Thursday, 5 January 2012

The Evil of Frankenstein

"They always destroy everything" declares the Baron in the opening sequence of 1964's Evil of Frankenstein, enraged when another one of his experiments is ruined by the ignorance of his fellow man. In fact his words could easily apply to Hammer's ill-conceived re-imagining of the Frankenstein series, the break in continuity especially baffling considering Jimmy Sangster had devised a clever escape plan for the Baron in the finale of The Revenge of Frankenstein...

After 10 years of exile from his home town of Karlstad, Frankenstein returns to seek funds for his experiments, but once again is driven away by fearful locals. Seeking refuge in a cave, the Baron chances upon his original creation, a monstrous being made from body parts, which became trapped and preserved in a glacier. When the creature fails to respond to the Baron's commands, drastic measures are called upon... For Hammer's third film of the Frankenstein series, Terence Fisher and Jimmy Sangster, the creative force responsible for the success of the first two films were replaced by director Freddie Francis, with writing duties handled by producer Tony Hinds. The tonal shift from the previous films was dramatic. Francis had little of the Gothic touch that Fisher had brought to the series, while Hinds' screenplay steered the film away from Hammer's idiosyncratic direction and re-connected with the Universal style, with the studio's full blessing and generous co-financing.

Perhaps it was the stitching together of two distinct house styles which resulted in The Evil of Frankenstein ending up as something of an oddity. The central section of the film where the Baron re-awakens the monster from his slumber plays the best with a frenzied Baron commandeering a mass of electrical switches (which discharge themselves in a swarm of sparks and plumes of smoke), but then the plot takes an idiotic turn when a charlatan hypnotist is engaged with stimulating the monster's brain. With a certain whiff of desperation coupled with Francis' variable direction, (and some lousy back projection), the film feels closer to the ragged efforts of later period Hammer. The monster itself is more prominent here than in previous films but to lesser effect. Universal had lifted the embargo on Jack Pierce's classic make-up job, but Roy Ashton's design for the creature falls well short, and most likely would have been better if he hadn't been encouraged to riff on the familiar flat top and the clunky lead boots.

With Fisher and Sangster gone this episode of the series struggles, but remains entirely watchable - at least it's well paced and more importantly, Peter Cushing faithfully returned to play Frankenstein - at this point the series was simply unimaginable without him. Hinds' screenplay saw a modulation of the character somewhat with the Baron gaining a little of the common touch, but Cushing remains magnificent, and delivers one of his most physical performances of the series, as he tackles the monster in the rousing climax. The screenplay offers Cushing's co-stars little to do - the village girl who befriends the monster is a mute for heaven's sake, but Peter Woodthorpe as Zoltan the hypnotist is fabulously sleazy, while the actor playing the monster is notable if nothing else for his name, Kiwi Kingston, not a Jamaican reggae singer but in fact a professional wrestler from New Zealand.

The Evil of Frankenstein is available as a R2 disc in the UK courtesy of Slam Dunk Media. This 2007 disc is a disappointment as it presents the film fullframe, cropping the original 1.66 aspect ratio (a similar fate befell The Brides of Dracula on the same label). I don't quite see this as a deal breaker, considering the disc can be picked up very cheap these days, but certainly the film loses some of it's elegance when presented fullframe. Other than that, the picture is relatively nice (and superior to the screenshots above), and the audio is good if unremarkable. The sole extra is the film's trailer. The film is also available in the US as part of Universal's Hammer Horror Series boxset, which collect 8 films on 2 flipper discs - not the most ideal programming, but the film looks very good and is in its OAR. Finally, a German disc from 2007 (FrankensteinsUngeheuer) may well be the best option, with excellent picture quality, and the original English audio track (and no fixed subtitles).

1 comment:

  1. I think this may have been the first Hammer movie I ever saw - certainly nearly the first - over at my cousins' for a sleepover and staying up late to watch the Creature Feature show. I saw it a few times after that on local channels - and once again really want to revisit it now.