|Revenge of Frankenstein, The|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 13 August 2002|
This first sequel to "The Curse of Frankenstein" reunites director Terence Fisher and lead Peter Cushing (as Victor Frankenstein); Jimmy Sangster is also aboard, credited as the sole screenwriter. As usual, this Hammer film is in vivid color, and is distinctly more gruesome than its predecessor, although by today's standards, it's fairly tame. But in 1958, it was a wowser.
The story takes place immediately where "The Curse" ended, as Frankenstein is being ushered to the guillotine. However, as a couple of graverobbers discover not long thereafter, Frankenstein escaped execution. Three years later, in another city, he's passing himself off with a remarkable lack of creativity as Dr. Victor Stein. He's the resident physician at a clinic for the poor, whose patients often undergo what seem to be unnecessary amputations. He's also a society doctor, with eager mothers pushing their daughters at the coolly disinterested Dr. Stein. (His randy nature, so much a part of "Curse," has clearly cooled.) The only one who knows his secret is Karl (Oscar Quitak), who's described in the credits rather mysteriously as a "dwarf," when he's of normal size. But he does have a stiff leg and a paralyzed arm.
The local Dr. Kleve (Francis Matthews) recognizes Dr. Stein as Frankenstein; instead of turning him in, he's eager to become Frankenstein's assistant. Frankenstein reveals that he's assembled another body, mostly out of parts filched from those impoverished patients, and intends to transfer Karl's brain to this non-deformed, all-new body.
Beautiful Margaret (Eunice Gayson), who's already caught the besmitten eye of Karl, also begins working at the clinic. After the brain transfer, she tends Karl, who's supposed to stay immobile for some time following his surgery. But she loosens his bonds, and he goes to Frankenstein's secret lab to destroy his original body. This, however, leads to real problems, especially when a janitor, in a remarkably unmotivated fight, whacks Karl over his new head. This triggers all kinds of stuff: not only does Karl begin thinking along cannibalistic lines (a plot development that the movie tends to gingerly shy away from), but all too soon his deformities begin recurring, and he starts looking pretty damned ugly. (Though a long way from Christopher Lee in "The Curse.") The movie concludes with an amusing, imaginative twist that, alas, the later films in the series ignored.
Much better-paced than "The Curse of Frankenstein," "The Revenge" moves along at a brisk pace, throwing in entertaining gore whenever necessary. Frankenstein demonstrates a set of disembodied eyeballs to Kleve: they move about their tank, tracking a Bunsen burner. This got laughs even in 1958. But the shots of brains being dropped into preservative fluid didn't.
It's an entertaining film, one of Hammer's best from this period, even though there's not much in the line of menace. After the post-operation Karl begins acting like a real Monster, he threatens a couple of people (killing some of them), but Frankenstein himself is not, until the very end, in any danger. Nor, oddly enough, is Margaret, who has nothing but a nurse/doctor relationship with either Frankenstein or Kleve. The story isn't so much a plot as an incident in the life of Frankenstein; there's little sense of building logically to a climax. There's an amusingly disgusting patient (well played by Richard Wordsworth) who provides some color, and who unaccountably and unpredictably turns against Frankenstein toward the end. But he's not a threat until then.
It's a better-made film than "the Curse of Frankenstein," more adult and responsible with better production values. But there's evidence of rewriting and of scenes being dropped. At one point, Karl lunges after a beautiful girl to kill (and maybe devour) her -- but when the scene begins he already has blood on his mouth. Why?
But overall, it's a far better movie than the similarly-budgeted American films of the time, and much more obviously aimed at adults. And Hammer films were always much better acted than their American contemporaries, even if you count only as far as Peter Cushing. Frankenstein this time is less of a zealot than he was in the first movie, but he's still a dandy, and Cushing again has inventive fun with props, always to expand his character and add visual interest. (When he eats a roast chicken, he doesn't merely cut it up, he dissects it.) He's still got a bad temper, and is still inclined to hum little tunes as he works in his laboratory.
Michael Gwynn is very good as the post-operative Karl; his swift transformation from the shy, frightened man we first meet into a bloodthirsty (maybe literally) killer is convincing and even scary. Francis Matthews is mostly for asking Frankenstein important questions, and Eunice Gayson -- who was in the first two James Bond movies as Bond's frustrated girlfriend -- is there because Hammer always had a gorgeous woman in their horror films. She serves almost no plot function.
The Columbia/Tristar DVD is handsome enough, though the print is not as startlingly good as those of Warner's "The Curse of Frankenstein" and "Horror of Dracula" releases. Aside from the now-standard trailer, the only extras are a dozen or so stills, presented with torn edges against a green brick background. They're low-contrast and uninteresting. The sound is the standard Dolby digital mono used on DVD releases of films of this period.
But the film itself is interesting throughout; it's great fun to watch Cushing in this role, which he's clearly having a lot of fun playing. It's a neat, efficient film, one of the best in the Hammer Frankenstein series (the very best, "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed," was several years in the future). If you're fond of horror films, this is a good purchase, especially with "The Curse of Frankenstein" now also available.