Doctor Septimus Pretorius

Doctor Septimus Pretorius
Doctor Septimus Pretorius
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus character
Created by Mary Shelley
Gender Male

Septimus Pretorius is a fictional character who appears in the Universal film Bride of Frankenstein (1935). He is played by British stage and film actor Ernest Thesiger.[1] Some sources claim he was originally to have been played by Bela Lugosi or Claude Rains.[2] Others indicate that the part was conceived specifically for Thesiger.[3]


Character overview

Doctor Pretorius is a renegade mad scientist who persuades Henry Frankenstein to resume his experiments with bringing dead flesh to life. An amoral egomaniac, he has no regard for human life or ethics and cares only for his own prestige as a scientist.

Along with his sinister qualities, Pretorius is responsible for a large share of the film's dark humor. He eats a picnic dinner in a crypt, trades prissy banter with the Monster and laments that the tiny ballerina he created "will only dance to Mendelssohn's 'Spring Song.'" He claims that gin is his only weakness. Pretorius also delivers the famous toast "To a new world of gods and monsters!" midway through the film.

In the film

Septimus Pretorius, Frankenstein's former teacher, is a tall, emaciated-looking man with an unusually large nose and devilish pointed ears. A professor of philosophy, Pretorius first points young Henry on the path toward his unwholesome experiments in giving life to the dead. He himself is "booted out" from his teaching post "for knowing too much." Pretorius seeks his former student out after learning that the Monster has survived being trapped in the burning windmill in the climax of the first film. Pretorius himself acknowledges that he may be insane in a conversation with Frankenstein ("You think I'm mad? Perhaps I am!").

Pretorius performs experiments creating life similar to Henry's. He unveils to Henry a group of various homunculi—miniature living humans which he has kept in bottles, and claims to have grown from "seed" like cultures. Each figure represents a different character: a queen, which he claims was his first experiment, a king which is madly in love with the Queen and has a resemblance to Henry VIII, an archbishop which disapproves of what the King is doing, the Devil (a man in a black suit), a dancer, a mermaid (grown from "an experiment with seaweed") which lives in water. Pretorious gleefully compares his own visage to that of the Devil: "Rather a resemblance to me, don't you think? Or do I flatter myself?", a possible allusion to his role as the evil villain. He says sometimes he thinks life would be more interesting if they were all devils. He has been unsuccessful, however, in creating a full-sized human. He proposes to Henry that together they create a mate for his monster, with Henry building the body and Pretorius supplying an artificially-grown brain. Henry initially balks at the idea, but Pretorius reminds him that he is capable of exposing him to the authorities as the creator of the Monster who has done so much damage. Later, he meets the Monster in a crypt where he has gone to steal bodies and is dinging on a coffin. When the Monster asks him 'Friend?' he gives him the remains of his chicken. He tells the Monster of his plans to create a mate for him.

The Monster, eager for companionship of any kind, considers Pretorius his friend, and from then on is willing to do anything that the impish scientist desires, such as kidnapping Henry's wife, Elizabeth, in order to force him to help Pretorius. Henry agrees, and together the two scientists create the Bride of Frankenstein. Unfortunately, even the Bride finds her would-be husband repulsive, and the heartbroken Monster decides to end his life by blowing up the laboratory. He instructs Henry and Elizabeth to run but barks at Pretorius to stay, saying that they "belong dead", possibly because he has realised that Pretorius is evil. Before Pretorius can move, the Monster pulls the lever, blowing up the laboratory and thus the castle. Frankenstein and Elizabeth escape but Pretorius's fate is not revealed. Presumably he was destroyed along with the Monster and the Bride when the tower exploded. The Monster later returned though.

Psychosexual aspects of the character

Dr. Pretorius is frequently identified as homosexual, or as near to homosexual as could be presented on-screen in 1935. (There is, of course, no direct reference to homosexuality in the film.) Bride of Frankenstein director James Whale was openly gay and frequently included camp elements in his films. He directed Thesiger (himself identified in some sources as more or less openly gay[4]) to play the part as an "over the top caricature of a bitchy and aging homosexual."[3] Gay film historian Vito Russo stops short of identifying Pretorius as gay, calling him instead "sissified"[5] ("sissy" itself being Hollywood code for "homosexual"). Pretorius serves as a figure of seduction and temptation, pulling Frankenstein away from his bride on their wedding night to engage in the unnatural act of non-procreative life. The Breen Office, responsible for enforcing Hollywood's Production Code, let Pretorius' behavior pass unchallenged. A novelisation of the film published in England made the implication even more clear, having Pretorius say to Frankenstein, "'Be fruitful and multiply.' Let us obey the Biblical injunction: you of course, have the choice of natural means; but as for me, I am afraid that there is no course open to me but the scientific way."[6]

Other appearances

Pretorius appears in Kim Newman's crossover novel Dracula Cha Cha Cha, as a colleague of H. P. Lovecraft's Herbert West. He appears as one of the horror movie spoofs in Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter and also appears in Allan Rune Pettersson's novel Frankenstein's Aunt Returns.

In the 1973 NBC-TV miniseries Frankenstein: The True Story, James Mason portrays a Pretorius-like figure named Dr. Polidori (named for Lord Byron's real-life physician who was part of the 1816 gathering that produced Mary Shelley's novel & also the author of the story "The Vampyre"). Mason's Dr. Polidori enlists Victor to assist in creating The Bride "Prima" (Jane Seymour).

The 1986 film of H. P. Lovecraft's From Beyond adds a Dr Edward Pretorius at Miskatonic University (played by Ted Sorel) as an dark mentor for Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs). This Pretorius is a impotent sadist (with a room full of bondage gear) who is assimilated by the 'Beyond' and attempts to drag others into it, boasting that the pineal gland growth brought on by the resonator is like "an orgasm of the mind".

In the 1998 Gods and Monsters (1998) Indie film, Directed by Bill Condon, about the last days of the ailing Director James Whale, the character of Dr. Pretorius is played by Arthur Dignam in a flashback reminiscence of the filming of the scene. An earlier scene shows Brendan Fraser as Whale's gardener in a bar watching televised reruns of the 1935 Bride of Frankenstein featuring the climatic scene of Ernest Thesiger as Pretorius and Colin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein unveiling Elsa Lanchester as the Bride.

In the 2007 Frankenstein TV movie that was made in England, the character of Professor Jane Pretorius is based of Septimus Pretorius and served as Victoria Frankenstein's boss.

The same naming gimmick is used in the Cartoon Network puppet production "Mary Shelley's Frankenhole" except that the "Dr. Polidori" puppet is clearly Thesiger's Pretorius in appearance, voice and mannerisms.


  1. ^ Musetto, V.A. (2007-10-21). "Where Oh, Werewolf.". New York Post. Retrieved 2007-12-21. 
  2. ^ Jones, Stephen (2000). The Essential Monster Movie Guide: A Century of Creature Features on Film. Watson-Guptill. p. 63. ISBN 0823079368. 
  3. ^ a b Skal, David J. (1993). The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror. Penguin Books. p. 185. ISBN 0140240020. 
  4. ^ Curtis, James (1998). James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters. Boston: Faber and Faber. p. 240. ISBN 0571192858. 
  5. ^ Russo, Vito (1987). The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies (revised edition). New York: HarperCollins. p. 50. ISBN 0060961325. 
  6. ^ Egremont, Michael, quoted in Skal p. 189

External links

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