The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)
"The monster bred from a dozen corpses."
Forced to leave town over his unethical experiments, Frankenstein and his assistant Hans return to their hometown of Karlstaad to take up residence at his family's old chateau. Frankenstein even discovers his old creation, frozen in ice up 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 third of Hammer’s Frankenstein films, The Evil of Frankenstein marked a bit of a change for the series. With the preceding two films, The Curse of Frankenstein and The Revenge of Frankenstein, Hammer’s core creative team had firmly been in place: director Terence Fisher, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster and main star Peter Cushing. Universal had not allowed Hammer to use the classic 1931 Frankenstein make-up and so original creations were designed for the monster in both films, leading to Christopher Lee’s grotesque face in one and the relatively normal-looking Michael Gwynne in the second. Both The Curse of Frankenstein and The Revenge of Frankenstein were big hits for Hammer. But by the time The Evil of Frankenstein rolled around, things were going to be different. Director Terence Fisher was initially slated to helm but a car accident forced him to pull out and he was replaced with cameraman Freddie Francis (who would go on to have a fruitful career with Hammer, Amicus and a few other minor British studios). Producer Anthony Hinds replaced Sangster on the script. The one constant was Cushing, back on top form as always.
Arguably the biggest change was something which seemed so trivial but actually shapes the film more than it should have done. The Evil of Frankenstein was to be distributed in America by Universal (now they recognised that Hammer were serious players in the horror world) and a deal was struck with the studio to allow Hammer the rights to copy as much of the 1931 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. In many ways, The Evil of Frankenstein feels like an unnecessary reboot of the series rather than a true sequel. Rather than easily continuing on an established story with a solid legacy, it clumsily attempts to rewrite history and is all the worse for it. The eagerness to use material from Universal is only too evident in the quick ditching of series' lore.
The classic make-up just doesn't look right on a Hammer creation - the monster's forehead looks like glue and oatmeal and it's big, bulky shoes make it somewhat of a comedic sight to behold. The monster is now a clumsy oaf more resembling Peter Boyle’s creature in Young Frankenstein than anything else. 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 – whilst Karloff’s appearance in 1931 is legendary, it worked because it was in black and white. Lee’s monster, the first shown in Technicolour to really draw out the blood, scars and stiches, really upped the ante for what the horror genre could do. The old monster make-up 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.
It's not just the make-up though. The Evil of Frankenstein not only feels a bit sluggish but it looks it has taken a few steps for the series. For the first time, it feels like a mere re-tread of old material than delivering something fresh and the narrative goes through of the usual Frankenstein tropes without daring to be different. And what about Baron Frankenstein himself? The title is misleading because he seems to have mellowed and is nowhere near as evil as he has been in the past (or would be in the future). He doesn’t murder anyone. He doesn’t blackmail or extort. He doesn’t rape. He even attempts to stop the monster from committing crimes, something he had previously encouraged. His biggest crime here is losing his temper! The character is less ambiguous and scientifically-driven here and more sympathetic. At least Cushing is on top form again regardless of how his character is written. 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 rather than continuing the character arc he had been developing – I guess as a result of the change in writers.
The addition of Zoltan the hypnotist wouldn’t have been needed if Frankenstein retained his old attributes. Zoltan is almost the alter ego – devious, criminal and morally repellent – which is exactly how the stuffy, aristocratic Baron used to be portrayed. His subplot is fairly rushed and he’s never developed into anything more than a one-note bad guy, simply there to push the story on. However the odious Peter Woodthorpe steals the show and manages to put in a sly and underhand performance. 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 Hammer seemed far too preoccupied in cashing in on the opening of the Universal flood gates to do anything nearly as good.
The Evil of Frankenstein
Director(s): Freddie Francis
Writer(s): Anthony Hinds (screenplay)
Actor(s): Peter Cushing, Peter Woodthorpe, Duncan Lamont, Sandor Elès, Katy Wild, David Hutcheson, James Maxwell
Duration: 84 mins