The Bride and Her Daughters: 5 Horror Films About Ill-Fated Marriages And Queerness

Carrying on the legacy of James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein, watch these movies about ill-fated marriage with themes of queerness and rejection of heteronormativity

The Bride of Frankenstein

My senior year of college, I took a course in children’s literature. I was surprised to find the number of children’s books depicting Frankenstein’s Monster and The Bride as a happy couple, even sometimes parents of monstrous children. This is the greatest dissonance in the way The Bride is remembered. Popular culture remembers The Bride through parody films like Young Frankenstein and children’s media like The Munsters. Both depict The Bride as the monster’s loving, devoted companion. Fans of the original film, however, remember The Bride for Elsa Lancaster’s iconic appearance in the climax of the film; after being created solely to fulfill the role of romantic interest for the lonely monster, The Bride instead reacts to the creature with horror. This leads the monster to destroy the lab and everyone in it, famously proclaiming “We belong dead.”

James Whale’s Bride of Fankenstein has been analyzed through a queer lens by scholars and critics alike, in no small part due to Whale’s own identity as an openly gay man. Readings of the film highlight ways in which Whale injected queer identity into it, such as in the queer coding of the film’s villain Dr. Pretorious, or in the humorous camp sensibility of the character Minni, or even in the miniature creatures that Dr. Pretorious grew from “seed” (?!?!?!) before attempting to create The Bride. 

Perhaps overlooked, however, is The Bride herself. The purpose of her character, and the goal of the film’s characters, is to create a female counterpart for The Monster. That way he can fulfill the heteronormative expectations of living creatures and mate with a woman. When they finally succeed, after days of painstaking work, The Bride instead rejects her role. She screams and runs at the sight of the Monster, shrieking at his tender touch of her hand. 

The Bride’s rejection of this role is what drives the film to its disastrous conclusion. Up until this point, all of the violence in the film has been incited by the humans; rioters with pitchforks and fire attacking the monster, people falling off of cliffs in horror at the sight of him. The appearance of The Bride is the first time the monsters pose a genuine threat. The Bride’s sudden and inhuman shrieks fill the screen. Then the devastated Monster uses his strength to bring them all to their death. This is far from the loving family depicted on the cover of “Frankie Stein.” 

The Bride’s hysteria and rejection of heteronormative roles is the driving force of horror in Bride of Frankenstein’s conclusion. Though she may be misremembered in popular media, her legacy lives on in these five horror films about ill-fated marriages with themes of queerness and rejection of traditional gender roles.

Rebecca (1940)

Much like how Bride of Frankenstein’s titular character only has a few minutes of screentime, Rebecca De Winter doesn’t appear at all in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 thriller. Instead, the story follows the second Mrs. De Winter as she moves into the Manderley mansion, where she is haunted by the memory of the deceased Rebecca. 

Queerness flows throughout Mrs. De Winter’s new marriage, most famously in the character of Ms. Danvers, Manderly’s head housekeeper. Ms. Danvers was so clearly infatuated with the late Rebecca. In one scene she’s even shown caressing an old nightdress of hers, proclaiming “look, you can see my hand through it.” But it doesn’t end there. Rebecca shares Bride of Frankenstein’s twist ending. Maxim De Winter reveals that he and Rebecca were never in love. In fact he loathed her. Though it isn’t explicitly said, it is heavily implied that Rebecca was bisexual, and blackmailed Maxim into faking their marriage together while she used it as a cover for her exploits. 

Though it has a much more sinister tone, Rebecca carries the themes of The Bride through the Hays Code era. Rebecca is, at its heart, about a straight couple driven to madness by the queer community that they have unwittingly allowed into their lives. 

Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

No list about the queer legacy of Frankenstein and The Bride would be complete without this 70’s musical classic. The character of Dr. Frank-N-Furter a direct reference to the original Dr. Frankenstein, Rocky Horror takes all of the queerness and comedy from the original Bride and elevates it to a whole new level. Newly married couple Brad and Janet stumble into a mansion filled with singing and dancing queer characters who bring them into their world on the night that Dr. Frank-N-Furter brings to life a man who he names Rocky. And the film does not misremember the Bride’s fate like so many other Frankenstein parodies. Frank-N-Furter builds Rocky as a male romantic interest for himself. But, in a twist, is enraged when Rocky has straight sex with Janet. 

The film is also often compared to Old Dark House, another James Whale horror film from the 1930s which is frequently read through a queer lens.

Possession (1981)

A stand out from the “video nasty” era, Possession is a surreal, hysteric, tension-filled film about a crumbling marriage, haunted by something sinister. The film follows married couple Mark and Anna when Mark comes home from a work trip to find Anna wants a divorce. The two-inch closer to insanity as the film progresses; Mark in his attempts to understand why his wife would leave him, and Anna in her own inner turmoil about where she belongs in the world and what she wants out of life. It calls back to Bride of Frankenstein in the way that The Monster is driven to destruction by The Bride’s rejection, and The Bride is confused and scared of the purpose set out for her.

From domestic abuse to creature sex to demonic miscarriage, the film is unrelenting in its descent into madness as two people refuse to fit into the roles expected of them. If Rocky Horror is the elevation of Bride of Frankenstein’s comedy, Possession is its companion in terror.

Bride of Chucky (1998)

The title Bride of Chucky is the first signal to viewers that not only will this film add a new character to the Child’s Play franchise, but it will also offer a change in tone. Much like how Bride of Frankenstein contained more comedic elements than its predecessor, Bride of Chucky signals a pivot in the franchise to queer, campy humor, rather than just plain slasher. The film even shows clips from the original Bride of Frankenstein in the scene where Tiffany, Chucky’s girlfriend, watches the film’s climactic ending in a bathtub before being gloriously murdered by Chucky and transferred spiritually into a bride doll. 

The film’s queer identity is brought out not just through references to the original Bride, but even in the casting of Jennifer Tilly, known as a queer icon for her role in the Wachowski sisters’ Bound. Bride of Chucky also contains the franchise’s first gay character in David, the best friend of the two runaway teens at the center of the film. The franchise would go on to be a home for many queer characters, including Chucky and Tiffany’s genderfluid child Glen, the TV series’ Jake Wheeler, and Tiffany herself, who eventually falls for Chucky’s victim and sometimes possessee Nica Pierce. 

Jakob’s Wife (2021)

Anne is the wife of a small-town minister and not much else. That is, until she is bitten by a vampire and begins experiencing strange and terrifying symptoms. This 2021 horror-comedy explores the monstrous bride story from the perspective of the bride herself, where her husband’s ordinary behaviors like chewing and brushing his teeth are just as disgusting as her newfound thirst for fresh blood. 

Though the film’s straight couple are the protagonists and ultimately strive to love one another in spite of Anne’s vampirism, one can’t help but sympathize with Anne’s difficulty in deciding between her monstrous urges and her doting husband. Liberation through monstrosity is a staple in queer and feminist horror. This film tackles it through the monstrous wife perspective that has been present since Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein.

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