Carl Laemmle Jr. saw the future in 1931 and the future looked scary. The son of Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle, the junior Laemmle had served as the studio’s head of production since 1928, helping the studio transition to the talkie era and earning acclaim for efforts like All Quiet on the Western Front and Waterloo Bridge. Those efforts didn’t always translate into profits for Universal, which would prove a problem for Junior, and Universal, later in the decade — but in 1931, both found tremendous success by unleashing a string of horrors on an unsuspecting moviegoing public. Dracula, with its chilling lead performance by the Hungarian-born Béla Lugosi, arrived in February. Frankenstein, featuring the English-born Boris Karloff as the mad scientist’s stitched-together creation, followed in November. Karloff returned in The Mummy in 1932, followed by Claude Rains as The Invisible Man in 1933.
That remarkable early-’30s run debuted one now-iconic movie character after another, the collaborative work of the films’ stars; directors Tod Browning, James Whale, and Karl Freund; the studio’s in-house writing talent; and makeup and effects wizards like Jack Pierce and John P. Fulton. It also established the trademarks of a Universal monster movie, combining macabre atmospheres and shocking flashes of violence — sometimes the object of censorship — with monsters that were often as pitiable as they were scary and stories that tapped into deeper themes of death, compulsion, and insanity. It buoyed the studio’s fortunes (for a while) and helped make Universal synonymous with horror.
From there the story twists. The Laemmle family lost control of Universal in 1936 and the studio lost interest in horror — but only momentarily. 1939 saw the release Son of Frankenstein, the second sequel to Frankenstein after Bride of Frankenstein. Its success stirred a new wave, leading to sequels to Dracula, The Mummy, and The Invisible Man, and the introduction of The Wolf Man, a new icon brought to life by Lon Chaney Jr., the defining star of the ’40s run (though a star often pushed well beyond his limitations of his abilities). The revival soon turned into a tangle of sequels and crossovers impressive in their ability to combine the studio’s monsters’ stories (if not always for their quality). It culminated in a series of unlikely, but successful, team-ups with one of the studio’s other star attractions: the comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.
The 1950s saw the creation of one last iconic monster, the Gill-man, star of The Creature From the Black Lagoon. A creation made for the atomic age, and with moviegoers more enthralled by science fiction than musty old castles, the Gill-man became a hit. But he also brought the classic monster era to a close. Then came a long afterlife of rediscovery and renewed appreciation, first via baby-boomer fandoms created by TV reruns and magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland, then via home-video rereleases, and, most recently, via streaming services. (Most of the Universal monster movies can currently be found on Peacock at the free level, provided viewers don’t mind some commercial interruptions.)
This list ranks the 31 canonical classic Universal monster movies (with separate entries for the English- and Spanish-language of Dracula). That means it includes each of the films featuring the studio’s major monsters (and a remake of The Phantom of the Opera thrown in for good measure). That also means it leaves out a lot of terrific horror movies made by Universal during its horror golden age, films like the deeply unsettling pre-Hays Code Edgar Allan Poe adaptation Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Black Cat (the first of several team-ups between Karloff and Lugosi), The Invisible Ray, The Raven, Murders in the Zoo, and others. Those wanting to dig deeper into the era and its stars should give a listen to Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This podcast, which dedicated a series of episodes to Karloff and Lugosi’s rivalry, and pick up Universal Horrors: The Studio’s Classic Films, 1931–1946, an exhaustively researched (if occasionally unnecessarily snarky) film-by-film history.
All are worth seeking out, as are the Universal monster movies ranked below. Well, most of them, anyway.
31. She-Wolf of London (1946)
Can you call a movie a monster movie if it contains no monster? Universal marketed She-Wolf of London as a horror movie, and for a while it looks set to deliver. Phyllis Allenby (future Lassie and Lost in Space mom June Lockhart), a soon-to-be-married Londoner, fears a family curse has led her to commit a series of “werewolf murders.” Eventually, however, she discovers she’s not in a horror movie at all but a variation on Gaslight (a hit two years earlier). Phyllis may feel relieved, but viewers will likely feel ripped off by the bait-and-switch, especially since the mystery proves pretty dull and predictable.
30. The Invisible Agent (1942)
After Axis spies attempt to steal the invisibility formula patriotic American Frank Griffin (Jon Hall) inherited from his grandfather, the original Invisible Man, Frank deems it too dangerous to hand over to the American military but agrees to go behind enemy lines to fight the Nazis. (That this mission requires him to be completely nude only gets mentioned in passing a couple of times.) An undisguised piece of propaganda, the film became a hit in 1942, but its uncomfortable mix of neat effects, forced comedy, stodgy pacing, and wartime stereotypes makes it a bit wearying now.
29. Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)
The success of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1948 steered the duo toward other spooky meetings, including Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (both outside the purview of this ranking). Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy brought such meetings (and Bud and Lou’s time at Universal) to a close. It’s not bad, but it plays like a formula running out of steam (and don’t expect much cultural sensitivity).
28. The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944)
Jon Hall, star of The Invisible Agent, returns for this in-name-only sequel that brings the series back to its horror roots. Hall plays Robert Griffin, a homicidal maniac who doesn’t seem to have any connection to previous protagonists beyond a shared name. He comes to share the other Griffins’ enthusiasm for invisible mayhem after stumbling into the home of a mad scientist (John Carradine) eager to find a guinea pig for his experiments. The final entry in the series — until the Abbott and Costello team-up, that is — lacks ambition, but Hall’s energy and Carradine’s creepy presence help make it worth a watch.
27. The Mummy’s Curse (1944)
You’ll find the original The Mummy, the 1932 film that merged classic horror with ancient Egypt, considerably further up this list. Though one of Universal’s best monster movies, that one has little to do with the later Mummy films, which popularized the idea of a shambling, cloth-wrapped, undead creature terrorizing the modern world. Like most monster movie sequels, returns diminished over time and this entry shamelessly recycles story ideas (and sometimes footage) from its predecessors as Kharis terrorizes the bayou alongside the love of his life, Princess Ananka (Virginia Christie), who has no memory of her true origin (yet somehow speaks perfect English).
26. The Mummy’s Tomb (1942)
The second film in the Kharis cycle is set 30 years after the first (which itself appeared to be set in the ’40s, but who pays attention to such things?) and finds Kharis (Chaney) traveling to America to wreak havoc in Mapleton, Massachusetts, where Steve Banning (Dick Foran), the now-elderly protagonist of The Mummy’s Hand, has settled into a quiet life. Though a by-the-numbers entry padded out with a long flashback to the preceding film, it’s still pretty fun to watch a mummy terrorize a sleepy, small college town (even if the immediate sequel pulled off the same idea with a little more skill). The film ends with its younger hero preparing to serve in World War II, a reminder that some threats overshadow even mummies.
25. The Mummy’s Ghost (1944)
Kharis’s return trip to Mapleton, Massachusetts, improves on his first by adding both a wild-eyed John Carradine as a true believer intent on aiding the mummy’s revenge and an element of tragedy via the addition of Amina (Ramsay Ames), a beautiful Egyptian woman who becomes the object of Kharis’s obsession. The film features an abundance of monster movie chestnuts — the monster carrying the unconscious heroine in his arms, a torch-wielding mob — but also a surprisingly downbeat ending. (And no, the film doesn’t really clear up the confusing title.)
24. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
Universal’s first attempt at a monster-meets-monster crossover is also its least successful, building up to a title bout that arrives late, lasts mere moments, and ends in a draw. Chaney returns as Lyle Talbot, the unfortunate victim of a werewolf’s curse, and Béla Lugosi plays Frankenstein’s Monster for the first and only time. (Lugosi originally turned down the part when the character was still conceived as a mindless killer.) Still, it’s diverting enough, working as a just-okay sequel to both The Wolf Man and The Ghost of Frankenstein and a setup for future monster collaborations.
23. The House of Frankenstein (1944) & 22. House of Dracula (1945)
There are two ways to appreciate Universal’s monster movies. You can stick to the top-tier films, remarkable artistic achievements that made a deep imprint on popular culture and reward repeat viewings. Or you can keep going, delving into the increasingly dodgy territory of the later sequels, overstuffed affairs seemingly driven by the notion that moviegoers would feel like getting multiple monsters for the price of one would be a bargain.
Both House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula drift far away from the thematically rich territory of the earlier films. Both also have their own goofy pleasures. In the first, Karloff returns, this time playing a mad scientist who revives Dracula (nicely played by John Carradine) then retrieves the frozen-but-not-dead bodies of Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange) and the Wolf Man (Chaney). The film ends with all the monsters having met their ends, but that didn’t stop them from returning in House of Dracula the next year. The trailer promises five monsters (lumping in a new mad scientist played by Onslow Stevens and a new hunchback assistant played by Jane Adams with the big three) and consequently “five times the thrills.” It’s a dubious claim, but committed monster fans will want to watch it anyway.
21. Son of Dracula (1943)
There’s no talking about the second wave of Universal Monster movies without talking about Lon Chaney Jr. Chaney only reluctantly followed in the footsteps of his silent-era star father, the man whose ability to turn himself into fantastic characters earned him the nickname “The Man of a Thousand Faces.” Chaney Jr., on the other hand, rarely let viewers forget who they were watching. Though he could be an effective actor — his Lennie in the 1939’s Of Mice and Men is a particular highlight — he often took roles outside his limitations. He’s fine in his most famous role, the Wolf Man, in part because he’s playing a man who realizes he’s soon out of his depth. And he makes for an okay mummy in that series. But his Ordinary Joe delivery and Everyman physique makes him less than convincing in other roles, as in this Dracula sequel in which he awkwardly plays a descendant of the famous count who travels to America under the name Count Alucard. (Get it?) Chaney naturally evokes pity more easily than terror, and he looks uncomfortable and unthreatening dolled up like his character’s famous father. Nonetheless, director Richard Siodmak, a German immigrant soon to direct a series of classic thrillers, makes the most of the southern gothic atmosphere, and Universal’s in-house effects expert John P. Fulton throws in some neat touches, as when Alucard transforms into a bat before viewers’ eyes.
20. The Phantom of the Opera (1943)
Universal enjoyed tremendous success in the silent era with the Lon Chaney Sr.–starring The Phantom of the Opera, so it made perfect sense to attempt a lavish remake during monster movies’ second surge of popularity in the 1940s. Filmed in lavish Technicolor, it nevertheless pales in comparison to the original, even with an intense Claude Rains’s performance as the obsessed Phantom.
19. Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
Bud and Lou’s monster antics never improved on their first brush with Frankenstein’s Monster (and Dracula and the Wolf Man) in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, but there’s much to like in this outing, in which the duo play detectives trying to clear the name of Tommy Nelson (Arthur Franz), a boxer framed for murder. To forestall capture, Tommy has taken an invisibility potion, leading to a series of comic setpieces, including one in which Lou improbably wins a boxing match (with some invisible assistance).
18. The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)
The classic monster cycle came to a close with this final bow from the Gill-man, who spends much of the movie looking almost human, thanks to an unfortunate accident that burns off his outer layer. The film gets bogged down in overheated marital drama, but it also features some of the series’ most exciting creature action and the final shot, of a clothes-wearing Gill-man staring wistfully at the sea then shambling toward an uncertain fate, achieves a weird kind of poetry.
17. The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
The fourth film in the Frankenstein series, and the last to focus purely on Frankenstein’s Monster, largely recycles what’s come before to lesser results, with Lugosi’s Ygor dragging the Monster (Chaney) to a different son of Victor Frankenstein after the events of Son of Frankenstein. A cast that includes Ralph Bellamy, Lionel Atwill, Evelyn Ankers, and monster movie staple Dwight Frye helps, though Chaney feels like a step down from Karloff. (This would be Chaney’s only time playing the Monster in a movie, but he returned to the character during a famously calamitous live TV appearance that he possibly mistook for a dress rehearsal.)
16. Werewolf of London (1935)
Universal’s first attempt at a werewolf movie now looks like a dry run for The Wolf Man a few years later, but it has its own charms, thanks to Jack Pierce’s unnerving, this-close-to-human werewolf makeup and Henry Hull’s tortured turn as a botanist who develops an unfortunate case of lycanthropy, causing him to kill unsuspecting victims and target those he loves. A box-office disappointment, it helped end the first wave of Universal monster movies (but it did inspire a pretty great Warren Zevon song).
15. Dracula’s Daughter (1936)
In many respects a missed opportunity, Dracula’s Daughter is filled with intriguing ideas that future vampire movies would exploit better. The action picks up moments after the end of Dracula, with Professor Von Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) still hanging around the bodies of Count Dracula and Renfield. Otherwise, however, it throws out the gothic trappings of the original until the final act, instead focusing on a contemporary London being terrorized by Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden), the daughter of Dracula (as if the title didn’t give that away). The idea of a vampire in a modern metropolis hobnobbing with high society and preying on everyday citizens would help inspire dark urban fantasy stories to come, and the unmistakable undertones of Zaleska’s seductive approach to a female victim would influence future vampire stories with no interest in playing it strictly straight. Still, despite Holden’s alternately tragic and menacing performance, it’s a little too stiff for its own good.
14. The Invisible Man Returns (1940) & 13. The Invisible Woman (1940)
In 1940, Universal gave moviegoers not one but two follow-ups to The Invisible Man — sort of. The traditional sequel came via The Invisible Man Returns, in which Dr. Frank Griffin (John Sutton) uses his late brother Jack’s invisibility formula to free Sir Geoffrey Radcliffe (Vincent Price), a man wrongly accused of murder, from prison. At times the film plays more like a remake than a sequel, as Geoffrey finds increasingly clever ways to use invisibility against his enemies, and his pursuers try to keep up with more innovative ways to catch him. The returns diminish, but Price delivers a strong performance as a more sympathetic, and ultimately tragic, protagonist. (Price’s long career as a horror icon starts here.)
By contrast, The Invisible Woman has no connection to the original film or its sequel, narratively or tonally. Virginia Bruce plays Kitty Carroll, an independent working woman who makes the questionable decision to answer an ad from Professor Gibbs (John Barrymore), a scientist looking for guinea pigs in an invisibility experiment. After agreeing to get injected with an experimental serum, she uses the opportunity to get even with her awful boss and, eventually, romance Gibbs’s wealthy playboy benefactor (Dick Russell). Horror never enters into this fun screwball comedy, which includes everything from bumbling gangsters (including one played by Shemp Howard) to a memorable scene in which Kitty flirts by stretching nylons over her invisible legs.
12. The Mummy’s Hand (1940)
The first and best of the latter-day quasi-sequels to The Mummy, The Mummy’s Hand follows a recently unemployed archeologist, Steve Banning (Dick Foran), and his bumbling pal Babe (Wallace Ford), as they search for the long-lost tomb of Princess Ananka — unaware that doing so means running afoul of a sect that keeps watch over her tomb and the mummy of Kharis (Tom Taylor), who’s been kept alive thanks to the mysterious properties of tana leaves. The film takes its time getting to the mummy action, but Foran and Ford make for agreeably casual heroes, and character actor Cecil Kellaway has a lot of fun as the easily amused magician who funds their expedition. Most importantly, the film proves that a mute, limping mummy could be as scary as a wolf man or a vampire, an idea that could be recycled much more easily than the original’s romantic melancholy. Bring on the sequels!
11. Revenge of the Creature (1955)
The first sequel to The Creature From the Black Lagoon essentially transplants the original story to a new location, when a group of scientists bring the Gill-man to a Florida oceanarium. Predictably, all hell breaks loose. It’s fun watching the Gill-man run amok in the middle of civilization, and the presence of gifted director Jack Arnold, returning from the original, as well as an even more pronounced emphasis on the sexual subtext makes this a worthy follow-up.
10. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
By 1948, neither Abbott and Costello nor the monsters were quite the box-office draws they used to be, but they proved to be a winning combination when Universal paired them for this monster-packed crossover. Chaney returns as Wolf Man Lyle Talbot, who does his best to warn Bud and Lou about the imminent arrival of Dracula (Lugosi, reprising his Dracula role for the first time) and Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange). The film works in large part because it doesn’t let Abbott and Costello dilute the monsters’ spookiness or allow the monsters to step on the duo’s comedy, striking a balance that horror comedies have tried, and often failed, to reach ever since. (Stick around for the final moments for the appearance — or “appearance” — of a bonus monster.)
9. Dracula (Spanish-Language Version) (1931)
The lights didn’t shut off when production wrapped each day on the English-language version of Dracula. Instead, the night shift took over to shoot a different version of the film using the same sets and Spanish-speaking actors (wearing considerably more revealing costumes). Director George Melford spoke no Spanish, but that didn’t get in the way of creating an atmospheric chiller to rival the better-known English-language version directed by Tod Browning. Sometimes it even exceeded Browning’s version, thanks to some striking compositions and more technically accomplished moments. The argument that it’s the superior version, however, doesn’t quite hold up. After leaving Transylvania, it hits some of the same problems as the English-language version, due to a script that stays too true to the stage play that inspired it, a problem exacerbated by this version’s longer running time. And though Lupita Tovar makes for a spirited Mina (renamed “Eva” here), Carlos Villarías can’t touch Lugosi’s definitive performance. Believed lost until the 1970s, the film found a new audience via home video in the 1990s.
8. Son of Frankenstein (1939)
Baron Wolf von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) wants nothing to do with his late father’s resurrecting-the-dead business when he moves back to Castle Frankenstein, but his life takes a funny turn after meeting the malevolent Ygor (Lugosi) and uncovering the body of the Monster (Karloff, for the last time). Deciding he needs to clear his father’s name, Wolf revives his father’s creation. That, shockingly, turns out to be a bad idea. Directed by Rowland V. Lee, this stylish sequel builds on its predecessors to create a story about legacy, the way the past never really disappears, and the struggles between fathers and sons that can survive even death. Its success brought Universal back into the monster business. The only problem for the modern viewer: It’s tough to avoid a kind of cognitive dissonance watching the film since Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder borrowed much of the plot for Young Frankenstein.
7. Dracula (1931)
Universal would never have become synonymous with monster movies were it not for one film: Dracula, which brought Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel to the screen by way of a hit play written by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston. And though producer Carl Laemmle Jr. entertained the idea of casting other actors as its bloodsucking Count, the film wouldn’t have worked nearly as well if it didn’t retain the play’s star, the Hungarian-born Béla Lugosi. Staring intensely behind hooded eyes and drawing out his lines in ways that allow his natural accent to wrap around each syllable, Lugosi holds nothing back. It’s a big performance, but also a complex one. Rarely has a figure been at once so seductive yet so repulsive as Lugosi’s Dracula. Mammoth sets filled with cobwebs and vermin, and Dwight Frye’s performance as Dracula’s toady, Renfield, make it all the more unsettling, and the unrelenting creepiness helps obscure some of the rough patches.
Very much a product of a director — and an industry — still trying to figure out the best ways to transition from the silent to the sound era, Tod Browning’s adaptation suffers from static setups, too many dialogue-driven scenes taken directly from the play, and the absence of a score. (In 1998, Universal rereleased the film with a new score by Philip Glass, a fine composition that works better as an experiment than a corrective.) But what’s evident in hindsight wasn’t a problem for audiences in 1931, who turned up en masse and left with their appetites whetted for more monsters. The studio happily obliged.
6. The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)
The second Universal monster movie craze petered out in the early-’50s with the creature-packed crossover films and Abbott and Costello team-ups. With The Creature From the Black Lagoon the studio found a creature suited for atomic age audiences. Drawn by evidence of a missing evolutionary link between humans and sea creatures, a group of scientists travels to the Amazon. There they find more proof than they can handle in the form of the Gill-man, who kills to defend his turf but develops an attraction to the beautiful Kay (Julie Adams). (Guillermo del Toro remembered and ran with this idea with The Shape of Water.) Filled with remarkable underwater photography, the Jack Arnold–directed film both updates the classic monster movie for a new era and recalls what made it work in the first place. The Gill-man is more misunderstood than malevolent — and the victim of humans disrupting the natural world, to boot. It also contributed one, last unforgettable design to the monster canon, the work of actress and animator Milicent Patrick, though she wasn’t allowed to take proper credit for it thanks to a jealous superior who fired her. (Mallory O’Meara’s recent book The Lady From the Black Lagoon tells her story.)
5. The Wolf Man (1941)
Son of Frankenstein provided the jolt of electricity that revived Universal’s monster movies in 1939, but it took two years for the studio to create a new classic monster. One finally arrived via The Wolf Man, Universal’s second swing at a werewolf movie after Werewolf of London. To create the creature, Pierce used a design created for but unused in that previous film; it’s a half-human, half-lupine look that perfectly suits another monster who’s as pitiful as he is fearsome. Working from a script by the prolific Curt Siodmak, who had his hand in many of the classic monster movies, director George Waggner makes good use of Chaney as Larry Talbot, a man whose life begins to spin into chaos when he’s attacked by a werewolf (played by Lugosi, who now regularly turned up in supporting roles) shortly after reuniting with his estranged father (Claude Rains). The atmosphere and iconic monster design makes it spooky, but it’s the tragedy of a man made monstrous, and pushed apart from those he loves, by forces beyond his control that makes it a classic.
4. The Invisible Man (1933)
Universal’s monster movies owe much of their enduring success to director James Whale, a graceful and inventive stylist with a sharp wit and a deep sense of humanity. That didn’t always mean casting humanity in a flattering light, however, as with this adaptation of H.G. Wells’s 1897 novel about a chemist who cracks the secret of invisibility. Claude Rains stars as Jack Griffin, a man who’s already learned the secret of disappearing as the film opens. He might have been a jerk before his breakthrough, but his newfound ability tips him over into madness, as he begins abusing those around him before descending into megalomania. The theme is pretty simple: Anyone who feels there are no consequences for their actions will behave abominably, but the cleverly staged film also gives Rains plenty of room to suggest the pathos beneath Griffin’s madness. The effects remain remarkable too, particularly the still-shocking scene in which Griffin first unwraps his bandage to reveal an absence where his head ought to be.
3. Frankenstein (1931)
Eager to capitalize on the success of Dracula, Carl Laemmle Jr. pushed more horror films into production, but this James Whale–directed adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel feels anything but rushed. It also doesn’t bear that much resemblance to Shelley’s novel, using the plot as raw material to create a kind of dark fairy tale about loneliness, scientific overreach, and the thin lines dividing God and humanity, the living and the dead. And, unlike Dracula, Whale turns it into an unmistakably cinematic experience, one filled with unforgettable moments, from the reveal of the extraordinary Jack Pierce–created makeup effects to Dr. Frankenstein’s (Colin Clive) mad rapture at bringing his creature to life to the Monster’s tragic encounter with a girl floating flowers on the surface of a lake (a frequently censored scene thought lost in its original form for decades). Karloff plays the Monster as closer to a child than a fiend, a creature unaware of his destructive power or the fear he inspires until it’s too late.
2. The Mummy (1932)
Karloff returned the next year playing a different sort of monster, though one just as sympathetic in his own way. Directed by Karl Freund — a German immigrant already esteemed for a cinematography career that included Metropolis and Dracula — The Mummy bears little relation to the stories of stumbling, bandage-wrapped killers that filled its sequels. Karloff plays Imhotep, an ancient Egyptian high priest awakened from his slumber by English archeologists. When he encounters Helen (Zita Johann), he becomes convinced she’s the reincarnation of his long-lost love, prompting him to attempt to kill her then resurrect her to join him in his half-dead existence. Less a horror film than a dreamlike depiction of obsession and the ways love and desire can seem like forces as powerful as death, Freund’s film served as added confirmation that, as with Frankenstein, a monster movie could deliver chills while exploring deeper themes. And, also as with Frankenstein, much of the emotional weight rests on the broad shoulders of Karloff, whose sad eyes suggest a willingness to do anything to end centuries of yearning.
1. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
If a monster movie could double as a tragedy, as the original Frankenstein did, what else could it be? That’s the question driving Whale’s sequel, in which the Monster finds his voice, demands a bride, and experiences heartbreak. Bride both holds a distorted mirror up to romance and reworks the ideas driving the original into a kind of dark comedy in which Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Clive) keeps getting drawn back into the monster-making game by his own creation (Karloff) and his mentor Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), whose aspirations to outdo God go beyond even Henry’s.
Elsa Lanchester drew on hissing geese for her depiction of the Bride, helping to turn another example of Jack Pierce’s makeup wizardry into a being of awful beauty. Whale brings the full power of his visual skills to the film, which builds to a fiery climax even sadder than the original’s. “We belong dead,” the Monster says as his dying words (or what would be his dying words if he didn’t return for sequel after sequel). Like the best monster movies, Bride proves the dead, the undead, the cursed, and the misbegotten all have something to tell us, and speak in voices that sound much like our own.