Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Review - "The Evil of Frankenstein" (1964)

Released during the height of the studio's run, The Evil of Frankenstein was the third film in Hammer's series featuring Peter Cushing as Baron Frankenstein. A year after the successes of The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula, Hammer followed up their adaptation of Mary Shelly's novel with a sequel - The Revenge of Frankenstein. Sadly, I have never seen this film, so I cannot judge how good or bad it is. Nevertheless, I have seen Evil of Frankenstein and it is the subject of today's review as we continue Peter Cushing Month.

Though it was the third in Hammer's Frankenstein franchise, oddly The Evil of Frankenstein does not follow the chronology of the previous two movies and finds Peter Cushing's Baron Frankenstein working in a secluded European village. After stealing a corpse to further his experiments, Frankenstein is found out by a village priest, and along with his assistant Hans (Sandor Eles), the two flee the town. Frankenstein and Hans arrive in the remote village where he first conducted his notorious experiments. After having created a Monster (Kiwi Kingston), the Creature went on a rampage, before it was apparently killed by authorities. While searching the grounds of his now dilapidated castle, Frankenstein uncovers the Monster's remains and is determined to bring it back to life. But, his brain-damaged creation will need help, so the Baron turns to the assistance of a stage magician named Zoltan (Peter Woodthorpe).

The Evil of Frankenstein is not very highly regarded by those who have seen it. Reviews have called it "dismal" and "the worst of Hammer films' Frankenstein series." This seems really quite harsh in my mind, but I cannot deny the fact that the film is mediocre, and the weakest of the Frankenstein films I have seen. I think the movie's greatest weakness is its story, which is really too campy to be taken seriously. Hammer's other Frankenstein films regarded its material with true seriousness and professionalism. The Evil of Frankenstein is more of a throwback to the Universal horror films of the '30's and '40's, which by itself would not be a problem at all. However, the movie seems to take a page from Universal's less successful efforts.

Peter Cushing's Baron Frankenstein
is up to no good once again
The ties to Universal Studios does not end there. Hammer had managed to strike a distributing deal with Universal and were therefore able to use a make-up for the Monster similar to the famous design for Universal's 1931 original. The result is rather dire, any attempt to emulate the famous make-up falls flat. The hardest blow comes when one realises that the make-up worn by Christopher Lee's Creature in The Curse of Frankenstein was a fine, original concept, and Hammer should have had more confidence in their abilities without trying to vainly emulate a classic.

What of the cast? Of course the main attraction is Peter Cushing's Baron. Cushing seems rather detached this time around, and I hazard a guess that he wasn't in love with the script this time around as he is uncharacteristically dull. Cushing retains a bit of aloofness which is in-keeping with the Baron's character, but little of the great spark and zest which drove the Baron's experiments is lacking this time around. Due to Cushing's unfortunately lacklustre performance, Peter Woodthorpe easily steps in and steals the show as Zoltan, a stage magician and hypnotist who the Baron employs so he can communicate with his comatose Creature. Woodthorpe is deliriously over-the-top, but he nicely counteracts Cushing's understatement, so the two's double-act is rather nice. Kiwi Kingston was a New Zealand-born wrestler and actor, known today for little else than his performance as the Creature in this film. To put it mildly, Kingston cannot hold a candle to Christopher Lee's portrayal of the Creature seven years earlier.

The Evil of Frankenstein is not a terrible movie however. The pre-credits sequence which finds Frankenstein up to his old tricks again as he steals a body is intense and incredibly atmospheric, and probably the film's highlight. Also of note is a nice score by Don Banks which is at once melodic and bombastic and underscores the film beautifully. Click here to listen to the film's opening credits theme.

In all, The Evil of Frankenstein can at times be disappointing, but I wouldn't put it down as a terrible movie experience. While it lacks strong central performances, the film does have some nice scenes of atmosphere and musical score. Therefore, I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

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