Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cushing reveals 'The Evil of Frankenstein'

The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)
Starring: Peter Cushing, Peter Woodthorpe, Sandor Eles, and Katy Wild
Director: Freddie Francis
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Baron Frankenstein (Cushing) returns from exile to find that his ancestral home has been looted by the corrupt leaders of nearby Karlstaad. Fuming with anger, he roams the nearby mountains, where he comes upon the monster he originally created, frozen in a mountain-top glacier. With the help of his faithful assistant Hans (Eles), a deaf-mute beggar girl (Wild), and a heapin' helpin' o' mad science, he restores the creature to "life." However, it is only with the help of Zoltan (Woodthorpe), corrupt, dark-hearted showman and hypnotist that Frankestein is able to bring the monster's awareness back from the mental shell it retreated into after its "death" a decade earlier. Unfortunately for Frankenstein and his friends, the monster is now under Zoltan's control, and he quickly starts using it for nefarious purposes.

This is Hammer Frankenstein film has grown on my since I first saw it several years ago. I still think it's one of the weaker in the series--it's to the Hammer 'Frankenstein' movies what "Scars of Dracula" is to the 'Dracula' series... a kinda-sorta reboot and remake of the initial film in the series--but I found myself liking it quite a bit more than I did originally.

First of all, Cushing gives another great performance of Frankenstein... and for once, the "good" Baron actually has cause to feel put-upon and persecuted; the townsfolk of Karlstaat really are a bunch of bastards, and the betrayal he faces at the hands of Zoltan is also something that would fill even a sane person with righteous indignation. Frankenstein really has more of a heroic air about him in this film, and most of "evil" that's committed comes from corners other than his. (Okay, so he DID create a monster made from human body parts, but can't anyone let bygones be bygones?!)

Second, although the story is thin, it is quote good. The film's strength is derived mostly from Cushing's ability as an actor--as, with the exception of Woodthorpe's destible Zoltan character, the rest of the actors turn performances so muted or predictable that they are little more than parts of the sets--but his performance is made all the stronger by the way the story elevates Frankenstein almost to the level of tragic hero; he is a man pursuing a dream of science, but he is ultimately doomed to failure through his own actions. (In this case, it's hiring Zoltan that's his main mistake... he really should have asked for checkable references first!)

The film also has one of the best Frankenstein Monster Labs in the series. That weird Martin the Martian raygun-style lightning catcher on the roof is very cool, as is the entire set-up by which Frankenstein transfers electricity into the monster's body.

Finally, the film shows us that Frankenstein's Monster is a mean drunk. Never let your monster drink booze. He's sure to run amok and light your house fire.

On the downside, the film has the second-worst monster in the series (only the furry beast of "Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell" is worse). It is suitably hideous, but the square-headed mask worn by the actor is shown so-very-clearly to be a mask in every closeup shot by the makeup around the actor's eyes. There's also the aforementioned issue of a very thin story, not to mention an illogical reason for why Frankenstein returned to his ancestral castle in the first place.

All-in-all, I think "The Evil of Frankenstein" (a film that's as mistitled as "Revenge of Frankenstein" was, as there are characters in this film more evil than the Baron) is worth a look if you're a fan of Hammer movies. It's even more worth a look if you're a fan of Peter Cushing... now that I've watched the movie again, I think it can be ranked among his best performances. It's not among the best overall of the Hammer Frankenstein films, but it's worth your time.

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