It’s said that doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results is a sure way to measure insanity and while the repeated attempts of Dr. Frankenstein to create life certainly falls within that remit, the bosses in charge of Hammer Films obviously decided it was time for a change.
After all, the 70’s were upon us and this version of dear old Frankie had been body snatching, conniving and tinkering for close to thirteen years at this point and was seemingly no closer to achieving his blasphemous dream of unlocking the secrets of life and death – so the powers that be decreed that alterations needed to happen in order to preserve the franchise.
The result was Horror Of Frankenstein, a sort of reboot that existed long before the term existed to re-launch a thousand franchises that sought to remake Curse Of Frankenstein while infusing the whole enterprise with a deeply sarcastic sense of humour to mix things up. Once more, everything old was new again…
Deeply intelligent, but noticably psychopathic, Victor Frankenstein sornds his days womanizing, openly mocking the teachers at his school and dreaming about tackling impossible scientific discoveries head-on and he certainly isn’t above employing some dastardly tactics in order to get what he wants. Whether tampering with his father’s rifle so the ensuing “accident” means he’s bequeathed the family fortune, or shooting and mutilating a highway man in cold blood in order to start collecting the raw materials necessary to begin his obsession in earnest, it seems no act is too dastardly when employed for the “greater good”.
Leaving university in Vienna for the summer with school chum, Wilhelm Kassner, in tow, Victor starts his experiments while simultaneously juggling all the baggage that comes with his return.
Firstly, his old classmates may have all grown up but, buxom blonde Elizabeth still carries a torch for the callous scientist while he satisfies his carnal appetites with similarly busty housekeeper Alys who is always on the scheme; elsewhere he is forced to procure the services of a very business-minded grave robber and his wife who keep one eye plastered to the newspapers in order to get first dibs on any bodies left over from some stray accident or mass death and soon Victor has all the bodies he could possibly want.
However, his wayward tactics soon begin to require a loose end or two to be tied up before he ends up being marched to the gallows, but luckily he has his lever activated acid bath to take care of that and once his creation is finally built and brought to life, he employs his hulking creature to do his dirty work for him when the odd neck needs snapping. Will Frankenstein be brought to justice for his many crimes or will the smug, little shit get away scott free?
Exactly how much you enjoy Horror Of Frankenstein mainly depends on your opinion of how successful Hammer’s changes to the franchise actually are as Jimmy Sangster’s script and direction takes matters into almost a potentially comedic bent. I say potentially, because the movie seems to be more “strange” funny than “ha ha” funny and chiefly concerns itself with drawing as many dark chuckles as it can from how divorced from his terrible deeds our lead character truly is. Be it being somewhat confused by people’s reactions to his superiority complex, to the fact that he manipulates and murders without a second thought for the ramifications his acts will cause, the movie feels more like a persecutor to Re-Animator’s Herbert West rather than any version of Frankenstein we’ve ever seen before. Oh sure, Peter Cushing was something of a malevolent uber-bastard in the last movie, but we were never invited to revel in his vicious doings as this film wants us to do.
Ah yes, Cushing… as Christopher Lee was ousted from appearing as Dracula in the second movie, Cushing has to be benched here as this movie required a noticably younger Baron to focus on as Sangster tinkered around with his origins and cast in his place was Ralph Bates who actually showcases a neat line in showing not a shread of remorse as he goes about irony-laden misdeeds. Is he as good as Peter Cushing? Don’t be ridiculous – but then it’s not entirely a fair comparison as he’s not trying to be, instead this is a more psychologically twisted version of the classic character who is more liberated both in himself and sexually to match the changing youth of the times.
However, in a curious quirk of fate, Horror Of Frankenstein’s attempts to bring the funny fall a little flat because the humour is somewhat ahead of it’s time. Ever watched a horror movie where everyone else acts like they’re in a straight genre piece while the lead character seems like they’re in on the joke? That’s essentially what we have here, but in something of an embryonic form that doesn’t actually feel all that funny despite Bates testing his theory by resurrecting a dead tortoise and ending the movie back at square one after his monster is accidentally obliterated by that acid bath as he’s being grilled about all the subsequent carnage and missing persons he’s left in his wake. However, the breezy attitude means that the laughs are rather too subtle to the point that any newer viewers might not realise it’s trying to be wryly funny at all despite the opening credits has someone clearly using a felt tip pen to mark off an anatomic plan with a felt tip pen!
The remainder of the cast play things straight and contains Hammer veterans Veronica Carlson and Kate O’Mara wielding their respective cleavages like lethal weapons while the latter’s accent switches from a Dorset twang to a Scottish brogue an back again often in the middle of a line. Elsewhere, we have Darth Vader himself, David Prowse, snapping necks without the aid of the force and instead relies on his burly arms to do the job for him as he blankly glares from under an enlarged prosthetic bonce and while he’s not a patch on Karloff or Lee’s punt at the creature, he still has the size to still be imposing – even while wearing a bandaged pair of underpants.
While not a bad installment of the Frankenstein legend, Horror Of Frankenstein does suffer by being fairly slow and not managing to either be funny or scary enough to score highly in either department and could have used a bit more gore to really drive the macabre ambitions of the script home.
So – something of a muddled experiment, then… Typical Frankenstein, really.