cast: Peter Cushing, Sandor Eles, Peter Woodthorpe, Duncan Lamont, and Katy Wild
director: Freddie Francis
83 minutes (18) 1964
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Showbox DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by J.C. Hartley
There is a wonderful Hammer back catalogue. In the 1970s, with their release for television screening, the exposed bosoms and eroticised horror of the films made them favourites with male teenagers denied more explicit fare. There is much more to this, very British, take on the horror genre than that.
This is the latest film to be re-issued from the Hammer vaults, but not one that will figure prominently in the generally favourable critical reassessment of the output of that particular studio. While the Hammer style was dismissed in its day as exploitative, I think it was acknowledged that the writing, and superior acting talent on display, made the films classier than audiences might have had the right to expect. The Evil Of Frankenstein again features the always-professional Peter Cushing (Star Wars) as the eponymous aristocratic scientist.
Originally up for direction by Terence Fisher, to follow his Curse Of Frankenstein (1957), and Revenge Of Frankenstein (1958), the directorial duties for The Evil Of Frankenstein fell to cinematographer Freddie Francis, when a car accident ruled Fisher out.
Cinematic versions of the Frankenstein story, even those purporting to be faithful to Mary Shelley’s almost unreadable book, lay heavy emphasis on the actual creation of the creature,
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a relatively minor part of the literary original, and one heavy with philosophical and spiritual debate. Grave robbing, storms, and dusty basement laboratories have come to dominate the narrative on the big screen.
In the opening to this particular outing, Frankenstein, and his faithful assistant Hans (Sandor Eles, Surviving Picasso), purchase a corpse in order to revivify the still warm heart; they are successful but the local priest interrupts their experiments and destructively sets about their equipment. Frankenstein rails against the continual interference that hampers his work. Seriously skint, the Baron proposes that the pair return to his family seat at Karlstaad, scene of his original experiments, where the family home will supply them with artefacts to sell to fund further research. Hans points out that the Baron has told him he would never be able to return to Karlstaad because of earlier events, but with typical arrogance Frankenstein reassures him that if they are careful any unpleasantness will be avoided.
On returning to Karlstaad, they find the Baron’s ancestral home has been looted. Spending a cold night in the gutted castle Frankenstein recounts how the creation of a flawed spare-parts creature led to his downfall and disgrace. This extended flashback sequence does much to ruin the pace of the picture, while adding little to the narrative except to prepare us for the re-appearance of the Baron’s creation. Disgrace and downfall aside, Frankenstein displays his usual arrogance in leading Hans into Karlstaad itself for a meal at the local inn, where he causes a scene when he spots a family heirloom in the possession of the local burgomeister.
Forced to flee, the pair are in hiding when they observe the local chief of police (Duncan Lamont, Quatermass And The Pit) meting out rough justice to sideshow hypnotist Professor Zoltan (Peter Woodthorpe, The Madness Of King George). Frankenstein attempts to reclaim his property and he and Hans have to spend the night in the mountains, where a mute beggar girl, in a touching performance by Katy Wild (Dr Terror’s House Of Horrors), offers them the shelter of her cave home. In the depths of the cave, preserved in a glacier, Frankenstein is reunited with his creature.
The Baron and Hans, with the beggar girl in tow, return to the castle and are successful in reviving the creature. However the stresses of the creature’s short existence have rendered him traumatised. Baron Frankenstein realises that the stage hypnotist Zoltan has unique talents that might penetrate the creature’s clouded psyche. Zoltan is successful but corrupt, and realises that fate has provided him with a weapon to wreak revenge on the town of Karlstaad.
The Evil Of Frankenstein is carried along by Peter Cushing’s superior playing, but unfortunately the supporting cast is little more than that. Duncan Lamont sneers nicely as the chief of police, and Peter Woodthorpe seizes his chance as the louche and venal Zoltan, but the film cries out for a towering presence such as Christopher Lee to set against Cushing. What a loss that Cushing did not enjoy the good health of his old co-star, so that he might have built on his magisterial performance as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars, and enjoy the kind of roles that Lee now commands. Ex-wrestler Kiwi Kingston is merely an unpleasant creature, as the film imports a taste for raw flesh presumably to riff on the cannibalism of The Revenge Of Frankenstein.
Carping aside, The Evil Of Frankenstein benefits from a decent script, and solid performances that treat the material seriously. Distributed by Universal, Hammer was allowed to reprise details in the laboratory scenes from the classic Universal horror pictures of the past.