Tag Frankenstein

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 It looks a little old fashioned and out-of-date (with no disrespect to Pierce’s legendary design) and it certainly doesn’t fit in with the new direction that Hammer had taken the story to distinguish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.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Curse of Frankenstein, The (1957)

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Not recommended for people of nervous disposition

Baron Frankenstein is locked inside a prison for murder, awaiting the guillotine and telling his story to a priest. He and his assistant, Paul Krempe, managed to bring a dog back to life after years of experimenting. So the Baron decided that the next logical step would be to create life from scratch. Using the body of a dead highwayman and perfecting it with body parts stolen from other victims, the Baron plans to implant it with the brain of a genius. Unfortunately the brain is damaged during an argument with Krempe, who objects to this sinister new direction that Frankenstein’s work is taking him. The resultant damage causes the creature to become a hideous abomination of science.

 

In 1957, Hammer changed the landscape of horror – hell, film in general – forever with The Curse of Frankenstein. It pushed the boundaries of horror like never before and brought a welcomed new lease of life to the genre with a feast of vivid colour and a lavish Gothic atmosphere that would forever be synonymous with Hammer. People were sick of Hollywood producing the same cheap and lacklustre black and white horror pictures and Hammer’s declaration of its intent was like a rallying battle cry. American horror films from the 30s and 40s always hid their gory and graphic details off-screen yet here we have a film which opens up the doors of on-screen violence and sexuality and changed the way that studios approached horror films. No doubt some film would eventually have pushed the boat out and broken free of the shackles of the old school horrors but The Curse of Frankenstein can lay claim to being the first.

Let me just state that this is not a great re-telling of the novel. There were plenty of changes and additions to the script in order to avoid potential lawsuits from Universal who had made the old black and white Frankenstein films in the 30s. It’s so hard for anyone to try and film Frankenstein because let’s face it, every time someone mentions Frankenstein and you think of the flat-top, bolt-necked lumbering brute with his arms outstretched. This version of Frankenstein marks a noticeable change in the story in that it is now the Baron himself who is the main focus of the film, not the monster or its creation.

In making it about the man and not the monster, the script opens itself up for an amazing transformation of character. Peter Cushing, a screen legend and horror god, is simply fantastic as the charismatic Baron Frankenstein. His descent from being a talented man of science and logic to a ruthless, results-driven murderer is one of horror’s greatest tour-de-forces. He’s not evil or deranged, just obsessed and extremely misguided and this is what makes him so dangerous. Cushing knows how to play the role with bluster when he needs to or restrain himself in other scenes. Watch as Cushing smugly grins as the creature kills his former chambermaid behind a closed door. It’s only a small effort on Cushing’s behalf but one which makes him so deliciously sadistic. He leads a double life, bossing around his assistant and conducting his shady dealings to acquire body parts but then pretending everything is perfectly fine when he entertains guests. It’s a thin veil of deceit he uses to manipulate other people into unwillingly cooperating. His Frankenstein is always thinking, always plotting and always one-step ahead of everyone else. Truly a legendary screen performance.

The Curse of Frankenstein gave debuts to two of the genre’s most influential figures during Hammer’s heyday: actor Christopher Lee and director Terence Fisher. But not only are they both on board, there’s the A-list of Hammer’s on and off camera talent on show. Alongside Cushing, screen writer Jimmy Sangster slams new life into the Frankenstein story, production designer Bernard Robinson creates some marvellous Gothic sets and composer James Bernard stirs the ears with his rousing score.

The creature itself only turns up about two thirds of the way in, such is it’s insignificance to the overall story in this version. Christopher Lee hides behind a ton of vivid make-up to bring the creature to life. It’s a different performance to that of Boris Karloff’s iconic monster and the creature is in turn dominating and overpowering but also pitiful and feeble. Lee gives each of his limbs a different movement so that he truly looks like a patchwork creation, a marionette with it’s strings cuts if you will. The make-up looks a little cheap today but remember the black and white era from which this had sprung. Audiences hadn’t seen such gruesome sights in full blown colour before. Critics derided it. The censors blocked it. But the audiences loved it. Hammer couldn’t obtain the rights to the original design of the monster and so they created their own. Its first unveiling is hideous – you can clearly see the sew marks where Frankenstein has stitched together his creation. Bright red blood is also splashed around the screen and into it. The scene in which the creature is shot has an effective spurt of red blood fire off right towards the camera lens. Frankenstein is shown wrapped up a severed hand and popping some eyeballs into a glass bottle. Such sights may have been common in black and white but they took on a whole new daring approach in colour.

 

Gothic horror at it’s finest, The Curse of Frankenstein is an outstanding film. It may not have that much in common with it’s source material but Cushing’s brilliant performance and some early gore effects make this one a must see for any casual fan of the genre. It’s a classic film and one of the best, most influential horror films ever made.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★★ 

 

 

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

The Most Frightening Frankenstein Movie Ever!

Baron Frankenstein seeks refuge in a new town with a new identity. He stays at a boarding house but when he finds out that the landlady’s fiancé is stealing drugs from the local asylum, he blackmails them into helping him with his new experiments. When he find out than an old colleague of his is locked inside the local asylum and has gone mad, Frankenstein comes up with a crazy idea to transplant his brain into a new body and conduct some brain surgery to cure his madness. But after the success of the operation, Frankenstein realises his old friend was mad to begin with and the monster hunts Frankenstein down for a fight to the death.

 

Whereas the Hammer Dracula franchise seemed to run out of ideas quickly, their counterpart Frankenstein series continued to churn out strong, creative films. Yes each film was basically the same ‘Frankenstein creates monster, monster gets loose, etc’ plot but in each instalment, a new element was added and over the course of Cushing’s Frankenstein films, you can clearly identify the progression of the character as the scripts gave him fresh challenges. The studio could quite easily have rested their laurels and regurgitated the same story over and over again but each film took the idea of Frankenstein’s experiments in different directions. It’s this continuity and evolution of the character which sets the Frankenstein series head and shoulders above the Dracula films, helped in no small part by Peter Cushing.

By the late 60s, the public were that well-acquainted with Cushing as Frankenstein that the films didn’t even have to feature the ‘trademark’ monster as the last film, Frankenstein Created Woman, so aptly proved. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed does feature a monster but it’s not the typical brute we’ve come to expect from the ‘Frankenstein’ name. This time the monster is in the shape of actor Freddie Jones who retains most of his former human side, going so far as to return to his home to confront his wife who then proceeds to reject him as his brain now has a new body which she refuses to accept. It’s a pitiful, heartbreaking moment but one which embodies the new direction that the monster was taken with this entry. A monster in all but character tag, this near-man has only a visible scar around his skull to give away his past. The monster is simply a tragic character and not depicted as the usual lumbering zombified hulking mass – certainly one of the most complex incarnations of the monster ever seen on film. But the monster is only one small part of what makes this film such a great horror film.

Terence Fisher brings to life some nightmarish sequences including the classic burst water mains moment which reveals a disembodied hand. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed also cannily plays upon previous Frankenstein films by ending inside a burning building. There’s a great opening sequence in which Frankenstein makes sure that he isn’t going to be burgled again by eliminating the problem. And don’t think you’ll get through a Hammer film without some trademark blood either and with brain surgery being on the menu, you’ll get to see a brain transplant taking place. It’s one of Hammer’s most enduring and controversial scenes which looks tame nowadays but caused uproar back in the day.

As good as the supporting players are, this is Cushing’s show from the get-go and to talk about anyone else would not do this performance justice. Always a master of making even the most rudimentary horror films seem like classy genre pieces, Cushing was always at his best when the material he had to work with was just as good. This time Frankenstein is more manipulative, more deceitful, more calculating and more murderous than ever before. He will let nothing and no one stand in his way and is prepared to go to any lengths to achieve his goal. What was once single-minded determination is now an obsession. By attempting to prove that everyone else is mad for not believing in him, Frankenstein has now become borderline insane. Once misguided, Frankenstein is now evil. He’ll go through anyone and everyone to achieve his goal and that includes rape and murder. The rape scene is a tad unnecessary and a bit out of character, even for Hammer (legend has it that Cushing, being the respectable gentleman he was, even apologized to the actress whilst shooting the scene). It cheapens the film and is a blot on its otherwise almost-impeccable landscape.

During the bits where Frankenstein is required to blackmail, Cushing looks so icy and cold that you’d never believe him to be a nice guy. He could have sleepwalked through the role at this point in time but continued to drive further forward, pushing the character for all it’s worth. In a film laced with classic Cushing moments, the standout is when he cuts down his fellow physicians inside his drawing room. Scathing and brutally brilliant, it shows both Frankenstein at his most sinister and Cushing at his ever-best. No matter how low he stoops to achieve his goal, he still manages to gain the admiration of the viewer through his natural charisma. We actually want to see him succeed in his work even if we don’t agree with his methods – real bastard of an anti-hero if ever there was one.

 

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is one of the best of the Hammer Frankenstein films and certainly one of the best films they ever made. It would be unfair to lavish all of the praise upon Cushing’s performance as Frankenstein since the script, the direction and the supporting players are all as equally on top of their game. But it is an intense, compelling portrayal of the mad scientist which would likely get a token Oscar nod nowadays. An absolute must-see horror film.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 

 

 

Horror of Frankenstein, The (1970)

The Horror of Frankenstein (1970)

Victor Frankenstein is angry when his father forbids him from going to study at college to continue his anatomical experiments. So kills his father and makes it look like accident, thus leaving Victor with the family fortune and title of Baron. He uses this wealth to finance his college studies but leaves when he gets the dean’s daughter pregnant. Returning home, he sets up a laboratory and starts a series of experiments aimed at bringing the dead back to life with the intention of creating a human being from stolen body parts. Unfortunately his creature doesn’t behave the way he intended it to.

 

Unfairly labelled as the worst of the Hammer Frankenstein series, The Horror of Frankenstein is a decent attempt at breathing new life into a franchise which was admittedly the same story over and over again with slight tweaks to the secondary characters and endings. In an attempt to reboot the series with a younger actor taking over from Peter Cushing as Frankenstein, Hammer turned to one of their shining lights, Ralph Bates. Hammer had been grooming him as the next Cushing or Christopher Lee and this was one of his first starring roles. Jimmy Sangster was brought back to rewrite his script from The Curse of Frankenstein and given the director’s chair as well.

Unfortunately, and presumably the source of the negative reaction it gets from fans, The Horror of Frankenstein seems to play out as a thinly-veiled parody of the previous films. There is an underlying tone of comedy throughout, plenty of black humour and lots of nods and digs at the previous films. It will be lost on non-Hammer fans but those who appreciate the excellent dry comic lines from Ralph Bates will be in store for a treat on occasion. And it’s Bates who is the star of the show. He is good as Frankenstein.

Actually he’s better than good, he’s excellent. He’s arrogant, cold, ruthless and rude – just like Cushing. But this Frankenstein is a different kettle of fish entirely. Cushing’s Frankenstein was a single-minded scientist who refused to let anyone get in the way of his ‘vital’ work no matter what. Bates’ Frankenstein comes off more of a complete psycho who enjoys killing his enemies, getting kicks out of knowing that he has this powerful monster ready to do his bidding. Bates never really managed to get himself into that top spot at Hammer because for all of his talent, he just couldn’t find the screen presence to succeed in horror. Many fans blame him for this film’s problems but Bates is faultless throughout, it’s the script which lets him down.

The film focuses too much on his sexual conquests and when the next time Frankenstein is going to get his leg over, let alone the construction of a monster from various body parts. It’s a Gothic horror version of American Pie at times! When the script finally realizes that it needs to cover the traditional bases of a Frankenstein film, it does kick into gear somewhat. Even then, the film rushes through the motions once the monster appears. He just breaks free, kills some random people (and the token little girl) with no purpose or meaning other than he is an evil monster. There’s no personality or internal conflict with this monster – he’s just a brute who kills.

David Prowse is the monster this time around and he literally looks just like a normal man with a fake prosthetic cranium attached (albeit it a slight bigger than normal man since Prowse himself was a huge bodybuilder!). The gore has been also toned down, so much so that this is less gory than The Curse of Frankenstein was back in 1957. Hammer’s trademark of heaving bosoms is at least amply filled here with Kate O’Mara and Veronica Carlson providing the tools to complete such a task.

 

The Horror of Frankenstein is nowhere near the worst of the series (that honour going to The Evil of Frankenstein). Bates’ excellent performance as well as plenty of black humour make this a unique, if somewhat flawed, addition to the Hammer Frankenstein series.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

His brain came from a genius. His body came from a killer. His soul came from hell!

Dr Frankenstein has buried his old identity and is now working at an asylum where he basically has complete control and harvests the inmates for their body parts so that he may continue his ghastly experiments on reanimation with the help of an ambitious doctor who has been institutionalised. Using pieces from the asylum’s most promising inmates, Frankenstein patches up a horrific brute of a monster who is as sad and tortured as he is grotesque.

 

Hammer’s last Frankenstein film is arguably one of the best films of their final years of existence. They had tried to reboot the series with Ralph Bates taking over the lead role from Peter Cushing in the dull The Horror of Frankenstein – see even back in the 70s studios were obsessed with rebooting flagging franchises with newer models. When that failed to garner a positive reception, Hammer opted to return to their tried and tested formula of Cushing and his experimentations. Director Terence Fisher was back at the helm for one last crack before retiring. Peter Cushing was back in his most famous role. And as usual, Hammer provided a good supporting cast as well as some tight script writing. So the stage was set to give the Frankenstein series one last big hurrah and for the most part, it works completely.

The film is a true sequel which is good, as elements from the previous films are incorporated (either for a little in-joking or for plot developments including Frankenstein being burned at the end of Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed) to allow for newer developments to make way. Unlike the Dracula series, one of the strengths of the Frankenstein series was to re-invent itself and look original in every instalment (despite the plots being almost the same). At no point here do you feel like you’ve been here before and it’s all seemingly original material we’re given. Logical progression of the story has made Frankenstein more evil and murderous in each instalment and finally Fisher decides to go the full distance and relish the fact that the previously-sane-although-corrupt scientist is now simply a mad killer who doesn’t realise the futility of what he’s doing.

Credit must be given to Cushing as well because his performance verges on the sane/insane and at times you don’t know which side of the line he’s treading. It’s a fitting finale for Cushing in his best cinematic role, even though he could have slept-acted the part now. Shane Bryant as his assistant is also pretty good and reminds the viewer of how Frankenstein used to be: a little cold, naive but intelligent and ruthless nonetheless.

David Prowse plays the part of the monster and through his mannerisms, he manages to turn the creature into a sympathetic and pitiful monster. For the first time, Hammer decided to actually go with an out-and-out monster instead of just some guy with a big head and big boots. That’s maybe one of the reasons why so many people dislike this entry. Albeit the suit isn’t particularly convincing (he looks like a mutant ape) but it’s still believable if you take into account that this is meant to be a mixture of about sixty body parts from different people – it isn’t going be perfect, folks! I also like the idea that Frankenstein started off in a position of privilege where he was able to acquire the best body parts for his experiments. Now confined to the asylum and forced to resort to what he can get his hands on from his fellow inmates, the results are noticeably cruder.

Gore was upped in the later Hammer films and there are plenty of surgical pleasantries here, with no less a brain transplant revealed in all of it’s shocking power. Depending on what version you get, some parts may be censored. And like the rest of the Hammer films, it wouldn’t be a Frankenstein film without the finale where the monster does meet it’s maker. But not before giving us some classic Hammer moments such as a brilliantly shot scene in which the creature is seen digging graves during a lightning storm. As a final note, it’s also amusing to see Peter Cushing and David Prowse share the screen a few years before they were to reign terror across the galaxy in Star Wars.

 

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell is an excellent finale to the Frankenstein series. It’s arguably my second favourite of the series and that’s because everyone from the director to the actors to the guys who makes the coffee seem to be on top form. A fitting end to one of horror’s greatest and most overlooked series of films.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆