The Revenge of Frankenstein
U.K. / 1958
Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring
Peter Cushing
Francis Matthews
Eunice Gayson
Color / 90 Minutes / Not Rated
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
Columbia-TriStar Home Entertainment
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
6
    5   10 = Highest Rating  
After the international success of its full color Curse of Frankenstein in 1957, Britain's Hammer Films wasted little time. In the following year the company's production of Horror of Dracula raked in even more quid, making genre stars out of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in the process. The honchos at Hammer knew they were on to something. In fact, filming had just wrapped on Horror of Dracula when production began on a direct sequel to Hammer's initial gothic horror hit. Yet the ending of Curse which saw the murderous Baron Frankenstein about to be sent to the guillotine for his crimes would seem to limit the potential for a follow up, at least one with Cushing reprising the role. The Revenge of Frankenstein picks up exactly were Curse left off. The Baron's death sentence is being carried out. He mounts the scaffold where the blade of justice awaits him. But Frankenstein is too cunning and too rich to go to his death so easily. His jailer and executioner have been bought off. The priest who's administering the Last Rites is seized and beheaded in his place. Fortunately for the Baron there aren't any witnesses or police officials in attendance, so the priest's body is easily substituted for his own. Frankenstein is free!
Three years later he's set up shop in the Central European town of Carlsbruck. Posing as "Dr. Stein", the Baron has established a thriving medical practice and ironically developed a reputation for good deeds. In addition to treating the ailments of local nobility and VIPs in his private practice he operates a free clinic that ministers to indigent peasants. Not that the good doctor has found Jesus or anything... The unwashed prols in the charity ward are an excellent source of spare parts. Naturally he continues to carry out his experimental research into the artificial creation of life. Assisting him is Karl (Oscar Quitak), the crippled, hunchbacked jailer who aided his escape from the guillotine. (For some inexplicable reason the Karl character is referred to as "Dwarf" in the cast credits. Of average height, he must be the tallest dwarf in horror film history.) But Dr. Stein's extracurricular activities aren't what get him into trouble. The physicians of the town medical council are jealous of the newcomer's standing in the community; they aren't too pleased that he's stealing their wealthiest patients, either. The Baron just brushes them off. But one of the members, the young Dr. Hans Kleve (Francis Matthews, Dracula: Prince of Darkness), thinks he recognizes him. Could the kindly Dr. Stein really be Europe's most notorious criminal? Kleve confronts the Baron with his suspicions. Instead of turning him in to the authorities, he asks to join in Frankenstein's experiments as his assistant. The opportunity to explore the cutting edge of medical science is too tantalizing to pass up. Impressed with the young doctor, the Baron agrees to take him on. He shows Kleve his current project, the construction of a human being from various body parts. Unlike his first attempt (chronicled in Curse), this is no scarred monster looking like the victim of a road accident. Except for very minor scarring his second creation's appearance is perfectly normal. With the "shell" complete only a fresh, undamaged brain is needed to bring it fully to life. To this end, Karl has volunteered to have the brain transplanted from his own twisted body into that of the Baron's creation. This time, vows Frankenstein, the interference of meddling fools will not destroy his precious work.
We know, of course, that they will. Something always goes wrong. Still, one has to admire the Baron's steadfast "try and try again" attitude. And as the Hammer Frankensteins invariably focused more on the Baron than his creations, the audience gets to admire Cushing the consummate performer. In his prime here, Cushing is in top form: in turn witty and ingratiating, cold and ruthless. Though ably supported by the rest of the cast he easily dominates the picture, as was obviously intended by Jimmy Sangster's script and Terence Fisher's direction. He's such a dynamic presence, in fact, that one doesn't really feel slighted by the picture's less-than-frightening "monster." Well-played by Scars of Dracula's Michael Gwynn (without the aid of any traditional monster makeup) the Karl-Creature starts out normal but later degenerates into a misshapen murderer with cannibalistic tendencies. A gimpy drooling guy doesn't generate much dread, however... I've personally seen winos and vagrants who were a lot scarier-looking.

Columbia has released Revenge of Frankenstein on DVD in what amounts to a bare bones edition. Letterboxed, the video transfer displays a slightly washed-out color scheme though no appreciable print damage. The mono audio track is strong and clear. Two trailers are included; the original theatrical promo for Revenge plus Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, the 1950s alien invasion opus with effects by Ray Harryhausen. (I question its relevance here.) A laughable attempt at a photo gallery is also offered, consisting of a paltry 10 black and white stills. Why did they even bother? The packaging artwork, too, is rather disappointing. Still, it's nice to finally have this minor Hammer classic on disc. 8/26/02
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