contrast levels that give them reputable dimensionality, while lighter, dusty black levels also manage to flatter scenes as well. Colors are generally fine in terms of foliage greens, slate blues in stones, and the candlelit tones found indoors, though skin tones can be a shade overwarm in certain areas. The print is generally pretty clean, barring some nicks here and there, and the grain present has a natural heft to it.

The audio captures a similar caliber of life in its DTS-HD Master Audio track, limited to 2 channels at its source. At certain points, clarity and midrange activity are robust: the stomping of hooves, the chatter of crowds, the hissing of steam and the shattering of stone project enough crispness to the suitable. At other times, even within the same scene, these sonic elements can seem muffled and unnatural in their thinness and lack of midrange versatility. A few elements involving thunder have outright metallic twangs to their impact, too, which are unfortunate. Dialogue copes with similar issues, but for the most part fares better than certain other ranges of sound effects, only dealing with mild discernment issues in sound-rich sequences; Sting's smooth vocal delivery is silky throughout. There's a marginal amount of surround responsiveness at the front channels, but just enough to emphasize the atmosphere of city and circus environments wherever necessary. Though I wouldn't call it satisfying, Shout Factory gets the job done for The Bride on Blu-ray.

Special Features:

New interviews were recorded for the two part Monster featurettes (22:27; 18:23; 16x9 HD), heavily centered on Clancy Brown's performance as The Monster. He discusses a wide range of topics about the production, from the process of getting the part and meeting David Rappaport to coping with prosthetics and shooting complications. Clancy Brown's rumbly voice and subdued persona naturally lend themselves to a casual, yet absorbing conversational interview rhythm, so hearing him chat about his experiences becomes such a comfortable experience devoid of pretense. He name-drops the movie Quest for Fire in his discussion about prosthetics and becomes very candid about the physical complications that took their toll during the filming process, which knocked him out of shooting for a few weeks, while frequently touching on the general concepts of "mask theory" in his performance and how it relates to James Whale's original. That's in the first half; the second half reveals the directing dynamic involving Franc Roddam and actor David Rappaport, the presence of improv and how it jibes with the gothic romance intentions of the film -- Brown name-drops Crimson Peak for comparison -- and an accident involving the destruction of one of the film's circus tents. Clancy Brown delivers the goods.

Frank Roddam then saddles up for his own interview with the Director (30:06, 16x9 HD), and right out of the gate he claims that he was always disappointed with The Bride, which bodes well for the candidness to be contained within. He reveals how the studio had a heavy hand in choosing who would play the roles, unveils a few tidbits about behind-the-scenes things, and attempts to steer the conversation in even amounts toward both sides of the narrative, to Eva's plotline and The Monster's travels. A lot of the discussion falls on Lloyd Fonvielle's script and how the story might've not dabbled in horror as much as it should, as well as how the casting restrained some of Roddam's creative endeavors -- especially things he would've potentially done with a different actress as Eva -- and how he navigates the themes and ideas of the script. He also chats about David Rappaport on a more personal level, notably about his difficulties leading up to his suicide. A great pairing with Clancy Brown's interviews.

Along with a TV Spot (31, 4x3), Shout Factory have also included the previously available Audio Commentary with Franco Roddam for listening alongside the film itself, recorded in 2001.

Final Thoughts:

Had The Bride more conscientiously approached remaking The Bride of Frankenstein in a way that made sense as a standalone project, there's a lot that could've gone right through Franc Roddam's direction: Clancy Brown's performance as The Monster, the atmosphere, and the themes of independence within. Instead, the film awkwardly drops in on the "second chapter" of a new Frankenstein universe without having the first one as a reference point, both in terms of character development and in general rules of how the grand experiments in resurrection work under different circumstances. Stiff, unfitting performances weaken the character aspects of the film, while the absence of genuine horror leaves the film without an intimidating edge, all things that would've weighed down The Bride regardless of how it handled its world-building. It's a lesser take on the story with a few jolts of positivity here and there. Shout Factory's Blu-ray looks and sounds fine in a nice upgrade to Blu-ray, but the interviews contained within are what make this package really worth the Rental.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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