Tuesday, June 17, 2014


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *sociological, psychological*

THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN, the first of the Hammer Frank-films to be written by producer Anthony Hinds, shows great potential but ends up coming off much like its monster's makeup: underdone.

I've never been a huge fan of the Hammer Frankenstein series, as I noted in my review of the first film, CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  That film and its sequel, REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN, sought to distance themselves from the story-patterns and visual elements used by the Universal adaptations of the Mary Shelley monster. But prior to filming EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN, Hammer struck a distribution deal with Universal, one that encouraged the Hammer producers to attempt something more in the vein of the Universal series.

One thing does not change: though the Monster has some resemblance to the classic design, he is no more the narrative focus of the story than his analogues were in the previous two Hammer flicks. Frankenstein the scientist remains the focus in most if not all of the series, played adeptly with Peter Cushing regardless of the quality of the scripts. However, Hammer's reluctance to allow the creature any humanity, to treat him as little more than a destructive wind-up toy, undermines the potential of the story.

Hinds chooses an interesting approach to his first Frankenstein outing. The scientist and his aide Hans are interrupted during Frankenstein's latest blasphemous experiment to create life. The two men leave town in a hurry, both strapped for cash. The Baron decides to return to his native town Karlstaad, from which he was banished ten years earlier, when the townspeople found out about his earlier experiments. Frankenstein hopes to be able to realize some funds by sneaking into his ancestral home and liquidating some assets, all the while keeping his return on the down-low. Thanks to a festival in Karlstaad, the two conspirators are successful in entering the town, but they are disappointed to reach the baron's old castle, for most of the valuable property has been removed. A crestfallen Frankenstein then explains to Hans the circumstances behind his banishment: that he succeeded once before in creating a man-made monster. The creature escaped long enough to kill a sheep and terrify some villagers, until it was shot and plunged off a cliff.  None of these events have more than a minimal resemblance to events of the previous two films.

Frankenstein and Hans return to town, hoping to get a meal, and they don masks so that no native will recognize their home-town exile. Frankenstein then blows their chances for anonymity: he sees the local Burgomaster wearing the Baron's signet ring. The scientist makes a big scene and gets the local constables after him and Hans, but the two escape after a minor encounter with Zoltan, a traveling hypnotist who becomes important later. Despite this narrow escape, Frankenstein later beard the Burgomaster in his den in a scene that seems to have no point but to demonstrate the local official's greed, as he has several of the Baron's artifacts in his possession.

Hans and Frankenstein flee to the countryside, where their luck changes, after a fashion. A deaf-mute girl not only takes them in and gives them food, she reveals that she's found the body of the Monster, now encased in ice. After Frankenstein and Hans defrost the creature, they somehow manage to get the bulky man-monster back to the deserted estate. Frankenstein even manages to use his ten-year-old equipment to infuse the Monster with a measure of life, but the creature remains unresponsive to any commands. Frankenstein gets the bright idea to enlist Zoltan's talents. Sure enough, the hypnotist is able to reach the Monster and make him perform elementary tasks, which is just what Frankenstein needs for further research. But Zoltan decides to use the Monster for his personal gain, all of which leads to murder, mayhem, and even that beloved Universal standard, the exploding room/lab/castle.

Though I recognize the appeal of the cold, remorseless intellectual version of Frankenstein from CURSE, I like EVIL's mad doctor better-- for all that he's really not as "evil" as the earlier version. This Frankenstein is more purely focused on the scientific goal of creating life, and his character allows Peter Cushing to demonstrate a greater range of emotion, particularly his aristocratic rage at seeing his family's possessions looted by corrupt officials.  Zoltan, had he been better developed, could have assumed the role of the "evil shadow" who pollutes Frankenstein's lofty ambitions, as was seen with the hunchback Ygor in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN and GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN.  But Zoltan is no more than a flat stereotype of a man-on-the-make. If Hinds had allowed the creature to speak, or even have its own emotions, there could have been an interesting psychological struggle for the monster's "soul" between the scientist and the mental manipulator. But Hinds keeps the creature at the level of a lumbering beast, so that the Monster has no emotions to engage. That said, this emotionless hulk still makes a better monster-- particularly in a scene where he stalks the nighted streets of Karlstaad-- than the "chop-top" excuse for a monster who appears in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED.

One other angle of EVIL is interesting. A fair number of Hinds-scripted Hammer horrors place aristocratic characters in bad odor, as seen in CURSE, BRIDES OF DRACULA, and CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF.  But this baron is appealing in comparison to the petty corruption of the ignoble Burgomaster and the local constables. Possibly, if indeed Hinds was seeking to emulate the Universal Frank-films of Classic Hollywood, he may have picked up on the tendency of those films to depict British aristocrats as a little stuffy but essentially benign-- that is, about as far as one can get from the venal scientist of the first two Hammer films.

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