The Evil of Frankenstein
Hammer Horror Series
U.K. / 1964
Directed by Freddie Francis
Starring
Peter Cushing
Peter Woodthorpe
Kiwi Kingston
Color / 85 Minutes / Not Rated
Format: DVD(R1 - NTSC/ 2-disc set)
Universal Home Video
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6
    8   10 = Highest Rating  
Guest Review by Troy Howarth
A look at one of the films in the Hammer Horror Series
DVD Rating is for entire set
Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) enlists the aid of a drunken hypnotist (Peter Woodthorpe) to get his latest creation (Kiwi Kingston) under control...
    Reviled by Hammer fans as a cheap knockoff of the Universal Frankenstein films (which, in many ways, it is), The Evil of Frankenstein was one of only two Hammer Frankenstein films to not be directed by Terence Fisher. Fisher, an alcoholic who frequently suffered from illness in his later years, was replaced by Academy Award-winning cinematographer turned director Freddie Francis on this particular assignment. Just as Fisher's Frankenstein films showcase his strengths of characterization and human drama, Francis' lone entry in the series highlights his tremendous visual flair and imagination. Francis has long admitted that he has zero interest in the horror genre, a characteristic that would later sour him as he was assigned to direct one horror film after another, but at this stage in the game he was still enthusiastic about directing, even if the subject matter wasn't his cup of tea. The problem with the film has less to do with Francis' feelings towards the horror genre, however, than it has to do with Anthony Hinds' uncommonly poor screenplay. Since this film was produced in association with Universal International, perhaps Hinds felt obliged to crib from the Universal horrors of the '30s and '40s. Whatever his motivation, the story is slim, the action progresses in an episodic manner, and characterization is left at the level of caricature. Even the Baron is reduced in complexity whereas the earlier (and later) Fisher films reveled in making him as complex and fascinating as possible, here he's merely a goodnatured medical adventurer ready to quip at a moment's notice. The character of the hypnotist, in essence the villain of the piece, is too comically overstated to ever pose a legitimate threat. The authority figures are all buffoons, as well. The end result has the flavor of a horror comic, which may have been what Francis was going for, but the script doesn't allow one to become emotionally invested. Instead one is left to marvel at Francis' admittedly stylish handling of the material. The director insisted that the lion's share of the budget be spent on the laboratory sets, which were always rather functional affairs in the Fisher films, and the money is certainly up there on the screen. The film is arguably the best looking of the Hammer Frankensteins, with John Wilcox delivering some outstanding cinematography which is on a par with Jack Asher's work on Curse of Frankenstein and Revenge of Frankenstein. Bernard Robinson's sets are, again, imaginative and convincing. Francis stages an impressive, dialogue-free flashback sequence that really shows off his strengths as a visual stylist. Only when the script comes to the fore (which is too often, sadly) does the film lose interest.
   
Peter Cushing, of course, dominates the proceedings as Baron Frankenstein. By this stage in the game the actor could have played the role in his sleep, but being the consummate pro that he was, he gives it his all. The script may rob him of the complexity of the other films in the series, but Cushing rises to the challenge of playing a different, more sympathetic variation on the character. He has a number of wryly amusing moments throughout the film ("You were right. As always," says his assistant at one point, to which Cushing replies "Not always, Hans. Frequently but not always.") and again impresses with his fearless athleticism during the finale as he performs all his own stunts. (Seriously, look how close he allows himself to get to the flames when the lab catches on fire; can you imagine Brad Pitt allowing himself to be in such real physical danger?) Peter Woodthorpe (The Skull) is amusing as the hypnotist, but the script robs him of any real chance to color the character he's a caricature movie villain, nothing more. Sandor Eles (Countess Dracula), as the latest in Frankenstein's series of assistants (and the second of three to be named Hans!), isn't particularly interesting, but he has some nice moments with Cushing. Duncan Lamont (Frankenstein Created Woman) is all bluff and bluster as the Chief of Police, while David Hutcheson (The Abominable Dr. Phibes) is stuck at twit-level as the bumbling Burgomaster. Sadly, the film's biggest deficit is Australian wrestler Kiwi Kingston as the creature. Francis had seen Christopher Lee's performance as the creature in Curse of Frankenstein and decided that, for his purposes, he need a bigger physical presence to appear in this film. One can understand what he was thinking having a man of Kingston's build makes the scenes of destruction all the more credible but even he soon admitted that he would have done well to cast an actor with more experience... or just an actor, period. Kingston is OK when it comes to smashing props, but moments that could have benefited from the mime acting of somebody like Lee are totally lost. Not helping him is Roy Ashton's rather strange makeup job. Clearly patterned after Jack Pierce's immortal makeup design for Boris Karloff, it offers a block headed, putty-faced design that is never credible even if it is kind of... interesting to observe.
    With its rousing music score by Don Banks and impressive visuals, Evil of Frankenstein is never dull. It's an entertaining film for the non-discriminating horror buff, and Cushing admirers are in for yet another excellent performance, but fans familiar with the far richer Hammer Frankensteins that preceded and followed it are going to be hard to convince of its charms.

Universal's presentation of Evil of Frankenstein (Hammer Horror Series Disc 2, Side B) is satisfying. The 1.85/16x9 image looks very colorful and sharp, save for a handful of shots that look a little grainy and/or dupey. Clearly taken from two prints, it opens, oddly, with the Universal logo and ends with the more familiar U-I fanfare. The English mono soundtrack is a little thick, and doesn't sound quite as defined as the soundtrack on the laserdisc release, but it is by no means a disgrace. There is no background hiss to report. Extras are nonexistent. 9/15/05
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