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.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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