Revenge of Frankenstein
= Highest Rating
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
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.
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
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