The main dynamic in Mary Shelley's 1818 'Frankenstein' novel, the one most endured in all adaptations, is between Frankenstein and his Monster- a creator/creation dynamic. Not much can be said of The Bride in Shelley's novel- unfinished, she was cast to the depths of the ocean by her creator until her story was picked up by James Whale in his 1935 movie 'The Bride of Frankenstein'. Whale's movie adds to the creator/creation dynamic while simultaneously making the character of The Bride a staple of pop-culture iconography despite her limited screentime.
In Whale's film, Shelley herself is introduced as a character. Where there was intrigue for the unfinished story of the Bride, there was also a burgeoning interest in Shelley herself for similar reasons. The Bride, a creature conflating femininity with the monstrous, and Shelley, a well-educated young woman creating one of the most enduring horror/sci-fi tales in history similarly blurring the definition of respectability expected of women at the time of authorship.
Interest in the life of Shelley, particularly in the darker aspects (the claim that she lost her virginity in a graveyard, for example), means that she has become as much of a character as the actual characters she created. Particularly, many theorise that the figure of The Bride was always representative of Shelley; regardless of her intent, the two have become intrinsically linked, owing in part to Whale's 1935 film, in which Elsa Lanchester plays both Shelley, and later on, the Bride.
This being said, an updated and far more interesting creator/creation dynamic arising from both the 1818 novel, and the 1935 'Bride' film is that of Shelley/Frankenstein/The Creature/The Bride. The potential of this dynamic and everything that comes with it has been re-interpretated many times; Frankenstein now being more of an adjective than representative of the character in Shelley's novel, the tale of making a creature from deceased human parts, creating life, is an especially prevalent narrative in the cinematic horror genre. I want to talk a bit about how the above dynamic and its themes have been re-interpreted in horror 'b-movies'.
Whale's figure of the Bride seems the jumping off point for many re-iterations of the female creatures in said 'b-movies'. In Whale's 'The Bride of Frankenstein', she is the titular character yet not introduced until the climax of the film. She is voiceless yet manifests her own power and takes her creation into her own hands when she rejects the male creature- the counterpart for whom she was made. A keen reminder, to me, that Frankenstein's monster always had two creators, two gods who he must bend to the will of. One being Victor Frankenstein, and the other being Mary Shelley. Woman creating man creating man creating woman.
Many of the films discussed follow similar narrative conventions, but it is in their differences that the key dynamic of Shelley/Frankenstein/Creature/Bride (creators and creations) thrives.
A few of my favourites: In Brian Yuzna's 1990 film 'Bride of Re-Animator', the figure of the Bride is less about the Bride herself than it is the psyche of her creators, true to the original novel insofar that the creature and all he represents is an external examination of Frankenstein's goals, morals, etc. Herbert West, a brilliant but morally bankrupt mad-scientist in a quest to do battle with death, and his assistant Dan Cain, who enables his experiments because of their ground-breaking nature, while also rebuking West's lack of ethics and how they have transformed his life from that of a normal medical student to a grave-robber.
West manipulates Cain by promising to bring back Cain's deceased girlfriend Megan Halsey- her heart at least, in a body made of assembled parts- as a means of ensuring that Cain will continue to help him in his work re-animating the dead. After her creation, Cain realises that she is a poor replacement for the real Megan and rejects her- mirroring the female creature rejecting her betrothed in Whale's 'Bride'.
Realising she is unwanted, the bride, neurotic and searching for a purpose, tears out her heart- Megan's heart- and offers it to Dan before dying. Cain takes the opportunity to abandon both the Bride and West, leaving his life of crime and dubious scientific experiments behind. The re-negotiated aspect here is the untimely demise of the Bride. Her self-awareness of being bereft of purpose, unneeded, creating an almost touching moment before her expiration. She is brought into the world as an idea but abandoned by her creators- whether this is reflective of Victor Frankenstein abandoning The Bride to the sea, or Shelley hastily writing her out of the novel, is up to interpretation. Similar to the Bride in Whale's film, she has a limited screentime, and her portion of the movie is relegated to the very end.
Her self-destruction speaks to being the product of creators who will not care for her, almost paralleling the male creature in Shelley's novel with his self-loathing prose, but more active in her own demise.
She refuses to live under the shadow of a world which would despise her. She sees at once that her existence would be paradoxical, much as it was theorised that Shelley aborted the plot-thread of a female companion for the creature because this monstrous bride would conflict with pre-existing themes of the feminine/pure in the other female characters in her novel- Elizabeth and Justine. Cain realising that the undead bride he had a hand in creating warps the cloud of purity with which he views his deceased girlfriend, Megan. Abandonment.
Another re-animated girlfriend in Frank Henenlotter's 1990 film 'Frankenhooker', a bizarre parable which in true Troma fashion manages to toe the line between being camply misogynistic and raising points about the de-criminalisation of sex work to ensure the safety of disadvantaged women. Electrician Jeffrey Franken attempts to revive his girlfriend Elizabeth Shelley (haha) using parts he has collected from murdered sex-workers. In the end though, it is the re-animated combination of Shelley and the multiple sex-workers who have the last laugh. Franken likened them to spare parts without meaning or agency, and when he is killed, they use the rest of the scavenged sex-worker remains to bring him back to life- with female genitalia.
The Bride in 'Frankenhooker' re-negotiates the creator/creature dynamic by making sure that by the end of the narrative, they are on even footing. Franken is forced to face the reality of being laden with the 'parts' that he claims have no meaning. Frankenstein in Shelley's novel is unable to finish the Bride, to interact with the very idea of her, therefore he is misogynistically detached from the feminine. Positioning himself as 'above it', somewhat. At his creations revenge, Franken is not afforded the same cool detachment.
Similarly, Franken and Frankenstein respectively are given power in their appearances through their genius- the ability, independent from anyone else, to create life. 'Frankenhooker's' bride must have a similar sense of genius (even if you call it poor writing) to be able to bring Franken back from the dead as her act of revenge. Franken is reminded that he isn't the only one with power- it almost breaks the fourth wall to point at Shelley, the true genius behind any re-animated creatures. Therefore, 'Frankenhooker' establishes itself as critical of the male ego in a similar way the 1818 novel is. However, 'Frankenhooker' is still not necessarily about its titular character. She appears near the end of the film and has less screentime than her creator.
In my mind, the most interesting re-negotiation of the Shelley/Frankenstein/Creature/Bride dynamic in a horror b-movie is that of Tyler McIntyre's 2015 film 'Patchwork'. Like Ouroboros eating itself, we come full circle with this film. Frankenstein and his creature under Shelley's employ in her novel are re-iterated in the form of Madeleine, a lonely woman who employs a surgeon to stitch her together with two other women, Ellie and Jennifer, so that she'll never be alone.
There is something to be said for adaptations of a female creation story helming them as the titular character but instead focusing on their creators, whereas Patchwork leaves its Victor Frankenstein figure unnamed (similarly to the monikers of 'Creature' and 'Bride', he is simply 'the surgeon') and have him removed for a considerable portion of the film to instead focus on Madeleine, Ellie, and Jennifer. Similarly to Shelley as genius, as creator, Madeleine also does most of the work pre-surgery, 'collecting' Ellie and Jennifer.
Creatively, the idea of a female creation figure having no agency because of her being made to suit the needs of men is re-negotiated because it is by Madeleine's wish that she becomes the creature. The surgeon's wishes are thusly the inconsequential ones.
What of Ellie and Jennifer? Well, truth be told, they aren't too happy with their new transformation. They are in the dark and spend the movie's runtime working together to get to grips with their new body, and to find out who did this to them. They piece together fragments of the night they were abducted, with Madeleine playing along, and eventually find the surgeon, who reveals the truth. Even here, 'Patchwork's' 'creature' takes back her agency. Like Whale's Bride rejecting her betrothed, Ellie and Jennifer, with no way to separate themselves, effectively kill off Madeleine by giving their body a homemade lobotomy. They decide to embrace life in their new form, without the person who put them in that situation.
In her novel, Shelley censors herself by telling the story from the viewpoint of male characters. She represents masculine prose as decidedly misogynistic- any female characters and their stories are re-told and thus changed by the male narrators of the novel. It is Frankenstein's fear of being overpowered by the possible re-productive capabilities of the Bride which compels him to cast her to the sea. The male personas she assumed were also supposedly a reflection of Shelley's fear of inadequacy as a writer. 'Frankenstein' has undergone many analyses re-asserting its hidden feminist themes. For me, the joy of 'Patchwork' in particular is seeing the figure of the Bride able to tell and control her own narrative. Despite portions of their lives being out of their control, dictated by men and external forces, Ellie and Jennifer, now the Bride, live on after 'Patchwork's' ambiguous ending, leaving us to wonder what she will do with her story.
The modern figure of the Bride in horror b-movies is not compelling because of her lack of substance or the question of 'what if?', as it was when she was re-introduced by Whale in 1935. She is compelling through the interweaving of Shelley herself into a creator/creation dynamic, and through the question of 'what will she do next?'.