Horror Film Review: The Revenge of Frankenstein (dir by Terence Fisher)


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Last year, Gary reviewed the first of the Hammer Frankenstein films, The Curse of Frankenstein.  For today’s horror film review, I’m going to take a look at the second movie in Hammer’s Frankenstein series, 1958’s The Revenge of Frankenstein!

The Revenge of Frankenstein opens where The Curse of Frankenstein ended.  The monster (played by Christopher Lee in the first film) has been destroyed and Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) has been sentenced to be executed for the monster’s crimes.  However, the Baron escapes the guillotine.  Instead, he arranges for a priest to be beheaded in his place.  Working under the name Dr. Stein, the Baron escapes to another village and, after several years, re-establishes himself as a wealthy and respected doctor.  While most of his patients are rich, Dr. Stein also helps the poor and the disabled.  By all accounts, he’s doing wonderful work but he’s also deliberately enigmatic, refusing to join the local doctors council.

Right from the beginning, we’re reminded of just how different Hammer’s Baron Frankenstein was from Universal’s version of the good doctor.  In the Universal films, Dr. Frankenstein — regardless of whether the doctor in question was Henry, Wolf, or Ludwig — was always portrayed as being misguided but ultimately noble.  If any of the Universal Frankensteins had been sentenced to death, it’s probable that they would have put on a stoic face, walked to the guillotine, and allow their head to roll.  In fact, they would have felt so responsible for the actions of the Monster that they probably would feel it was their moral duty to allow themselves to be executed.

That’s not the case when it comes to Hammer’s Baron Frankenstein.  Baron Frankenstein feels no guilt over what the Monster has done.  Go the guillotine?  No way!  Baron Frankenstein is determined to create life and if creating life means that other, lesser mortals end up dead … well, so be it.  As opposed to the Universal Frankensteins, who all developed god complexes after the success of their experiment, Baron Frankenstein has his god complex from the beginning.  And if Baron Frankenstein is a god, why shouldn’t a priest be sacrificed for the good of the Baron’s work?

Anyway, Dr. FrankenStein and his assistant, Dr. Kleve (Francis Matthews) are determined to once again bring the dead back to life.  This time, the plan involves transplanting the brain of hunchback Karl (Oscar Quitak) into a physically strong body (played by Michael Gwynn).  Dr. Kleve is worried that a brain transplant could lead to unforseen complications.  For instance, one of Dr. Stein’s chimpanzees reacts to being given an orangutan’s brain by turning into a cannibal.  However, Stein tells Dr. Kleve not to worry about it.  After all, what could go wrong?

Well, a lot goes wrong.  It’s a Frankenstein movie, after all.

I have to admit that, while I love Hammer’s Dracula films, I’ve never been a huge fan of their take on Frankenstein.  While Peter Cushing always makes for a wonderfully compelling and often chillingly evil Baron Frankenstein, the majority of the Hammer Frankenstein films always seem to move way too slowly.  Whenever I watch one of them, I always find myself growing rather impatient with the endless scenes of grave robbery and body stitching.  “HURRY UP AND BRING THAT DAMN THING TO LIFE!” I’ll find myself shouting.

However, I was actually pleasantly surprised by how well The Revenge of Frankenstein holds up.  That Cushing would give an excellent performance as Baron Frankenstein is to be expected.  But really, the entire film is well-acted and both Oscar Quitak and Michael Gwynn give poignant performances as Frankenstein’s latest experiment.  It’s a visually vibrant and nicely paced horror film, one that never drags like some of the later Hammer Frankenstein films.

The Curse of Frankenstein and The Revenge of Frankenstein make for a great double feature, especially in October!

Horror Film Review: Scars of Dracula (dir by Roy Ward Baker)


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As I watched the opening of 1970’s Scars of Dracula, I found myself wondering several things.

First off, why do people even bother with trying to kill Dracula?  At the end of every Hammer film, Dracula would end up dying but then, just as surely, he would be revived in the sequel.  Now, I do think that Hammer deserves some credit for, at the very least, trying to maintain some sort of continuity over the course of its 9 Dracula films.  At least they didn’t have Dracula just mysteriously show up alive at the beginning of each sequel.  Instead, there was always someone or something who would show up at the beginning of the film for the exact purpose of bringing Dracula back to life.  Scars of Dracula, for instance, opens with a rubber bat hovering over the red dust that was once Dracula.  The bat spits up some blood and, before you know it, Dracula’s back and, once again, he’s being played by Christopher Lee.

Secondly, what happens to old vampire hunters?  Dracula shows up in film after film but, for the most part, his antagonists only show up once and then disappear, with the notable exception, of course, of Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing.  Then again, seeing as how they probably know that Dracula never stays dead for more than two years, it’s totally understandable that his enemies would probably leave town while they had the chance.

I mentioned Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing.  Interestingly enough, Cushing doesn’t appear in as many Dracula films as you probably think.  However, whenever we think of Christopher Lee’s Dracula, we also think of Cushing’s Van Helsing.  Peter Cushing was one of the few Hammer actors who had a screen presence as memorable as Christopher Lee’s.  As a result, Cushing’s Van Helsing was always seen as a worthy and credible opponent.

The downside of that is that is, when you watch a Dracula film that doesn’t feature Cushing, you find yourself very much aware of just how boring and bland most of Dracula’s other opponents truly were.  For the most part, Lee’s Dracula had to deal with an increasingly generic band of “nice” young men and women, none of whom could come close to matching Lee’s dominance of the screen.

Sometimes, of course, that didn’t matter.  But often times, as with Scars of Dracula, it’s really hard not to wish that Dracula was spending his time dealing with another Van Helsing instead of the film’s forgettable heroes.

In Scars of Dracula, Simon Carlson (Dennis Waterman) drops by Dracula’s castle while searching for his missing brother Paul (Christopher Matthews).  Accompanying Simon is Paul’s fiancee, Sarah (Jenny Hanley).  Naturally, Dracula wants to make Sarah into his bride.  Complicating matters is the fact that Dracula’s servant, Klove (Patrick Troughton), has also fallen in love with Sarah.  There’s plentiful gore, a little nudity, a lot of rubber bats, and Hammer mainstay Michael Ripper shows up playing yet another inn keeper.  Christopher Lee is, as always, an intimidating and cruel presence of Dracula and Patrick Troughton has a lot of fun as Klove.  But whenever the film focuses on its bland young leads, it comes to a halt.

Scars of Dracula is okay without being particularly memorable.  It’s not one of the best of the Christopher Lee’s Dracula films but it has enough of the Hammer style to, if you’re in the right mood, enjoyable.