Elsa Lanchester as the Bride of Frankenstein
One of the most iconic images in all of horror cinema, the Bride has haunted our nightmares for 75 years now, an eerily beautiful, hissing figure covered in gauze from head-to-toe, draped in a brilliant but inelegant white shroud, and with flaming white streaks shooting up a jazzed, Nefertiti hairdo.
The Bride’s part in the 1935 Universal classic The Bride of Frankenstein is a small one, but it burns instantly and indelibly into one’s psyche, as the radiant Elsa Lanchester and the immortal Boris Karloff enact the ultimate nightmare version of a blind date.
Let’s not forget the Bride herself. It’s hard to believe Whale and make up maestro Jack Pierce could have possibly conceived of another design as iconic as Karloff’s Monster, but they certainly did. Stark, white and erect in look and somewhere between a reptile and a robot in her manner, Elsa Lanchester’s Bride is remarkable, a truly alien figure.
Lanchester’s said to have based her hiss on the swans she and husband Charles Laughton used to feed at a London pond. Her dual performance as Mary Shelley sets the stage for the film perfectly: a delicate, playful near-child, with a demonic twinkle in her eye. “You know how thunder alarms me…” she coos, but we know that within her, darker forces crackle and roll. The beginning of the film finds her frightened, the film itself playing as both sequel and vivid daydream: “The air itself is filled with monsters…” she says of the night, and no one would know better than her.