Tag Frankenstein

House of Frankenstein (1944)

House of Frankenstein (1944)

FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER! WOLF MAN! DRACULA! HUNCHBACK! MAD DOCTOR!

A freak accident allows Dr Niemann, a follower of Dr Frankenstein, to escape from prison along with his hunchback assistant. Killing and then assuming the place of the owner of a chamber of horrors sideshow, Niemann is shocked to realise that the exhibit contains the skeleton remains of Count Dracula. Reviving Dracula to kill those who imprisoned him in the first place, Niemann then discovers the frozen bodies of the Wolfman, Larry Talbot, and the Frankenstein monster. Promising Talbot he would rid him of his curse if he helped him find Frankenstein’s notes and continue his work, it isn’t long before Niemann encounters problems with his old enemies.

 

House of Frankenstein was the penultimate Universal monster mash (not including the comedy romp with Abbott and Costello in 1948) and it’s clear to see that the studio was running out of steam with their respective franchises. Pitting two of them off against each other in the previous entry Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, the studio beat the Marvel Cinematic Universe bandwagon by decades by acknowledging that two or more of their famous characters inhabited the same universe. The film worked well to combine the two monsters and it was a success so it was inevitable that Universal would continue the trend, adding further monsters to the mix. In doing so, they’ve watered down the formula and, far from being a battle royal of epic proportions featuring the pillars of the horror genre, House of Frankenstein turns into something of an epic mess.

The three classic monsters have all seen far better days and it’s a shame to see how shabby they are treated here. Dracula has become a stereotype of himself, all cape-wearing, wide-eyed, hypnotic and well-mannered rather than a ravenous, hissing sexual monster. The Frankenstein monster, far from the pitiful, pathetic creature of the original Frankenstein, is now just a lumbering brute who walks with his hands stretched out in front of him. The Wolf Man comes out the best but that’s purely because it’s the same actor, Lon Chaney Jr, portraying him and so there’s at least a sense of cohesion between the films. His character hasn’t shown any progression though and is still in the same self-pitying, tormented position as he was in The Wolf Man years earlier. The poor chap just can’t catch a break and desperately falls in with the dangerous Niemann who provides him with false promises.

The main problem with House of Frankenstein isn’t the portrayal of the monsters, it’s that although the film advertises the plot to feature all of the famous monsters going at each other at the same time, the reality is very different and the film is almost split into episodes dealing with the individual monsters. Dracula is first up and his standalone appearance in the first twenty minutes means that he doesn’t interact with either the Wolf Man or Frankenstein monster. The second part of the film focuses on Niemann’s efforts to deal with the Wolf Man and Frankenstein monster. The Wolf Man is the main focus here and then the monster finally comes into play in the final ten minutes or so. It’s all a very disjointed narrative and something which clearly shows the desperation to which the writers tried to crowbar every monster into the film.

At seventy minutes, the film isn’t overly long and so needs every moment that it can to give the monsters enough time to make an impression. But even with this length, the film does feel like gross padding on many occasions and the split narrative really doesn’t help. Thankfully Boris Karloff’s Niemann does anchor the film and he’s the central component to which the monsters rotate around. Karloff, returning to the series after previously portraying the monster, is in malicious form as the well-mannered but clearly insane doctor. He runs away with the film and his performance certainly adds an extra relish to proceedings.

 

Either of the separate stories could have filled the entire film and it wouldn’t have made much difference. What we do get with House of Frankenstein is a muddled effort where you get a little taster of each of the monsters, not enough to really spoil them too much, and end up wanting more of them. It’s brisk entertainment, not the best or worst of Universal’s horror films, but definitely one of a defining era of team-ups which would set the benchmark for Toho and Godzilla and Marvel and it’s superheroes in years to come.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Frankenstein’s Army (2013)

Frankenstein's Army (2013)

What is dead may never die

Towards the end of World War 2, a group of Russian soldiers pushing into German territory stumble upon a secret Nazi lab that has been conducting unthinkable experiments based upon the work of Dr Victor Frankenstein.

 

Are you old enough to have played any of the Wolfenstein games? They were a successful series of first-person shooters set during WW2 and had the player facing off against waves of monstrous Nazi experiments in Castle Wolfenstein. They played upon the weird and perverse fascination that many people have regarding the Nazis and their experiments on the occult. In the darker days of WW2, it was long rumoured that Hitler and his top brass were looking for ways to win the war and the occult was one direction that they tried to take. It’s proven to be a gold mine for filmmakers over the years with everyone from Hellboy to Indiana Jones confronting Nazis who were attempting some black magic rituals.

Frankenstein’s Army is Wolfenstein brought to life, an vividly imaginative and concept-fuelled horror film which not only follows in the footsteps of films which dealt with the Nazi occult but stamps its own madcap mark on the sub-genre. Forget Dead Snow, Outpost or Iron Sky, this is the new benchmark of Nazi-themed horror, a uniquely perverse assault on the senses which takes no prisoners, leaves no idea unturned and will have you cheering and squirming in equal measure.

First things first though – enough of the found footage horror films already! With The Blair Witch Project being fourteen years old and Cloverfield coming up on five years, it’s about time that filmmakers put that fad to bed despite the odd success (Troll Hunter, I’m looking at you). Frankenstein’s Army shoe-horns this gimmicky, over-exposed plot device into the film for reasons unknown and it’s a mixed bag as to how successful it is. The situations that the cameraman finds himself in are too contrived for him to feasibly hold the camera and record everything in the face of overwhelming danger (let’s face it, confronted with those zom-bot monsters, you and I would run a mile). Other situations have characters coming up with reasons for the camera to be recording the action (the finale springs to mind). It forces the script to become too focused on the camera and less about what is going on. There’s just no need for the film to use this gimmick and it would have worked better without it.

However, at other times, Frankenstein’s Army uses the technique brilliantly, with the camera sometimes swinging around to reveal a monster half-glimpsed down a corridor or something moving around in the back of the shot. But it’s nothing that couldn’t have been achieved with a normal camera and you get the sense that you’re missing a lot of the great stuff because the camera is shaking or facing the wrong way.

After the initially drawn-out sequences of the Russian soldiers going about their mission, all hell literally breaks loose as Frankenstein’s army of cybernetic monsters springs into life. Human remains fused with machine parts, these hideous monsters are steam-punk inspired  Nazi creations right out of Hell. Frankenstein’s Army then plays its aces, unleashing some of the most surreal and nightmarish creatures to emerge over the past ten years. Though filmed on a low budget, Frankenstein’s Army packs in some incredible production design that would put the majority of Hollywood mega-budget films to shame. The tour of Frankenstein’s laboratory that takes place in the final third is simply a fright-fuelled trip through the warped mind of director Richard Raaphorst. It’s like a walk through a Nazi/occult-themed Halloween funhouse and the first-person point-of-view really hammers this home. Gloomy, damp, smoky visuals with machines rumbling in the background, screams and monstrous moans happening around the camera, and with the sight of hulking robotic zombies with knife-fingers or propellers for heads staggering from room to room with bloody, dismembered corpses lying around the floor, it’s an unforgettable scene. Grotesque, gurgling creatures emerge from behind doorways or heave themselves up out of chutes with no warning. It’s a claustrophobic setting, with no escape and a deadly surprise lurking around every corner.

Where Frankenstein’s Army will win most plaudits with genre lovers is with this large variety of practical effects-based monsters. The only comparison I can make with them is to think of the Cenobites from the Hellraiser films and how uniquely outlandish and terrifying they were when they appeared for the first time – like nothing you had ever seen before. The selection of Nazi monsters here has that same ‘wow’ factor. You won’t have seen anything as unearthly and as abhorrent as these monsters, each individually unique in their composition. Frankenstein’s traditional fleshy patchwork experimentations take on new life when fused with mechanical parts. In different hands, these monsters could have turned out cartoony and ridiculous. But director Richard Raaphorst treats them with respect, refusing to allow their dubious nature to dominate, and keeps them grounded in as much reality as possible.

If there is a big drawback with Frankenstein’s Army, it’s that I doubt it will find much affection outside of hardcore horror fans. The plot is too simple, the characters are thinly-sketched stereotypes and the film does seem to power ahead solely on its conceptual ideas and the “I wonder what we’ll see next” approach. Those expecting a torrent of blood will be disappointed as well. The majority of the gore is from freshly-dismembered corpses lying about Frankenstein’s lab rather than any damage the creatures do to the Russian soldiers.

 

In case you haven’t realised by reading this review, I loved Frankenstein’s Army. It’s one of the most rewarding horror films I’ve watched for a long time and whilst it’s not likely to be everyone’s cup of tea, there’s no denying how original and creative it is. Sadly the use of the found footage approach restricts the scope of the great visuals that we get to experience, leaving the audience wanting to see more. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing given how the film ends.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 

 

 

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)

A Death Fight . . . Between Two Beasts!

A couple of grave robbers inadvertently awaken the corpse of Lawrence Talbot, the wolf man who many had thought died four years ago. Hospitalised after being found unconscious in the street, Talbot warns Dr Mannering about what happens during a full moon but no one will listen to him. After attacking and killing a policeman, Talbot flees to Europe where he hopes to track down the infamous Dr Frankenstein in the belief that he could free him from the curse. As Frankenstein is dead, Talbot uncovers the frozen monster and enlists its help to track down Frankenstein’s diary which contain the secrets to life and death.

 

Designed to inject new life into its flagging Frankenstein series, Universal came up with the idea for a monster mash-up – the first of its kind – between two of its iconic monsters. The fourth (and previous) entry into the Frankenstein series, The Ghost of Frankenstein, had played out the standard formula once too often and a new direction was needed for the series. However, The Wolf Man had not received a direct sequel and that material seemed fresh in the minds of Universal who wanted to produce a follow-up. An unholy union of monsters was dreamt up to kill two birds with one stone and the resultant film has become something of a landmark in the horror genre. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man saw the first time that two heavyweight horror characters came face-to-face with each other, a feat that would be repeated numerous times by Universal in the coming years, throwing Dracula into the mix as well in future films.

Whilst it’s miles away from the serious qualities of both Frankenstein and The Wolf Man, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is the first Universal horror film which is just a plain fun B-movie. It is more of a follow-up to The Wolf Man than it is to The Ghost of Frankenstein as the bulk of the screen time is devoted to the story of the tragic Lawrence Talbot and his unstoppable ability to turn into a wolf whenever there is a full moon, with the Frankenstein monster thrown in for good measure (shouldn’t it be therefore called Frankenstein’s Monster Meets the Wolf Man?). The story is of less importance than it pretends to be – the lure of seeing these two pair off would have been fine no matter how much or little story there was. As it turns out, the story is reasonably well-thought out which tries to adhere to both series’ continuity as best as it can but ultimately ends up giving neither monster a particular good reason to fight the other.

The best part of the film is the first half which solely focuses on Lawrence Talbot. Fresh from an excellent opening sequence involving grave robbers and crypt, the film then develops Talbot’s character and faithfully sticks to consequences that had arisen from The Wolf Man. Lon Chaney Jr. returns as Talbot, bringing some apathy to the role of the doomed character. Chaney Jr’s performance is rather blunt and simple but works well and it’s arguably his best turn in the make-up. You really feel for him as all he wants to do is die to rid himself of the curse but no one will believe his story. There are a few transformation scenes which still look the part and the werewolf make-up has been much improved since the first film. It is this part of the film which showed why The Wolf Man deserved a stand-alone sequel of its own before it was thrown to Frankenstein and Dracula to save it.

Things take a turn for the worse when the Frankenstein monster is introduced to the mix and the story, which had been moving at a decent pace, eventually becomes too rushed for its own good. The second half of the film virtually repeats the same mistakes as the previous Frankenstein films, with the monster being resurrected, another scientist attempting to solve its mysteries and then the eventual showdown with the local people (in slightly different form though they have the final say on the matter). Talbot becomes less of a focus though he’s still the major player.

Bela Lugosi is the monster here and he’s pretty appalling in the role it has to be said. Apparently Lugosi was told to that the monster was blind and that it would have some dialogue (following on from the previous Frankenstein film). So his performance, all stiff-legged and arms outstretched with some mumbling lines, was meant to portray that idea but for whatever reason (presumably his thick accent) these lines were scrapped during post production and we’re never informed that the monster is blind. During the film you can see his mouth moving but nothing is coming out. The resultant bizarre performance has become the much-parodied definition of the Frankenstein monster which you’ll see people doing at fancy dress parties the world over on Halloween.

Inevitably the film boils down to the showdown between the monster and the Wolf Man. Don’t get your hopes up because the fight isn’t great on the screen but it’s pretty significant from a historical point of view. It’s no holds barred as the two tussle with each other across the laboratory. Just seeing the two together on screen for the first time is exciting enough but the film waits too long to unleash its prized assets on each other. Still, for 1943 I can imagine the anticipation at such a cinematic bout.

 

Forget the chills and spills of the previous Universal horror films, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is more of an action and adventure piece which is unashamedly exploitative with both series. But it’s a lot of fun on its own merits, working better as a spiritual successor to The Wolf Man than an amalgamation of two iconic horror characters. 

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Frankenstein Conquers the World (1966)

Frankenstein Conquers the World (1966)

He rolled the Seven Wonders of the World into one!

During World War II, the Germans steal the immortal heart of Frankenstein’s monster from a lab in Europe and take it to their Japanese allies. Here, the heart is caught in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and is exposed to radiation. The heart slowly mutates and grows into a full body which then escapes into the countryside. Years later, the now-grown feral boy is captured by scientists who want to study it. But the boy keeps growing until he is over 20ft tall. Escaping from captivity once more, the giant is blamed for the destruction of a mountain area near Mount Fuji. But in reality this is the work of a giant reptile named Barugon which has come out of the centre of the Earth. Frankenstein and Barugon cross paths and fight to the death.

 

Jeez that was a long-winded plot summary but I could have gone on for hours trying to explain Toho’s Frankenstein Conquers the World, one of their many standalone kaiju flicks which didn’t feature Godzilla or Mothra but instead, rather bizarrely, tries to draw influence from Mary Shelley’s classic Gothic novel Frankenstein. What follows is one of Toho’s most unique films, in every sense of the word. Who would have though a literature classic would find its way into the world of kaiju eiga?

Toho roped in long-term Godzilla main man Ishirô Honda for the directing duties but there was no way that even he would be able to get a grip on the subject matter. The plot is bonkers: the script has loads of ideas (using the original script from King Kong Vs Godzilla which had Godzilla fighting Frankenstein instead) but once Frankenstein has grown to full size, there’s literally nothing left for him to do except follow the kaiju formula by squaring off with another giant monster. These scripts don’t lead anywhere else except to a giant fight at the finale and this is no exception. So what you basically get is a lot of filler and padding out before the fight.

I guess Toho finally ran out of monster ideas for this one and simply had a grown man stomping around on the miniature set instead of designing a suit or even some half-decent make-up for the actor to wear. We know that the monsters in these kaiju films are just guys in suits anyway but the illusion is ruined at the sight of a normal guy doing the stomping. He’s given a flat top skull piece to wear, some really goofy buck-teeth and an overlarge, soiled nappy to wear. Hardly the stuff of nightmares! Frankenstein is little threat to Japan, let alone coming close to living up to the title of conquering the world.

What little money was left over (and I must be talking pennies here) was ‘invested’ into the Barugon suit. When I say invested, I mean that it was probably found in a bin somewhere. Barugon (not to be confused with the creature of the same name who did battle with Gamera) looks like something the pet dog of a five year might wear on Halloween. Definitely one of those “you can see the zipper” monsters. Barugon shows up for literally no other reason than to provide Frankenstein with something to do once he reaches ‘giant monster’ status. Given that he’s flesh and blood, a full-fledged assault by the usually-toothless Japanese military might have actually paid dividends for a change. But Frankenstein has to make do with Barugon to fight – Godzilla would have made for a more memorable opponent.

Come to mention it, apart from the giant monster side of the film, the Frankenstein elements work quite well. Whilst Mary Shelley’s work is uncredited, the source material is reasonably followed – this is a monster who is not naturally violent or aggressive but misunderstood and only reacts the way he does because of the way he has been treat. He only kills when he has to do and manages to get some sympathy and pity from the audience. Sadly, as I’ve already stated, the film gives the monster little to do and instead saddles the bulk of the screen time with the scientists who look after him but are not interesting enough to hold together the film. American actor Nick Adams was decent enough in Invasion of the Astro-Monsters but he can’t save this mess on his own, relegated to almost commentary-duty as he and the others watch the giant monsters fight it out. Admittedly, the fight between the two monsters isn’t the worst you’re ever going to see in one of these films but only for the pure camp value of seeing a man wearing a nappy fighting another man in a moth-balled lizard suit on a crumbling miniature set!

 

Toho’s script is an interesting failure where the best elements are those which have been inspired from the Gothic novel and the worst ones have been lifted from every other kaiju film out there. Frankenstein Conquers the World tries to work the two together in a very mis-matched way but which was somehow successful and popular enough to spawn a sequel.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1992)

Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1992)

A killer is waiting… In the past, present and future.

After escaping from the wax museum with their lives, Mark and Sarah think that the ordeal is over. But a severed hand has survived and follows Sarah home, killing her father and framing her for murder. In order to clear her name, the couple go to the late Sir Wilfred’s house to look for evidence. Here they find a pre-recorded film to play by Sir Wilfred and a compass which unlocks the doors of the universe. Travelling through time to find some evidence, Mark and Sarah must then do battle with Lord Scarabus, a time warrior, in order to get back home.

 

Yeah it’s a flimsy plot which has nothing to do with waxworks at all but Waxwork II: Lost in Time is certainly not a sequel to get lost on story. A lot more tongue-in-cheek than the original was, this sequel is virtually a series of interconnected homages based around other films – kind of like a grown-up version of Time Bandits without the little dwarves running around doing silly stuff. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and the MacGuffin of the time portals is such a contrived plot device that it’s best you switch your brain off right at the start – even the idea to go back in time and find evidence to support Sarah’s court case is ludicrously manufactured just to get the duo moving on their travels. It’s weak. We know it. I think the characters know it too. But hey, once they start flying through time, we don’t care.

Though the film picks up moments after the original ended, it’s hard to believe that the film is supposed to be following on. With Zach Galligan looking a lot older and a new actress playing Sarah, the film should have just started up a few years down the line. Plot aside, the film does work in places but it’s too sporadic to be considered a cult classic like the original despite director Anthony Hickox’s best efforts to make it one. Technically Mark and Sarah don’t even travel through time as they flit from film to film. Firstly, they arrive in Baron Frankenstein’s mansion before stumbling into a spoof of The Haunting and a spaceship which has an Alien-sized problem. The Frankenstein segment is terrible, with Martin Kemp hamming it up with an overblown German accent as the Baron, but there is a ghoulishly gory ending which I wasn’t expecting (and it was nice to see). The two following spoofs both work well.

Bruce Campbell makes an appearance in The Haunting segment and it’s one of the best parts of the film as his lofty professor has his chest ripped open and rib cage exposed. His character tries to downplay the severity of his injuries (ala the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail) and attempts to save him and stop the ghost result in inadvertent torture and hilarity. Campbell owns the scene and downplays his performance to a tee. The segment has also been filmed in black and white to add to the original The Haunting vibe (and there are also a few The Evil Dead nods too).

The Alien spoof drags out a guy-in-a-suit as the alien, lots of visual nods to Ridley Scott’s classic and a cast who seem to be trying their best to keep a straight face. Heavy on prosthetics and gloriously cheesy old school make-up effects, this sequence probably does the best of trying to recapture the old 80s horror-comedy feel. The alien is quite a dab hand at crushing things, especially humans, and the face-hugger style monster at the ends drips with goo. Again it’s a nice homage to Alien and doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Sadly the rest of the story takes place during a Middle Ages period featuring King Arthur and the villain of the piece, Lord Scarabus (played by infamous Die Hard villain Alexander Godunov) and it’s the most boring of the segments. It’s almost as if the story ran out of budget to continually have the characters appearing on new sets every few minutes and decided to ground them in one place for the duration – unfortunately for us it is the most boring time zone in the film.

Thankfully the final fight between Mark and Scarabus involves the two men fighting through time, encountering the likes of Mr Hyde, Nosferatu, Jack the Ripper, zombies from a Dawn of the Dead-style shopping mall and some giant monster I’m assuming is meant to be Godzilla amongst others. This sequence alone is worth the wait: the film effortlessly switches between its homages as the characters tussle through the time doorways. It’s certainly a more structured finale than the original had but the rounding off of the film with the stupid court room scene ends things on a whimper. We know how ridiculous the premise had been at the time and this last scene proves it.

 

Waxwork II: Lost in Time is a slightly different take on the same material as the original but still a lot of fun nevertheless. Some of the homages seem hackneyed and just included by the makers of the film to say “hey, look we know our films” but there’s a good-natured vibe running underneath everything and whilst some of the material is gory or violent, it is never meant to be taken any other way than campy tongue-in-cheek fun.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Monster Brawl (2011)

Monster Brawl (2011)

It’s the fight of the living dead!

Eight classic monsters fight to the death in an explosive wrestling tournament set inside an abandoned and cursed graveyard.

 

That’s about as much story as you’re going to get from Monster Brawl. It’s an ill-fated film with a one-note idea – that of some sort of WWE-style professional wrestling organisation featuring classic horror monsters doing battle with each other – but it doesn’t work as a feature film in the slightest and seems to have been aimed squarely at wrestling fans. Quite simply, this has no real business being classed as a film and it’s more like watching a pay-per-view wrestling event with a handful of matches on the card.

The entire narrative is strung together by the two commentators who attempt to keep the film somewhat cohesive. But there are no character arcs to follow, no plot threads which unwind and no real centrepieces to the film. This gives Monster Brawl a very weird pace but again, it’s supposed to be aping a typical pay-per-view event so you’ll get the big attraction matches every so often with a load of filler build-up in between, as interviews and backstage clips of the competitors attempt to build the next match. Whilst it’s all done with a good heart, it doesn’t make for compelling film. Even the monsters are just there or thereabouts – nothing much is said about them, they have no real back stories or characters. It all makes for a very disjointed film which has no pace whatsoever and no real hook to keep the viewer interested.

To begin with, and the film’s biggest weakness, is that Monster Brawl requires wrestling knowledge, thus immediately alienating a lot of its potential fan base. I am a wrestling fan so it wasn’t rocket science to me to know what is going on but for novices or those with no interest in the ‘sport’ it’s going to be a bit of an ask to understand all of the in-jokes, references and actually give two hoots about what is happening. Plus there is the glaring fact that there is a lot of wrestling! Whilst a film series like Rocky managed to turn its boxing matches into exciting spectacles that non-boxing fans could watch without fuss, it also had characters and story driving them along. There are no characters here save for the two commentators and given the nature of the film, there is never any intention to develop them. Therefore the wrestling matches look just like those you’d seen on television.

The roster of monsters for the film reads as follows: Frankenstein’s monster, a vampire, a swamp monster, a Cyclops, a zombie, a wolfman, a witch and a mummy.The old fashioned monsters vary in their appearance, though one would question the inclusion of such ‘famous’ monsters as the Cyclops as a bit of a cop-out. Where’s The Gill Man? Or even the Phantom of the Opera or Quasimodo? Frankenstein’s monster looks pretty bad ass and the intimidating man under the make-up, Robert Maillet, was a professional wrestler before he switched to making movies like 300 (as the Uber-Immortal).

In fact all of the people playing the monsters were or are wrestlers in real life. So at least the wrestling matches have some degree of choreography and suspension of disbelief to them.  Given that the costumes range from the cumbersome to the silly, the matches work better than they should do, though anyone expecting a Savage-Steamboat classic (commonly heralded as the greatest wrestling match of all time from Wrestlemania III) should perhaps think twice. At times the matches get embarrassing and really hammer home the ‘wrestling is fake’ stigma that many fans like me just cringe at hearing.

Wrestling alumni Jimmy ‘The Mouth of the South’ Hart and Kevin Nash appear in small roles, presumably questioning just how low their careers have dropped since the glory days of headlining main events in WWF/WWE and WCW. And the referee is played by real-life MMA official Herb Dean. Ironically the most famous wrestler in the film, Nash, doesn’t even get chance to bust out any of his famous moves and Hart is literally hanging around the ring for name recognition only and contributes nothing to the film whatsoever. But then again, nothing much does.

Speaking of plummeting careers, Lance Henriksen lends his voice to the film, reciting a load of voiceover soundbytes that could have been lifted out of a Mortal Kombat game. At least he didn’t have to appear in it!

 

Monster Brawl would have worked well as a series of Youtube vignettes but as a film, it’s just a non-starter. These are the sort of low brow gimmicked wrestling matches you might see at a circus or carnival where the novelty value will keep you entertained for one match or so but not for the entire show. As a wrestling fan, this was a major disappointment.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Jeepers! The creepers are after Bud and Lou!

Two hapless freight handlers, Wilbur and Chick, are asked to dispatch two crates to a local wax museum, allegedly containing the bodies of Dracula and the Frankenstein monster. In the midst of their bumbling behaviour, Dracula is freed and he sets about reviving the Frankenstein monster to act as his servant. In order to make the monster more docile, Dracula decides to implant another brain into it and singles out Wilbur for the host.

 

After Universal Studios had exhausted their iconic horror monsters by pairing them off against each other in less and lesser films like House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula, they looked for a new hook in which to breathe new life into their flagging fortunes. At the same time, popular comedy duo Abbott and Costello were beginning to run out of ideas and they too needed a new injection of life to keep themselves on the top of their game (being one of the biggest box office draws of their time). Someone came up with the madcap idea of pairing both Abbott and Costello and the Universal monsters off against each other and thus a legacy was born.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is quite simply fantastic comedy-horror at its most innocent and delightful. There are no pretences here. No smut. It is not desperate to make you laugh. It’s all natural, light-hearted entertainment. This is mainly down to the leading pair. Like many successful double-acts, their teaming has a simple set-up: Abbott is the straight man, Costello the buffoon. The two react to each other perfectly, retorting with slapstick, physical comedy or some zippy one-liners. One particular routine that they re-use is one in which Costello sees the monster of the piece but it disappears before Abbott comes along. Then Costello desperately tries to convince Abbott that he’s just seen something horrible but Abbott won’t believe him. It’s a good routine and one which they re-used time and time again. Add in a revolving door, Dracula and the Frankenstein monster to this skit and you’ve got one (or two since the routine is worked twice here) of the best examples of comic delivery from this era.

What is great about the film is that the script treats the monsters with respect. They are not the sources of the comedy and the butt of the jokes but are portrayed as serious characters. Rather it is the actions and reactions of Abbott and Costello which provide the laughs. The monsters follow on from their previous cinematic treatment: Dracula is manipulative and charismatic, the Wolf Man a tragic figure and the Frankenstein monster as a lumbering giant with an infant mentality. The monsters are given reasonably equal screen time so that you get a decent dose of each one.

Bela Lugosi is back as Count Dracula and I was shocked to find that this was only the second time he had played the role of the famous vampire, following on from Dracula in 1931. Dracula is the main villain of the piece, getting slightly more to do than the other monsters throughout the film as a whole but suffering a little towards the finale. The Frankenstein monster does the opposite to Dracula, starting off as a bit player but becoming the main focus in the last third. The Wolf Man, played by horror legend Lon Chaney Jr, gets little more to do than run around growling in the background most of the time when the other monsters are around. The script could quite easily have worked just as well without him (and in fact save the Wolf Man for a less-crowded sequel where he could be the main focus) but he does get his own individual moments to shine with a few transformation scenes.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was the final Universal film to feature Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolf Man for fifty six years until the release of Van Helsing. Oddly enough, despite the monsters being paired off against each other in previous films, it is in this one where the Wolf Man and Dracula physically get involved with each other.

 

It’s a fitting finale to this classic period of vintage horror and the overall send-off that the monsters receive in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is the perfect kind-hearted tribute to a golden era. Easily one of the greatest comedy-horrors of all time.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 

 

 

Revenge of Frankenstein, The (1958)

The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)

The Terror Rises Again

Sentenced to death by guillotine for the actions of his murderous first creation, Baron Frankenstein hatches an ingenious escape with the help of his assistant. He relocates to a new town, adopting the name ‘Dr Stein’ and opens up a medical practice to help the poor and the sick. But this practice is just a front for his latest experiments and, with a steady supply of body parts from his dying patients, Frankenstein is determined to correct the mistakes he made with his original creation. Things don’t according to plan once again as his creation exhibits deadly side-effects.

 

When Hammer made The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957, they didn’t realize that it would revolutionize the horror genre and become a landmark films of its kind. As we all know too well by now, commercially successful films are easy cash cows when it comes to studios planning their next moves. The day of the sequel is almost as old as cinema itself and Hammer quickly cranked out The Revenge of Frankenstein, the only true sequel to the original which picks up directly where the first one left us.

Unlike the Universal Frankenstein sequels which focused on the monster, the Hammer series made the Baron himself the main character and the sequels followed his progress and development. It’s a novel idea and allowed Hammer the chance to continue to reinvent the story, tweaking different parts and adding new challenges for Frankenstein to keep the material fresh over time.

The Revenge of Frankenstein kicks off with an ingenious start to the film. As Frankenstein is being escorted to the guillotine, it turns out that the executioner and his assistant are both in cahoots with him. This is good news for the Baron, who escapes but bad news for the overseeing priest who takes his place to get the chop. Jimmy Sangster picks back up the writer’s pen and adds new, resourceful ideas to his original story which really enhances Frankenstein and brings out the best in both character and actor. Unfortunately the film doesn’t show half as much creativity during the rest of its running time, opting to become a weaker retread of the first film. It’s nowhere near as dark, as clever or downright entertaining as the original. That’s not to say it doesn’t have much merit, it’s just that the original set high standards that the series always tries to better but never manages to.

Director Terence Fisher is back for this one and he replicates the same sort of Gothic vibe and atmosphere to create the illusion that this is the same world, the same time and the same place as the original. The pace of the film is good and the real pleasure as an audience is seeing how long Frankenstein will be able to get away with using his pseudonym before he’s found out. It’s going to happen at some point and the highlight scene of the film is the one in which the monster bursts through the ballroom window, publicly confronting ‘Dr Stein’ and outing him in front of his peers. The ending shows just as much inspiration as the beginning and sets the way up for another sequel quite ingeniously. It’s a pity that the following sequel didn’t use it and instead rebooted the series.

The Frankenstein series is notable for giving horror, in fact cinema in general, one of it’s greatest ever villains in the form of Peter Cushing’s Frankenstein. Never a man to phone through a performance, Cushing infuses the role with all of his acting skill, portraying a character of immense complexity. Cushing’s Frankenstein is a little more sympathetic in this one and he doesn’t send the monster out to kill anyone. He’s more a man blinded by science than an outright psycho. He seems no problem with stealing body parts for the progression of science and his bitter contempt for his inferior counterparts is masked through his charming personality. This is a man who would hug his own mother and tell her he loves her whilst knifing her in the back to take out a kidney if he thought it would better science. His heart is in the right place but every time you think Frankenstein is back on the straight-and-narrow, along comes something ambitious which drags him back into a murky world.

Christopher Lee does not return as the monster, his Hammer star quickly rising thanks to his role as Dracula in Horror of Dracula. As a result, the new monster is a bit of a let down. To say he’s been patched up from body parts, there’s no stitch marks or scars or any visible signs that he was anything abnormal. He just looks like a normal man, albeit a very tall one. He’s not as intimidating or threatening as he was before and most of the menace is lost. But in tweaking the monster this way, the series was able to reinvent itself time and time again so that it wasn’t just the same story over and over. Frankenstein didn’t repeat the same mistakes, he was always trying out new ways of creating and preserving life. Here, Frankenstein is doing the right thing by giving his crippled assistant the chance of a new life by giving him a new body albeit it with disastrous consequences.

Michael Gywnn does at least convey a lot of emotion as the monster, his cries of “Frankenstein – help me” during the very public confrontation with Frankenstein brings out a lot of sympathy for the monster. He’s a tragic character but simply an unwitting pawn in Frankenstein’s ultimate game to cheat death.

 

The Revenge of Frankenstein is top notch Hammer horror at its best, simply overshadowed by a classic original and a few superior sequels. How many franchises can you name which offer up a handful of fresh and original stories in such a manner as the Frankenstein series? It’s few and far between. To be honest though, the title is a bit misleading as Frankenstein doesn’t get his revenge – only what is coming to him.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Evil of Frankenstein, The (1964)

The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

He’s never been more shocking! shocking! shocking!

Forced to leave town over his unethical experiments, Frankenstein and his assistant Hans return to their home town of Karlstaad to take up residence at his family’s old chateau. Frankenstein even discovers his old creation, frozen in ice in the mountains. After bringing it back to life, Frankenstein finds that it will not respond to commands. So he enlists the services of a Zoltan, an unscrupulous hypnotist, to animate it properly. Zoltan has other plans for the monster though and uses it to extract his revenge on the local authorities who forced him out of town.

 

The first of the Frankenstein films not to be directed by Terence Fisher, The Evil of Frankenstein is considered one of the weakest of the series and it’s not really hard to argue that point. That’s more to do with the fact that the other films are all of excellent quality and not because this one is poor in any way. It’s just that it’s the least memorable entry by a long shot. Peter Cushing was still playing Frankenstein which is the main thing!

The Evil of Frankenstein was to be distributed in America by Universal and a deal was struck with the studio to allow Hammer the rights to copy as much of the original Frankenstein as they liked. Unable to use Jack Pierce’s legendary make-up design for the monster back when The Curse of Frankenstein was made, Hammer jumped at the chance to include it in this one. In turning the film into a vague remake of Universal’s classic, Hammer lost all of the unique attributes they’d brought to the table back in 1957. The make-up just doesn’t look right on a Hammer creation for a start – it’s forehead looks like glue and oatmeal and it’s big, bulky shoes make it somewhat of a comedic sight to behold. The other monsters in the series were a lot more believable because they didn’t use Pierce’s make-up and the designers had to get creative with how they approached their creations. It looks a little old fashioned and out-of-date (with no disrespect to Pierce’s legendary design) and it certainly doesn’t fit in with the new direction that Hammer had taken the story to distinguish themselves from the Universal series. The series ditched the design after this one and continued to creatively challenge the notion of the monster in the following entries, most notably with the next instalment Frankenstein Created Woman, the title of which seems to really tell you what you need to know about the ‘monster’ in that one.

Even Hammer’s sets don’t look as lavish and colourful as usual – they tend to be bleak and devoid of any life. Frankenstein’s laboratory complete with huge electric coils owes a lot more than just gratitude to the 1933 film. The sets have dated badly over time and look like the worst of the series but that’s no surprise considering they were ripping them straight from the 30s. Another bone of contention is the lack of continuity shown to the series. This one has a flashback to the events of The Curse of Frankenstein but re-shoots them and re-tells them in a different way. And no reference is made at all to the events of The Revenge of Frankenstein with the exception of the character of Hans. What about the new body that Frankenstein got at the end of that film?

And what about Frankenstein himself? The character is less scientifically-driven here and more sympathetic. One of the strengths of the character was always in achieving his end goal by any means but that takes a back seat so that he can settle a few scores with the locals. At least Cushing is on top form again. He’s excellent as the scientist and it’s hard to imagine anyone even coming close to portraying Frankenstein as well as he did. This is Cushing’s role forever and he relishes every minute of it – listen to the line he says when he removes the heart from a body right in front of the body snatcher, smugly claiming that “he won’t need it anymore.” Still, the character loses the traits he’d gained from the previous films, reverting back into a more clichéd, sympathetic and misunderstood character.

The addition of Zoltan the hypnotist isn’t really needed either and he takes something away from the whole re-animation/life after death process that Frankenstein was all about. However the odious Peter Woodthorpe still manages to put in a sly and underhand performance to win over any critics of his ability. It’s a great part to play and Woodthorpe relishes every moment, verbally squaring up to Cushing in some of the film’s best scenes.

 

You’d think I hate the film judging by the review but it’s not the end of the world. The Evil of Frankenstein is one of the weakest films of the series but when you consider how good some of the other films are, that shouldn’t really be taken as a damaging blow. It just doesn’t live up to the standards that the other films have set and seems too busy cashing in on the opening of the Universal flood gates to do anything nearly as good.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

The Ultimate in Evil!

Baron Frankenstein claims to have the knowledge to implant the soul of a dead person into another body. He just needs the right opportunity to prove it. This comes when Hans, a lab assistant for Frankenstein, is wrongly convicted of the murder of a tavern owner and sent to the guillotine as a result. He was spending the night with the tavern owner’s disfigured daughter, Christina and instead of bringing shame upon her, he chose to face death. Upon seeing him executed, Christina throws herself into the river and commits suicide. Frankenstein acquires the two bodies and transplants Hans’ soul into Christina’s body. When she finally comes to, she only has one thing on her mind – revenge on those who really did kill the tavern owner.

 

The fourth of the Hammer Frankenstein films, Frankenstein Created Woman is a return to form for the franchise after the mid-series disaster that was The Evil of Frankenstein. Hammer twiddled with the formula, tried to tie that film more closely in with the 1932 Universal Frankenstein and ended up with a disappointing sequel which alienated a lot of people. So Terence Fisher was brought back on board to direct and steer the series back in the right direction. He does an admirable job even if the results aren’t there with the best of the series.

The most conceptually challenging of the sequels, Frankenstein Created Woman borders on science fiction for a lot of its running time, tempting the audience with questions about mortality and sexuality. Alas it never really delves too far into these issues, instead opting for the easier route. There’s plenty of talk about trapping the soul after death and the moral implications that such a discovery would herald but the film only skirts these issues. It also spends too little time in creating a confusing character once Hans’ soul is transported into Christina’s body. There were possibilities to examine the obvious gender confusion that would arise from dying as a man and waking up as a woman. But all the film does is to allow Hans/Christina the chance to get even with the real killers. It’s an opportunity to turn the film into something a little more challenging to the viewer but one which goes begging as the formulaic Frankenstein story rears it’s ugly head and the ‘monster’ does what it’s supposed to do by breaking free from Frankenstein’s control. Even then this part of the story is confined to the final third.

Instead, Frankenstein Created Woman serves itself up more of some tragic Shakespearian romantic story between the two ultimately-doomed young lovers. It’s also lower on blood and gore than usual, Frankenstein manages to obtain a whole body (and thus one can argue that he doesn’t actually ‘create’ anything here) so there’s no need for costly (and gory) brain surgery. That’s not to say there isn’t any blood on show – it is a revenge film after all and the trio of troublemakers get what’s coming to them in traditional slasher style.

The Baron is reduced to a supporting role for the majority of the film and it’s a tad disappointing because it means you’ll see a lot less of the series’ shining light, Peter Cushing. Like the rest of these films, Cushing is at his best when he’s talking down to people he finds inferior, which is pretty much everyone else! A rude and arrogant character, there’s a natural charisma to the performance which allows the audience to smile with him when he’s cutting down counterparts with a verbal barrage. He doesn’t murder anyone himself in this one and is more restrained in his evil shenanigans as he leaves all of the bloody carnage to Christina, beautifully played by Susan Denberg. You’ll never buy the fact that she’s an ‘ugly’ cripple at the start of the film and save for a limp and facial scar, she’s pretty hot to begin with. But once she’s back from the dead, she turns into a drop-dead gorgeous siren mode.

As a prelude to some of the rape revenge films of the 70s, she uses her newfound attributes to seek revenge on the trio of men responsible for her father’s death. They’re all portrayed a little too cartoony and the script goes to extra lengths to make them unlikable and irritating from the get-go. It’s Thorley Walters as Frankenstein’s assistant who steals the show here. Walters was an amazing character actor, usually playing bumbling or comedic roles during his time spent in the horror genre. His role here is more fatherly

 

Frankenstein Created Woman is good, not great, Hammer horror. One can’t help wondering that with a little work here and there to flesh out the challenging concepts suggested by the plot, Frankenstein Created Woman could have been a lot better than it actually is. Still, Cushing is always worth a watch.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆