Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Making Monsters #2: Bride of Frankenstein

In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the monster is said to be eight feet tall, with flowing black hair and pale, translucent skin; beyond that, the monster's appearance is mostly left to our imaginations. If, when reading the book, one cannot help imagining the creature with bolts in his neck and a severe flat top, this is a tribute to the enduring power of the work of Boris Karloff and makeup artist Jack Pierce, who brought the monster to life in James Whale's classic 1931 film. Pierce was one of the first big names in makeup effects - after working on silents like The Man Who Laughs, Pierce was the makeup artist on Tod Browning's Dracula, which led to him working on all of the iconic Universal horror characters of the '30s and '40s (including one we'll take a look at later in this series). For Frankenstein, Pierce studied anatomy and surgery before deciding that Dr. Frankenstein would cleanly saw off the top of the monster's head and clamp it shut, after inserting the brain, like a box lid. The effect is obviously exaggerated, but that doesn't make it any less memorable; using grease paint, cotton, gum and other out-of-the-kit techniques, Pierce created one of the most enduring monsters in movie history.

Bride of Frankenstein is a sequel that surpasses the original - it's sharply funny and more thematically complex. And the design of Elsa Lanchester as the Bride is a lesson in how sometimes, with monster makeup, less is more. The look of the Bride consists of pale makeup, raised brows, jagged scars across her throat and her unforgettable hairdo, a Marcel wave over a wire frame, but she's nearly as iconic as Karloff's monster. While many of the effects I'll be covering this month are elaborate show-stoppers, the Bride is a great reminder of the power of suggestion, not to mention an actress who knows how to hiss.

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