Monday, 2 September 2013

MOVIE: The Evil Of Frankenstein (1964)

After being hounded out of his home by local villagers after his experiments with a newly laid-out corpse, Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) goes back to his ancestral home in the hope of continuing his work. Here, he finds that the Frankenstein name is still mud as far as the locals are concerned, but undeterred he carries on...

Always the unloved runt of Cushing's Frankenstein outings, time has been relatively kind to The Evil Of Frankenstein. Whilst not in the top division of the studio's output, it respectfully stands tall in the second tier, a fascinating one-off fusion of Hammer's then radical overhaul of the Gothic film and Universal's approach from their golden age horror cycle. The collaboration between the two results in the only Hammer birthed creature to bear any resemblance to Jack Pierce's make up for Boris Karloff. Sadly, one of the unfortunate side effects of the hi-def treatment is that it shows up more than ever the inadequacies of the monster design. Designer Roy Ashton was under considerable pressure and working against the clock as the producers struggled to choose a design for the creature's face, and in this edition it shows more than ever, like a crude papier-mache mask and certainly not up to Ashton's usual standards. The film looks and feels stylistically different too. The previous writer/director team of Jimmy Sangster and Terence Fisher is here replaced by producer Anthony Hinds (under his nom-de-plume of John Elder) and Freddie Francis, making his first Gothic-horror for Hammer following a couple of psychological thrillers. 

Then there is the rewrite of the series back-story. Whilst 1958's The Revenge Of Frankenstein picked up nicely where 1956's The Curse Of Frankenstein had left off, this installment starts from scratch with an entirely new past being created for the Baron. Here, we are told that an earlier attempt at making a creature simply led to him being banished from his village, rather than sent to the gallows. This allows the creature to be rediscovered, preserved in ice! Playing the creature, New Zealand born wrestler Kiwi Kingston does pretty much what is expected of him, generally lumbering around and causing mayhem, albeit without the pathos of other creations in the canon.

Make-up and continuity aside, there is still plenty to enjoy. The Evil Of Frankenstein hasn't been given the kind of makeover afforded The Curse Of Frankenstein, but it's a nice enough transfer considering the unrestored source material. Especially striking is the machinery used to bring the creature to life, which gives more than a nod to Kenneth Strickfaden's crackling generators of Universal's 1931 classic. If the film is ultimately a failure in some ways, it's always an interesting one. After all, as one of Britain's greatest ever cinematographers, did Freddie Francis ever direct a film that wasn't pleasing to look at?

In short, if you separate The Evil Of Frankenstein from the Fisher-directed entries in Hammer's catalogue and treat it as a stand-alone film, what you are left with is a very enjoyable 84 minutes. Peter Cushing was always pretty much brilliant whatever he was in, and he certainly helps to bring this one up a notch or two. Meanwhile, Cushing and Terence Fisher would get things back on track in 1967's Frankenstein Created Woman

Blu-Ray Notes: The UK BD release from Final Cut Entertainment adds trailer, photo gallery and a very good 30 minute making-of documentary. As mentioned before, the source hasn't been given a full-blown restoration, but it's quite a nice transfer considering. The aspect ratio will doubtless cause controversy (is there a vintage Hammer BD release which hasn't?). It isn't in the original European projection ratio, but is formatted to match the film's original US release. It would have been nice to include the extra footage inserted for the US TV version as an extra (available over on YouTube!), but other than that it's a nice package overall.


UK 1964 - Hammer/Universal

84 Minutes

Certificate - X (following cuts, original UK release); 12 (uncut, for this release!)

Blu-Ray: Final Cut Entertainment (UK) (previous DVD from Showbox Entertainment)

Original UK trailer:

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