Friday, November 29, 2013

The Evil of Frankenstein

The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)
Dir. Freddie Francis
Written by John Elder (Anthony Hinds)
Starring Peter Cushing, Peter Woodthorpe, Duncan Lamont, Kiwi Kingston

Well, maybe there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing. Here it is, 1964, only two sequels after Terence Fisher’s solid and serious CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, and already they’re getting pretty iffy. One the plus side, you got Freddie Francis (THE SKULL, TALES FROM THE CRYPT), a former cinematographer and consistently laudable visualist directing, Peter Cushing returning to the role of the Baron, and a guy named “Kiwi” as the monster. But on the negative side, you have everything else. Yeah, pretty much everything.

The worst offender here is probably the script by producer Anthony Hinds* which ignores the events and the interesting moral element of Fisher’s original film and its first sequel in favor of a self-contained one-off. That in itself isn’t a disaster, but unfortunately he leaves out all of the most interesting stuff from the earlier films and in its place substitutes a perplexing anti-drama about Baron Frankenstein returning to his old castle (in defiance of the locals’ intense hatred of him) and… hiring an unscrupulous hypnotist to keep his monstrous creation under control?

Wow, guess they're going ahead with that Green Hornet sequel after all.

THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN, then, casts Victor Frankenstein in his more familiar mold as a sympathetic character, a misunderstood visionary chased from his home by superstitious assholes and forced to pursue his pure science in secret. Of course, he’s been stealing local corpses to do it, but the movie doesn’t seem to really hold this against him, or at least it just blames him for his usual hubristical ways. But like in Fisher’s movies, the Monster isn’t really much of a villain either; he’s just too unaware of his surroundings to really be anything other than dangerous but tragic figure. So the drama here falls to Zoltan (Peter Woodthorpe, “Marco’s Landlord” from THE SKULL but more importantly the voice of Gollum in Bakshi’s LORD OF THE RINGS) a hypnotist who has also run afoul of the locals, but for much more legitimate reasons. It is Zoltan who decides to do a little freelancing work using the monster to murder his enemies, and ultimately it’s up to Frankenstein to stop him. Which he does by firing him. Cough.

I suppose I can dimly imagine how this concept could be effective as a CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI ripoff with the Monster standing in for the Somnambulist, but unfortunately the script is just poorly structured and never develops any genuine drama. Zoltan is introduced late and looks kind of like Jimmy Kimmel, he never seem like a particular threat, especially since the people he’s murdering are the same assholes we’ve seen treat Victor so shabbily. He never menaces the main characters, and just generally seems more like a pathetic grifter than a criminal mastermind. Victor finds out what he’s up to and just fires him, and that’s pretty much it. 

But wait, that’s the climax, he fires a guy? 

No no, don’t worry, he’ll have to fight the monster at the end and destroy his lab. 

But how does that work if the Monster isn’t under the control of a shifty hypnotist anymore? 

Well, simple. The mute girl they find living somewhere (long story) offers the big fellah a bottle of wine, he gets drunk and starts fucking shit up. 

Wait, you’re telling me that the climax of the movie is the revelation that Frankenstein’s monster is a mean drunk? 

Seriously, that’s the big climax, Cushing has to fight a belligerent drunken reanimated corpse. That’s the level of effort they were at after only three sequels.

The advantage to a flat-headed monster is that his noggin serves as a handy cocktail tray.

The film looks pretty good thanks to Francis’ unflashy but intuitive framings, and of course Cushing is working hard here like he always does. But even the production design looks a little indifferent; this one was distributed by Universal so Hammer was free to hew closer to the design of the iconic Karloff movie without the fear of a lawsuit they’d encountered on CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. So what did they do? They just recreated pretty much the same thing, right down to the Creature’s inexplicable square noggin. I don’t know if they just didn’t realize that it was Karloff’s performance that made that one such a classic and not his doofy flat head, but suffice to say this just reeks of cheap imitation. The makeup and technology are not nearly further advanced enough that it feels fresh to see this design again, and so it just feels rote (particularly since even the Karloff version was getting a little tiresome by the end of the endless sequels and parodies Universal had done decades before). I wasn’t a huge fan of Hammer’s new Monster makeup design in CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, but at least it was different, unique. It had its own distinct flavor. This one barely registers. In fact, for a movie called THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN, neither the title character nor his creation really leave much impact. And as far as I can tell there’s not a whole lot of evil here either, mostly just one greedy asshole who kills a few other assholes and then gets fired for it.

Yeah, this certainly did look impressive and scientific... in 1931.

I can’t help but feel like Fisher, although not much of a visualist, had a much better sense of what these monster films were fundamentally about. His films may lack style, but they have a focus and genuine imagination which many of the later Hammer films completely lack. Fisher understood that it’s not simply enough to plop a recognizable monster in front of an audience; you have to understand what it is about the concept that made it work on a psychological and narrative level. EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN is a good example of what happens when you make a horror film just by checking off boxes but not by considering why those boxes are there in the first place.

*who under the pen name John Elder scripted a bunch of Hammer sequels, including KISS OF DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN. It’s worth noting that he was a producer by trade, who started writing scripts when the budgets started shrinking to the point that they couldn’t afford to hire a real writer.




  • LITERARY ADAPTATION: Semi-sequel to Shelley's original novel.
  • SEQUEL: Yes, #3
  • REMAKE: Another Frankenstein, it doesn't specifically remake any older ones although it does copy a lot of design elements from James Whale's 1931 version.
  • BOOBIES: No, don't think so.
  • DECAPITATIONS OR DE-LIMBING: ... no specific memory of this.
  • ENTRAILS? I feel like I remember a flashback with the Creature eating sheep entrails?
  • CURSES: No
  • OBSCURITY LEVEL: Mid-high, third sequel

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