August 16, 1985
Two John Candy movies in a row, and now all the sudden we’re back to weird science? THE BRIDE asks the question “What if WEIRD SCIENCE happened not in the modern day with teenagers, but with adults a long time ago, and instead of Gary the main guy’s name is Frankenstein?” Or “What if FRANKENWEENIE was a Franken-adult-human-lady?” Or I guess if you want to be a wet blanket you could call it a riff on BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. But it’s totally different. The hair is not even the same, to name only one example.
Director Franc Roddam had done QUADROPHENIA (1979) and THE LORDS OF DISCIPLINE (1983) and was attempting his first big mainstream movie. According to his refreshingly frank DVD commentary track, he had Sting (who had been in his first film) originally slated to play the small part of Josef, but “we said to ourselves this could be a great movie for young people” if they had it star this huge rock star, with his first solo album coming out in June, alongside Jennifer Beals, the hot newcomer fresh off the massive success of FLASHDANCE. So they gave the Josef role to some schmuck named “Carrie Elways” or some shit and Sting played Baron Charles Frankenstein opposite Beals as the titular Bride. But it’s only modernized in some of its themes, while being fairly classical in form and content. It’s not rock ’n roll or flashdancy at all. So I’m not sure the young people much noticed.
This take on the story opens with the creation scene. Charles, who unfortunately nobody ever calls Chuck, bosses around an Igor-ish intern or whatever named Paulus (Timothy Spall, credited as Tim Spall) and unexplained colleague Dr. Zahlus (The Naked Civil Servant author Quentin Crisp, in his usual makeup) as they raise and electrify the Bride’s bandaged body with a big glass orb that’s kinda like the steampunk version of those electrical spheres they used to sell at The Sharper Image (or, come to think of it, the “Gizmo” in MY SCIENCE PROJECT).
The lab set up is really cool, with the body harnessed in a web of stretchy white cords, and a system of pulleys and weights controlled by Paulus pouring sand out of a bucket. I especially liked that the sand pours out of a metal sculpture of a face, as if it’s puking (especially when Paulus puts his hand over it tryin to stop the flow).
I wondered what that said about Frankenstein, or whoever designed that part of his contraption, that he would take the time to add that artistic touch. I don’t know the answer, but Roddam says to make the scene original he brought in an “avant garde inventor” and “crazy guy” named Jim Whiting, who also plays a living head in a jar in the lab. What Roddam does not mention is that Whiting is a renowned installation artist who was coming off of creating the robots for Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” video! (His one other IMDb credit is as a carpenter on MY COUSIN VINNY – I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that was a different Jim Whiting.)
Hats off to Whiting, because this is a cool take which I bet was an influence on Kenneth Branagh’s also cool, and much wetter version in MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN. This may also be the first long-haired hunk version of Dr. Frankenstein, and since Branagh couldn’t compete with Sting on looks he was forced to do a bunch of scenes shirtless, grunting and pulling on large levers. (There are also times when Sting seems to predict David Bowie’s look in LABYRINTH, especially when he’s covered in glitter at a masquerade ball.)
We can see that this is not this particular Frankenstein’s first rodeo, because also in attendance is a very tall, large-headed and stitched up, grunting individual who will later be named Viktor (Clancy Brown between THUNDER ALLEY and HIGHLANDER). And there is a conflict here when the experiment is successful and Charles realizes just how good of a job he did, somehow creating Jennifer Beals. I don’t think he had any idea how much he was upping his game between the first and second monsters. Much later it’s confirmed that he did stitch her together from bodies, but I’m unclear why there aren’t any noticeable imperfections.
There’s an important conversation. Viktor says, “For me.”
“Yes, she’s for you,” says Charles.
“For me!” Viktor says.
Two men just bluntly negotiating ownership of a woman before they introduce themselves. But Charles changes his mind right there on the spot. The fight results in an explosion and the collapse of a tower, and Viktor runs off, presumed dead. So Charles names the Bride Eva and tells everybody she’s his patient/ward who got struck by lightning and lost her memory. And he tells his misogynistic lothario bro Carvell (Anthony Higgins, TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, VAMPIRE CIRCUS, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) that he’s teaching her to be “independent, free and bold” and “a woman equal to ourselves” so he can experience “a love of equals” with her.
Carvell thinks Charles should groom her into a sex slave, which the Baron fortunately dismisses (though I figure maybe don’t be friends with that guy anymore, which doesn’t occur to him). Charles does not show any sign of lust when Eva first leaves her room, butt naked, and curls up next to him in his throne. During the creation scene there was a shocking sight – the nude lower half of a woman, jiggling around in a water tank. And as the experiment goes awry the tank gets shattered and it flops onto the floor with a disgusting sploosh sound.
When Eva walks into the room naked, a shadow covers the top half of her body, echoing that disturbing earlier image, contrasting the beauty of a naked body with a reminder that to Frankenstein it’s just spare parts.
Or that’s how I read it. Then in the commentary track Roddam mentions that Beal didn’t want to do nudity, so it’s a body double. I guess that’s all it is.
(Note: That this was rated PG-13 – in the first year that that designation existed – shows how much the rating has changed over time. I’m confident that either the naked corpse or the naked live woman (any type of bush, really) would necessitate an R today. But like I’ve been saying, PG-13 was thought of as “wow, that’s a little too hardcore” instead of “what is this sissy watered down from R bullshit?”)
Eva seems to vaguely remember a few words from whatever form her parts once existed in, and struggles to communicate. Charles tasks his servant Mrs. Baumann (Geraldine Page, THE BEGUILED) with teaching Eva etiquette, and gets her reading books and what not. After an indeterminate passage of time the training has worked so well that he presents her to a Countess played by the supermodel Veruschka (BLOW-UP), and now she can speak eloquently and pass herself off as royalty… until a cat comes in the room and she starts to hiss at it. (“You never told me about cats,” she explains later. “I thought it was a tiny lion.” A rare joke in this movie.)
Charles really does turn her into an independent woman, but for his part he’s that familiar figure of the man who talks a good feminist game but turns out to be a total sleaze. When the young captain Josef (Cary Elwes in only his fourth movie) starts to court her, Charles gets jealous, the two almost fight, and she realizes they’re both dipshits. Since she hasn’t really been out in the world to experience the wide world of sexism she seems completely befuddled by him acting possessive of her. He asks “How could you do this to me?” and she’s like, what the fuck? What on earth does this have to do with you?
Another incident so timeless that it would seem too timely if it came out right now is when his know-it-all ego is wounded by her correcting him.
“Keats’ Prometheus is a case of—“ he starts to blather to Carvell.
“Shelley’s Prometheus,” Eva interjects.
“Keats, my dear, if you don’t mind.”
The idea is ridiculous to her. “Keats never wrote anything remotely—“
“Don’t interrupt us!”
Charles actually doesn’t even recognize that Eva’s right and he’s wrong until his friend picks up the actual book and reads off the author. Even then, Charles has to grab it from him and read it with his own eyes. I mean, how could a woman remember a book thing better than me? DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?
So this is a pretty interesting take on the BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN story, shifted to be specifically about sexism, and men’s possessiveness and entitlement toward women’s feelings and bodies. And that’s sort of what I expected. What I did not expect is that all of this I’ve been talking about is almost a subplot. Because much of the movie follows Viktor, the monster, and that part of the movie is much more involving (partly because it’s filmed on location and not mostly confined to one castle, Roddam points out on the commentary).
Early in his journey, Viktor scares away a bunch of shitty kids who are harassing a dwarf named Rinaldo (David Rappaport, TIME BANDITS. Rinaldo sees a good opportunity here and convinces Viktor to lift him up and carry him around. Now all the sudden he’s got a beast of burden and a bodyguard for his long walk to Bucharest. They’re kind of a Master Blaster!
The relationship starts off exploitative, and Rinaldo never entirely stops being kind of a condescending dick, but honestly beggars can’t be choosers. He becomes a pretty good friend to Viktor, showing him the world, teaching him a few things, giving him pep talks. He brings him to a pub and gets him drunk, but Viktor eventually passes out and the rest of the bar-goers dump them off a bridge! A pretty cool stunt:
Rinaldo is able to negotiate jobs at a circus, working for this guy named Magar (Alexei Sayle, The Young Ones) who we only ever see being a rude dick, except for when he occasionally has a greedy rubbing-his-hands-together type smile when their act is going over well. Magar has a thug named Bela (Phil Daniels, star of QUADROPHENIA) who is just as bad, rarely talking and always having a bullying smile on his face. Eventually things go bad and SPOILER Rinaldo gets murdered and Viktor tips over Magar’s trailer with him inside and impales Bela. Good stuff.
Viktor tries wandering on his own, but now he’s a wanted murderer. A funny little play on Mary Shelley’s book (as well as James Whale’s BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN) is that he seems to be cornered by a mob and he runs into a blind man (Shakespearian actor Jack Birkett, who really was blind). But instead of giving him shelter and being kind to him this blind man feels his face and then immediately yells out that he found him. A fucking snitch!
Brown is really good in this role. At times it’s a little silly how powerful he is, like when he can jump through a brick wall. Clancy’s a big guy, but he’s not the Incredible Hulk. It doesn’t matter, because he really captures this simple character who is basically innocent, but has a hard time understanding things, and through his experiences learns a few things, including riding horses, and having a little bit of a sense of humor. I really liked him after a while. This is a monster who, when he needs to steal a horse to escape, says to the horse, “My friend. My friend. Help me. Please?” A good dude.
In the end the stories come together, and I was skeptical about the two monsters ending up together as originally intended by their maker, but it kind of works; Viktor has grown and learned and comes to Eva with a different attitude than at the beginning, and Eva has experienced the world of the elites and come away thinking it’s bullshit. (Also their creator has fallen off a tower with a pretty great shot of hitting the ground and his torch flying out of his hand and bouncing.)
Both the director and the reviews say it’s a silly, abrupt ending, which is true, but it does feel like where the story is supposed to end, it didn’t take me by surprise. And I like that they get a happy romance ending! They’re on a boat together, arriving in Venice during a sunset. A far cry from Shelley’s ending where he’s on a ship but considers himself alone, and leaves on a raft to kill himself.
Roddam on the commentary track is open about things he perceives as shortcomings. He feels he got carried away with the visuals and didn’t pay enough attention to getting the script right. (Personally I don’t think it looks as good as you’d hope for from cinematographer Steven H. Burum [RUMBLE FISH, BODY DOUBLE] and production designer Michael Seymour [ALIEN, OUT FOR A KILL], but maybe an HD remaster would change my mind.) He also theorizes that it’s easy for directors doing period pieces to forget to have modern pacing. Not too far off.
But you know what, this is still pretty decent. I can understand why it hasn’t turned into a much-discussed favorite over time, but it’s a pretty entertaining take on a Frankenstein premise that feels original without being some drastic reinvention. I think both Brown and Beals bring some heart to their characters, and Sting is fine. He doesn’t manage to make the character seem very relatable, and then that turns out to be appropriate.
His casting didn’t seem to generate the intended interest, though. The movie opened in 11th place, below COCOON in its ninth week, and it made less than $4 million on a reported $13 million budget. Reviews were terrible. In the New York Times, Stephen Holden said that it “never makes up its mind whether it is a horror movie spoof or an earnest exploration of the genre’s myths.” (I honestly can’t fathom interpreting it as a spoof!) He says that “Miss Beals’s performance sinks this already muddled mess of a movie like a stone.” Gene Siskel called it “a monstrous failure” in the headline, and “a letdown” and “complete failure in telling its principal story” in the review. He says “That it succeeds in a subplot we don’t care a whit about is even more annoying,” which sounds to me like it doesn’t succeed, right? He elaborates about what “our expectation, given the film’s title and star billing.” I never understand that attitude that a movie objectively bad if you thought it was going to be something else. Those are the most frustrating movie conversations. Personally, THE BRIDE being not at all what I thought it was going to be was its main strength.
Beals was nominated for the “Worst Actress” Razzie, which seems to fit the conventional wisdom of the time, and seems straight up asinine to me. Those Razzies dicks really had it in for women they perceived as being hired for their looks – she was up against Tanya Roberts, Brigitte Nielsen and Ariane (though they all lost to Linda Blair in NIGHT PATROL, SAVAGE ISLAND and SAVAGE STREETS, because as we all know it’s a sin against the Lord for an established actress to do b-movies).
The fact that they did not nominate Sting, passing up the low hanging fruit of a rock star moving to acting for his second widely mocked flop in a row, proves beyond a shadow of the doubt that all Razzies voters were really into Sting. And nothing against Sting but yeah, that’s exactly what I picture Razzies voters listening to. Or maybe more Peter Cetera.
Summer of 1985 connections:
Maurice Jarre (MAD MAX: BEYOND THUNDERDOME) did the score. Speaking of which, when Sting had his previous movie role in DUNE, his acting resume was weirdly similar to Tina Turner’s when she did THUNDERDOME. Both were well-known singers who became gigantic solo artists in the ‘80s and took a role in a crazy desert sci-fi epic, having previously only been in a rock opera by The Who (QUADROPHENIA for Sting, TOMMY for Turner). However, Sting did not provide any songs for this soundtrack like Turner did for THUNDERDOME, which would’ve been weird for the movie but more 1985, and likely would’ve sold more tickets.
Yep, THE BRIDE got itself a “media tie-in” book: The Bride: A Tale of Love and Doom by Les Martin. And I think it’s made for young readers, because according to Google Books it’s 93 pages (including more than 60 color photographs, as we can see on the cover there), and the author’s other works include kid’s photo books of the first three INDIANA JONES movies and tie-ins to Thundercats and The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. But also The X-Files and books about vampires and werewolves. He got to teach kids about adventuring and monsters, it looks like. Not a bad trade. I respect it.
I do think it was an influence on MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN, but that movie’s at least as flawed and not-remembered-much as this is. As you can see in the links above, you can get THE BRIDE on DVD as a random collection with GHOST RIDER, THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES and SECRET WINDOW, which is a decent explanation of its place in cinematic history.
Sting continued to act occasionally (THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN, STORMY MONDAY, LOCK STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS), but never as the lead.
Screenwriter Lloyd Fonvielle later got story credits on CHERRY 2000 and THE MUMMY.
Director Franc Roddam went on to create the format for the show Masterchef.
And Jim Whiting continued to do cool shit, including Mechanical Theatre at an amazing-looking artist-designed theme park in Austria. But even if he never does another god damn thing in his life he’ll always be the guy who did the “Rockit” video.