Friday, June 24, 2011

Cult Classic of the Week: The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

Hammer Film Productions was formed in 1934, but by the end of the Thirties it was primarily a distributor of films produced elsewhere. After World War II in-house film production resumed, mostly consisting of crime and mystery films. In the mid-1950s Hammer would rise to prominence with two film adaptations of the television series Quatermass and the first of their horror films, The Curse of Frankenstein. These proved so popular that Hammer continued with a series of films using the same characters--Dracula, The Mummy, Frankenstein--including The Revenge of Frankenstein in 1958 and The Evil of Frankenstein in 1964.

Baron Frankenstein continues his grisly experiments until the local clergyman discovers his "blasphemy". Fleeing with his assistant Hans, the Baron decides to return to his home in Karlstaad, thinking that the residents will have forgotten him after a ten-year absence. They make their way back to his abandoned and looted chateau using the local carnival festival as cover. With the assistance of a deaf and mute beggar girl, they find Frankenstein's original creature frozen in a mountaintop glacier. The Baron enlists a carnival hypnotist to get though to his creation's damaged mind. The hypnotist, however, has other plans for the monster...

Along with the later film Horror of Frankenstein (1970), Evil... is usually set apart from the other movies in the Hammer Frankenstein series. Horror... is a remake of Curse of... with a dark comedic bent. Evil... started out as an unproduced script from the TV series Tales of Frankenstein. The plot device of a hypnotist who can get through to the creature's damaged brain carried over from that script.

Because of the distribution deal with Universal Pictures, the production had more money to work with in its budget. This arrangement also allowed Hammer to use Universal's intellectual property, whereas in the previous films they were prevented from doing so for copyright reasons. The creature makeup in Evil... was the most similar in the series to Jack Pierce's famous makeup design for Boris Karloff. The machinery in Baron Frankenstein's lab is modeled after Kenneth Strickfaden's electrical set pieces. The monster is found frozen in ice, as seen in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. The backlot set of the village is like the German village set from the Universal backlot. In look and feeling, the film itself was much more like one of the Universal Frankenstein films.

This similarity to the Universal monster films became a sticking point among fans at the time of its release. Hammer had charted their own new course with the previous films, and this return to a more standard style of storytelling appeared to be a step backward. Another point of contention was its place in the timeline. Evil... has a flashback sequence to a different set of events that were not in the first two movies. The creature wasn't shot and chased into the mountains in the first film; there's no mention of the Baron's escape from the guillotine or his "escape" from the authorities at the end of the second film. Frankenstein's personality is also different in Evil... In the first two films, he is cold, calculating, and clever enough to evade his pursuers, including the police and the medical association. In this film, the Baron is less in control of situations.  He flaunts his superiority over the villagers and can't control his temper in a local inn, leading to his arrest. He also trusts a sideshow hypnotist with his greatest creation. For reasons such as these, many fans see this as a stand-alone film apart from the normal series.

The Evil of Frankenstein is essential viewing for anyone watching the entire Hammer Frankenstein series. On its own, it's a good Frankenstein movie, harkening back to the classic Universal films. Peter Cushing is great as usual but limited by the material he's given. He still manages some standout scenes. As far as interesting movies that do something different, Curse of... and Revenge... are the better films. I watched this on DVD as part of Universal's terrific 8-movie, 2-disc set The Hammer Horror Series.

1 comment:

Lori said...

How interesting that you watched and reviewed this movie because I just started reading Frankenstein!
Great blog post! :)