After the hugely favourable reception the Hammer got for their ever-so-dashing version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (not to mention the similar thumbs up they got for their redux of Dracula), the studio realised there might be something actually in this horror lark and, much like Universal studios did around twenty years earlier, started putting all their energy into taking advantage of sequelizing these creatures for all they were worth.
Thus, barely a year after the stern-lipped Victor Frankenstein was apparently sent to the guillotine for his crimes against nature, the sneaky old baron popped up again to begin a whole new slew of grave robbing and body stitching that would undoubtedly bring chaos to whatever little filth-stained town could house him. However, right from the word go, returning director Terence Fisher and the studio made a fundamental change to the usual approach to sequelizing a Frankenstein movie that fitting breathed new life into the character.
While the world slept soundly thinking that the guillotine had solved all their problems by knocking Baron Frankenstein’s block off, it seemed that the wiley sod had one last trick or two hidden up his ruffled sleeve and managed to escape certain doom by having a priest take his punishment in his stead. While logic predictably calls bullshit on this, it’s still proves to be a more believable reversal of certain death than the one seen in Halloween: Resurrection so we simply except it and move on and adter three years have passed, rejoin the Baron after he has started a new life in Carlsbrück. Working under the alias of Doctor Stein (Jesus, Vic…), Frankenstein has built up a successful practice as a physician and has all the young, well to-do women in the area lining up for him to listen to their hearts go pitter-patter; but our Viktor has no interest in the ladies, not when he’s resumed his experiments into beating death. Collecting raw materials from the limbs needlesy amputated from the surly ragamuffins who frequent his emergency room, the Baron has a new plan in mind, one that doesn’t require him to build a new body or steal brains at all as he has a healthy body all lined up so he can transplant the brain of his crippled partner in crime, Karl, into it and become famous. Assisted by Hans, a junior member of the medical council who has managed to recognize him despite that “foolproof” alias, the two are initially successful at shifting Karl’s brain into new digs, but before you know it, the same old problems start to arise. Karl’s new body (not to mention his sanity) starts to become ever more twisted as his obsession with pretty nurse Margaret grows with his building mania.
How’s Frankenstein going to get his stuck-up, psychotic butt out of this mess?
So while The Revenge Of Frankenstein follows a lot of the established patterns laid out by previous sequels (random sidekick, desperate hunchback), this movie manages to do something that’s so simple, you wonder why no one stuck to it before. While Colin Clive did admittedly return for Bride Of Frankenstein, the Universal movies’ main focus was the monster as the subsequent adventures trickled down the Frankenstein family tree, Hammer on the other hand kept Peter Cushing’s flinty Baron as the focal point for six of the seven movies they made. Moving on from Christopher Lee’s stumbling beanpole, Revenge Of Frankenstein’s signature monster is the rather more complicated story of hunchback Karl and the negative effects of having the contents of your noggin dumped into someone else’s brain pan and while it initially doesn’t seem to be as exciting as the original story, once you get into the lane that this is a Frankenstein story and not a monster story, it ends up being large amount of fun while being admirably brave.
Cushing strides through the movie putting out vibes that he has absolutely no interest in anyone’s human rights or well being if it means he gets to screw with God’s plan just that little bit longer. His bizarre doodling with human parts that involves using a flame to freak out an arm and a connected set of eyeballs shows that despite his frosty, composed demeanor, he’s actually kaka for coco puffs, delivering lines loaded with underlining menace (“It would be a pity to lose you… so soon.”), terrorizing his poor patients with his chop-happy methods and working in a lab that has shocking health and safety standards – there’s a caged chimp within poo-flinging distance of the operating table for a freaking start!
Even though Viktor is taking centre stage, the monster stuff is still intriguing enough with the script taking great steps to give us a different variant of the same old brain transplanting shenanigans as Karl’s hellish journey to building a better bod that you know is going to go tits up the very second the hunchback is urged to avoid any sudden or violent movement (yeah, like that’ll happen).
Some will undoubtedly miss the more classic aspects you would normally consider when you think of a standard Frankenstein movie (I’ll concede that a gurning dude with a scar on his head is visually no match for Lee’s mottled visage) but if that’s the case – just watch watch Curse Of Frankenstein again.
The typically lush cinematography must have still been a delightful sensual overload in the wake of all those black and white classics and the movie has a nice line in cinematic payoff when the hollow-cheeked scowl of Cushing is shaken by his motley patients who finally get fed up of all the amputations (cute metaphor for the rich using the poor) and decide to take it out on his thin-lipped face. However, the movie takes a surprisingly modern swing at future sequels by having Frankenstein’s brain transplanted from his broken body into a new one he already prepared earlier and have him retreat to London under the nom de plume Dr. Franck (oh god dammit, Vic!).
Not a patch on the first film, but still a damn good example of the revolutionary stuff Hammer was doing to bring horror’s most beloved pantheon out of those monochromatic crypts and into the colourful world of more 50’s style sex and violence.
To be frank, it’s a class act.