APRIL 4, 2012
Continuing my charmingly out of order experience with Hammer’s series, I come to The Revenge Of Frankenstein, which is the 2nd in the series but the 5th that I’ve seen. The only two left are also the last in the series, and ironically the 6th film, The Horror Of Frankenstein is actually a remake of the first one that doesn’t have Peter Cushing anyway, so even if I watched it next and followed it up with the 7th (Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell) it wouldn’t matter much for continuity.
Anyway, this one’s an odd one, considering that it was the first sequel. Not only is it a different monster (instantly setting it apart from the Universal incarnation), but it barely appears and doesn’t do a lot of monster stuff. Most of the focus is on Frankenstein himself, who is living under an assumed name and working in a local hospital for poor people. Before long, he is blackmailed by a young doctor who wants to be his apprentice (not a bad option, as far as blackmail goes), and the movie depicts their attempts to create a new monster while avoiding being found out. Of course, if he had a less obvious alias than “Dr Victor Stein” maybe he would have been a bit more successful, but one thing I always love about these period pieces is that folks can pull this sort of stuff off because they didn’t have photos everywhere (I say again, technology has killed horror movie plotting), so I let this goofy bit of writing slide.
I also enjoyed that it’s almost a con man movie more than a horror movie, what with blackmailers and TWO sequences in which Frankenstein escapes death by swapping bodies around. The final scene is straight out of a con/heist movie too; as we come up on the “surprise” appearance of our protagonist, still very much alive and helpfully explaining to his scene partner (but really the audience) how they were able to pull this stunt off. I half expected a lumbering monster to show up and reveal his own role in the operation, or at least something that would lead into Evil Of Frankenstein’s opening, where the two men are forced out of town – this ends with them being welcomed in their new town.
As for the monster stuff, it’s kind of generic, though there are a few touches I liked. The brain starts to reshape the new body into something more like the body it originally came from, so at first he has trouble moving one of his legs but by the end he’s once again a hunchback, the very thing that made the guy want to risk death by putting his brain into a normal body in the first place! Bummer. Also, there’s a subplot about a chimpanzee eating its partner, something that should find its way into every movie. But that’s pretty much it for the horror; the body count is very low (two?) and most of the focus is on Cushing and his assistant.
Speaking of Cushing, I love how he plays the role as a gigantic asshole. There’s very little of the sympathy that you had for the Colin Clive incarnation; he’s rude, arrogant, and single-minded. He also has no affection for other humans; when he reveals the body he stole for his newest experiment, Hans asks “Who is he?” and Frankenstein says “Nobody, he hasn’t been born yet.” In the hands of a less capable actor, this would be grating after a while, but Cushing makes it fun. Like a mad scientist version of Fletch, he’s constantly reminding everyone around him that he’s sharper and smarter, and it’s damn amusing.
The disc has the trailer, which is interesting since the first third of it recaps the first film as Cushing talks to the camera, and then the next third just runs through the cast without dialogue. None of it really explains the plot, and they keep the appearance of the monster to a minimum. I wonder if folks were disappointed that it wasn’t Christopher Lee this time around, the trailer actually shows him more than the new guy, so if they didn’t recognize that stuff as footage from the first film they’d probably be kind of pissed that he was nowhere to be found. Trailers for Earth Vs The Flying Saucers and The Bride (yes, the one with Sting) are also included, for some reason.
I really wish Hammer would get a boxed set together of these movies. This one is enjoyable enough but would work better in context with the others, and also if they had a box there would be more incentive to put together a retrospective or something (not unlike what they have on those green double disc sets that Universal put out for their monsters), with the history behind their productions, why Cushing sat that one film out, if they tried to get Lee back for this one, etc. Or anything besides a trailer for an unrelated UFO movie from a different studio.
What say you?