Karloff’s performance in Bride of Frankenstein is inarguably one of the great performances in film history. Far from getting lost in Jack Pierce’s elaborate and iconic make-up, Karloff inhabits, animates, and even adds to it. Karloff had a partial denture on one side of his mouth, which he agreed to remove so that cheek would collapse in, giving the impression of an emaciated, sallow corpse.
Showing an attention to detail that is rare, the monster’s makeup changes as the film goes on. Karloff is burned in the windmill at the start of the film, and as the narrative proceeds, we observe his scars healing and his hair growing back. This metamorphosis underlies and bolsters the monster evolving as a character as the film proceeds; both his personality and his physical appearance change and grow.
The monster finally speaks in Bride, using a limited vocabulary based on words used by the child actors taking classes on the Universal lot. Although Karloff was against this addition, history has proved that it added dimension to the character. Karloff certainly emerges with some of the best lines in the picture: “Friend… good,” “I love dead… hate living,” and “We belong dead.”
Sometimes I think that Karloff’s monster in Bride of Frankenstein is a handy metaphor for all of us rabid movie fans. Frankenstein’s monster meets indifference, hatred, and abuse from all around him. He didn’t ask to be born. The rules make no sense to him. He has love to give. No one wants this love, so he turns to the dead. Those of us who sometimes eschew real life for the simulacra of film and the escape of entertainment just might identify with this.
Happy Halloween, my fellow necrophiliacs.