As Hammer continued to churn out lavish horror flick after horror flick during the swinging sixties, one thing that seemed conspicuous by its absence was the fact that the busy studio hadn’t delivered a Frankenstein sequel since 1958’s, but this changed when Hammer entered into a six year co-production pact with Universal. In league with the studio that created the version of the monster that is widely recognized as the definitive article – even now – the time was obviously right to deliver yet another Frankensequel.
However, when watching The Evil Of Frankenstein, it’s impossible not to notice that while Hammer and Universal teaming up could have been the catalyst to creating possibly the ultimate movie featuring Mary Shelley’s nature violating scientist, the movie ends up being far less than the sum of its parts as it sacrifices originality for a sense of the familiar.
As we stare at the traumatised face of a young girl as she witnesses a body snatcher drag the corpse of a relative out of a window, one thing is certain, Baron Frankenstein is once again up to his old tricks. However, due to this little eyewitness, the Baron and his latest subservient lickspittle, the bafflingly loyal Hans, are driven out of town causing his latest experiment to be scrapped before it even has a chance to begin.
As self obsessed as a spoilt Persian cat, Frankenstein seethes at the fact that the world just won’t leave him alone to be free to laugh in the face of God with reckless abandon, but much to Hans’ confusion, the Baron decides to return to his home town of Kaarlstaad in the belief that no one will possibly recognize him. Gargantuan overconfidence aside, Frankenstein immediately blows his own cover when he’s outraged to find out that all his belongs has been “confiscated” by the burgomaster who now owns all of the Baron’s bling. Realising he has no funds to continue his experiments, fortune decides to smile upon the obsessed scientist by having him stumble across the frozen, malformed body of his previous attempt at creating life and he, Hans and a local mute girl from the village that him out of his mountain tomb and bring him back to the Chateau in an extreme instance of “here’s one I made earlier”.
A further speed bump occurs when the creature’s brain remains unresponsive so in a desperate measure, the Baron brings in greedy hypnotist, Zoltan to try and jar the think in his creator’s think. The good news is that it works, the bad news is, with the clumping creature under his thrall, the bitter hypnotist decides to aim his new, man-made muscle at all those who have wronged him, causing the eye of suspicion to point at the Baron once again.
So the most obvious benefit of Unviversal clutching some of the purse strings is the fact that after two movies of esoteric creature designs, the Hammer films could finally use a monster that resembled Boris Karloff to create the mouthwatering prospect of cinema’s greatest Frankenstein bellowing orders at cinema’s greatest design for the Frankenstein’s Monster.
However, reality turns out to be nowhere near that cool, as instead of getting the best of both eras, we get possibly the most derivative adventure for the Baron thus far that eschews the narrative risks of the previous entry in favour of some Frankenstein-style box ticking. In fact, despite the fact that we start the film with him freely bankrolling the theft of a body that’s barely cold yet and despite the film itself is brazenly titled The Evil Of Frankenstein, this turns out to be one of the Baron’s more benign outings where the most shitty thing he does (besides give life to a block-headed murder-juggernaut, of course) is threaten a man who stole his stuff.
This entry is also regrettably loaded with forgettable characters too; whereas Frankenstein is usually teamed up with a young scientist who is morally torn by the Baron’s monster making mania, instead we get Hans, a completely subservient yes man who bows to his boss without question while failing to provide a single ounce of moral quandary. Elsewhere, you’d hope that the blustering Zoltan would provide some decent counter-villainy much like Dr Pretorius did back in Universal’s The Bride Of Frankenstein, but instead he too is not much more than a bitter, petty thug. However, the main disappointment lies with the monster himself who’s awkwardly played by wrestler Kiwi Kingston and is essentially what you’d get if you fused an Easter Island statue with a heavy handed nightclub bouncer. Not only does he lack the majesty of Karloff or the focused nature of Christopher Lee’s take (sure, the creature has always lumbered around – but this version looks like he can barely fucking move), but the movie chooses to confusingly break established continuity by establishing an entirely new flashback, separate from the preceding movies. Worse yet, the creature isn’t even finally brought down by a rampaging mob or a dashing hero, but instead brings about his own demise by developing a taste for alcohol, getting shitfaced in no time flat (fuckin’ lightweight) and then accidently starting an explosive fire in a way that seems less inspired by the dignity of previous performances and more like one of Oliver Reed’s drunken, chat show rampages.
Thankfully, throughout this maelstrom of uninspired plotting, simping sidekicks and a monster so ungainly he makes the Chuckle Brothers look like Torvile and Dean, stands the stoic figure of Peter Cushing who maintains an air of superiority the movie simply cannot match or deserve. Weirdly, the fact that he’s required to do less overtly dastardly stuff sometimes makes him an even more fascinating character as opposed to a man who’ll lie to, gaslight, threaten or even kill anyone who gets in his way, he now genuinely assumes that literally everyone around him has put there solely to help him achieve his goal and nothing else. It’s magnificently highlighted by Cushing’s frustrated reaction to every single setback the world has the audacity to put in his way – it’s almost like after all these years busting his arse to create life has divorced him from humanity so much, he now simply can’t fathom why the authorities won’t just leave him alone and let him do what he wants. Jesus, the man’s ego is so unfeasibly large, at one point he strides into the Burgormaster’s home to accuse him of theft when he’s the one wanted by the law. Oh don’t get me wrong, watching Peter Cushing, plot, connive and kill to achieve his goals is always awesome, but this change of speed, while less dastardly, is also no less fascinating and it’s this, combined with Freddie Francis’ typically stylish direction, that zaps life into a previously expired script.