AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 89 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Baron Victor Frankenstein has been sentenced to death, but as he approaches the gallows, the priest to whom he had told his story is beheaded and buried in his place with the aid of a hunchback called Karl. Three years later, Frankenstein, now going by the name of Dr. Stein, has become a successful physician in Carlsbruck, catering to the wealthy while also attending to the poor in a paupers’ hospital. Dr. Hans Kleve, a junior member of the medical council, recognises him and blackmails him into allowing him to become his apprentice. Together with Karl, Frankenstein and Kleve continue with the Baron’s experiment: transplanting a living brain into a new body – one that isn’t a crude, cobbled-together monster. The deformed Karl is more than willing to volunteer his brain, thereby gaining a new, healthy body….
When asked how on earth Hammer could make a sequel to The Curse Of Frankenstein considering that the Baron was beheaded at the end, Hammer boss Sir James Carreras replied: “Oh we just sew the head back on”. The Revenge Of Frankenstein seems to be very highly regarded by many Hammer aficionados, but I think it’s distinctly inferior to its predecessor, if still a solid sci-fi/horror in its own right. Its script is often intelligent, witty and even rather original, and having a monster that can’t really be called a monster reinforces the idea that it’s Frankenstein who is the real monster, not anything he creates, while it really is excellently acted by Peter Cushing in the title role who truly shows what a fine performer he was [I’ve always preferred Christopher Lee, but, watching this film last night, I do think Cushing had the edge as an actor], but the film lacks the drive and tension of The Curse Of Frankenstein, and in particular its tremendous suspense and scare scenes, while there is some evidence of sloppiness here and there, as if the film was rushed. It also seems that the censors really neutered this one and weakened it. Taken on its own it’s still a fine expansion of the Frankenstein mythos, but, coming after The Curse Of Frankenstein and, in particular, the superb Dracula, it can’t help but seem as a mild disappointment to this critic.
Little seems to be known about Jimmy Sangster’s first script entitled The Blood Of Frankenstein, but an early promo poster for the film features the face of Lee’s Creature, so it probably had it revived again. Then Hammer struck a four-film deal with Columbia, who would co-finance the films and release them in the US, and Sangster was asked to hurriedly write a screenplay based on the title The Revenge Of Frankenstein and a poster. Hurfold James and an uncredited George Baxt helped with the dialogue. The film was shot immediately after Dracula and used many of the same, if re-dressed, sets. A sheep’s brain used for certain scenes was left out of the fridge one evening and the cast and crew arrived the next morning to find it covered in maggots and stinking to high heaven, necessitating the ordering of another one. Angry after their battles over Dracula, the BBFC almost banned the script outright and then demanded it be considerably altered to make far less prominent the idea of cannibalism. Upon examining a black and white print they still ordered shots of Karl salivating to be removed, but in the end only one shot was required to be cut from the finished film, of a brain being dropped from a pan into a jar of fluid, though this remained in most export prints while all UK TV, video and DVD version have been uncut. The Revenge Of Frankenstein was a commercial success [though critical reaction was of the usual hostile and revolted kind] though not a big smash like The Curse Of Frankenstein. In the US it was double-billed by Paramount with Curse Of The Demon, the US retitling of the British horror masterpiece Night Of The Demon.
After the rather clever opening of Victor escaping the gallows [though he does it rather easily – wouldn’t there have been some guards about?], we get a short humorous section featuring two tipsy grave robbers [great comic appearances by Michael Ripper, in his first Hammer horror, and Lionel Jeffries] which comes to a climax when they realise Frankenstein’s grave doesn’t actually contain Frankenstein and the man himself appears, causing one of them to fall into the open coffin. While it never gets as overtly comic again, Revenge is a little ‘lighter’ than Curse for some of the time and does have more deliberately amusing lines, plus one funny tiny moment where a boy is busy watching ants and the bored girl says: “Ants don’t sit around all day, they just get on with it”. There’s also one unintentionally amusing bit where Frankenstein demonstrates to his new assistant Paul how the brain sends signals to the hands and then the eyes. There’s a brain, a hand and two dumb looking eyes connected by a small amount of tissue in jars, and the hand begins to move as the eyes dance around. While it’s interesting that we actually like Frankenstein a bit more in this film – he still wants to create life and is rather too quick to remove limbs from patients, but we also see him actually treat people – Revenge kind of plods along for quite a while. It’s not boring, but without the sense that, in Curse, you know things are heading somewhere and beginning to get scary.
The creature in this film is simply a deformed [though he’s not a dwarf, despite what the credits say] person’s brain put inside a more ‘normal’ body that Frankenstein has put together, and after rather too much running time has been used up he eventually wakes up and the film then gets really interesting, if a bit rushed. Michael Gwynn acts with almost agonising conviction the part of a man with somebody else’s brain whose body starts to deteriorate and who begins to become hungry for human flesh [this unforeseen side effect is subtly- you don’t really notice it – foreshadowed when you see Frankenstein feeding a meat to a monkey with another creature’s brain]. I really wish the BBFC had allowed Karl to become more obviously cannibalistic – it ends up being more hinted at than anything else to the point where we’re not sure he actually eats any of the people he kills – though this section climaxes impressively with the now-horrid looking Karl crashing a society ball [this scene, along with the idea of a handsome monster who becomes ugly, was re-used in the TV mini-series Frankenstein: The True Story, which was almost a compendium of the Hammer Frankenstein series], but the film isn’t over, because don’t forget Frankenstein is the main character, and the patients in the poor hospital where he works have finally had enough of him. The ending of the film makes no sense whatsoever. Frankenstein turns up in London inhabiting a new body that you see earlier – the creator becoming the creation – but he’s just Cushing with a moustache, while names like Dr. Stein and Dr. Franck do somewhat give the game away don’t they.
Revenge is slightly less gory and vicious than Curse – there are some severed body parts but hardly any blood elsewhere. There are some very noticeable mistakes, from dresses changing colour to nobody noticing that a window is open, and a few poorly staged scenes, like a fight between Karl and a janitor in Frankenstein’s laboratory. The wordy script, while having too few scenes of actual horror, is surprisingly sophisticated in places, especially with the way it presents some class conflict. The rich characters tend to mock and condescend to the dirty, illiterate poor, but guess who rise up at the end? The film neatly shows a compassionate and a cruel Frankenstein existing side by side, courting the upper classes with barely disguised contempt while exploiting the working classes for his own gain, and he doesn’t appear to be interested in sex this time round. Jack Asher mostly shoots Revenge in more drab colour schemes than he did Curse, though there are some striking, almost Bava-esque, moments in Frankenstein’s laboratory where sections are bathed in green light. Said laboratory is far less bilious and elaborate than before, though that wheel device turns up again, while Bernard Robinson’s re-used sets aren’t as disguised as well as normal.
Cushing is just fabulous with all the little nuances he puts into his character, though this actor is usually just so fascinating to watch anyway with his often improvised use of mannerisms and props. The viewer really understands how Frankenstein genuinely believes he is doing good and thinks that his more questionable acts are totally justifiable. In a film with rather less Hammer glamour than usual, Eunice Gayson, Bond’s English girlfriend Sylvia Trench in the first two James Bond films, makes an impression but any potential developments involving her character are thrown away and she then just totally disappears from the narrative. The Quatermass Experiment’s Richard Wordsworth is enjoyably amusing as an assistant whose eyes and ears work better than Frankenstein thinks. Leonard Salzedo replaced James Bernard on score duties and his music is a bit uninspired. There are a few exciting and atmospheric moments in the score, but nothing memorable and sometimes the music just seems to meander along with little structure. The Revenge Of Frankenstein does have a lot to recommend it and is an especially good example of how a Hammer film can have some intelligence, but it doesn’t entirely come off and forgets to provide enough scares. Hammer would indeed better their first Frankenstein picture, but not with this one. That would come much later.