Anthony HindsFrankensteinPeter CushingHammer Frankenstein
The Evil of Frankenstein
Medium: film
Year: 1964
Director: Freddie Francis
Writer: Anthony Hinds
Keywords: horror, Hammer, Frankenstein
Country: UK
Actor: Peter Cushing, Peter Woodthorpe, Duncan Lamont, Sandor Eles, Katy Wild
Format: 84 minutes
Series: << Hammer Frankenstein >>
Website category: Horror pre-1970
Review date: 27 March 2008
Yes, I bought The Evil of Frankenstein. Of course. I'd watched numbers 1, 2 and 4-7 in the series, so it was inevitable.
I quite liked it, actually.
The key, I think, was that I knew going in that it's generally regarded as Hammer's weakest Frankenstein movie. Lowered expectations are a wonderful thing. Personally I think there's a lot to like in here, but its problem's obvious (not to mention ironic, given the title). There isn't enough evil. The Baron's almost heroic this time, the monster's bland, the hypnotist Zoltan is almost a comedy character and even the monster's victims aren't bad people.
1. the Baron. Cushing's still great fun to watch ("may I come in?"), but this time around he's almost the hero! His sidekicks are his friends rather than doormats to be trampled underfoot, while he could almost be mistaken for having a sense of justice. His indignation on discovering that his property has been appropriated certainly goes beyond what the more cold-blooded Frankenstein of the other films would have regarded as prudent. He's a bit stupid in those scenes, to be honest.
2. Zoltan the hypnotist, who's the film's only real baddie. Even his name feels reminiscent of classic monster movies! Unfortunately he comes across as the secret love child of Philip Madoc and Peter Butterworth, seedy and slightly comedic. He's fun to watch, with his gutter pomposity and his self-satisfied Carry On smile, but he's in no way scary or imposing. His inevitable fate feels like a throwaway moment.
3. the village Burgomaster and his men are forgettable, despite managing to piss off the Baron (and more importantly Zoltan) enough to get themselves killed. Again there's no satisfaction in seeing them murdered. Did they do anything I wouldn't have done? Don't think so. In fact it's surprising that Zoltan bothers taking revenge on them in the first place. Okay, they broke up his show at the fair, but you'll need to have been paying attention to remember that they'd also technically drummed him out of town. An act of wisdom and foresight, I call that. This film could have been improved no end by building up the Burgomaster & co. into adversaries worth killing.
4. the monster itself. It's reminiscent of the iconic Karloff design from the 1930s, since Hammer did a one-off deal with Universal for this film. Unfortunately Kiwi Kingston is no Karloff. The performance isn't there, the make-up isn't as expressive and the film itself just isn't particularly interested in him. This is doubly unfortunate since the film's entire structure is built around him, even more than usual for a Frankenstein movie. We see the Baron create him in a lengthy flashback sequence, before skipping to the present day and eventually finding his old monster entombed in ice. Had the poor brute been genuinely horrific, that would have fired up the film and given it the oomph it needed. Hell, I'd have settled for "memorable". Admittedly the script contains a few scenes that might have been inspired by the old Karloff films, but the director clearly doesn't have a clue about how to shoot them. The camera just gawps at them in medium or long shot, with no real attempt at showcasing anything that might be construed as a performance.
All that said, there's still a lot to like here. There's some fantastic design, especially in Frankenstein's laboratory, and it's cool to see these two iconic Frankenstein eras united. Whatever else the monster might be lacking, it undeniably has the authentic shovel forehead. I also quite like the cast, if that's not a contradiction given everything I've just said. They're likeable, even if as an ensemble they don't quite have what the film needs to really get going. Katy Wild is fun as a deaf-mute beggar girl, while there's also the Burgomaster's wife for those of you who just want a bit of mindless cleavage. I do have one nitpick, though. Since the setting is clearly Germanic, why does Frankenstein have a Chateau rather than a Schloss?
It should be mentioned that that aforementioned flashback scene ignores the continuity of Hammer's previous Frankenstein films. Some reviewers seem a bit indignant about this (no, really), but in fact it's easy to handwave. The Baron's clearly been busy a long time. Presumably this Karloff-a-like monster wasn't the Baron's first successful creation after all and his version of events as told to Hans contains a few lies or omissions. Abracadabra. Easy-peasy.
Overall, as a horror film it's not so great. As a Peter Cushing 19th century science-fiction romance, it's a lot more fun. It's probably the weakest of either Hammer's Dracula or Frankenstein series with the possible exception of the original 1958 Dracula, but being able to say that of a movie this solid probably makes them the most consistent and dependable series of horror films yet made.