Ralph BatesVeronica Carlsonthe RaniDennis Price
The Horror of Frankenstein
Medium: film
Year: 1970
Director: Jimmy Sangster
Writer: Jeremy Burnham, Jimmy Sangster
Keywords: horror, Hammer, Frankenstein, remake
Country: UK
Actor: Ralph Bates, Kate O'Mara, Veronica Carlson, Dennis Price, Bernard Archard, Peter Copley
Format: 95 minutes
Series: << Hammer Frankenstein >>
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0065851/
Website category: Horror 1970/80s
Review date: 28 February 2008
Hammer's 1970 Horror of Frankenstein can be more readily identified as "the one not starring Peter Cushing". Thus it's also a reboot, not part of the continuity of the series. I actually started watching it by accident. Naturally I'd planned to do the complete Peter Cushing before demeaning myself with mere mortals, but to my surprise I found Ralph Bates fascinating in the role. The thing is that by this point, Hammer's Frankenstein had been redefined by what Cushing had done him in the role. You can almost taste him in the lines, even out of someone else's mouth, and it's a fascinating exercise in comparing the master with the apprentice. It'll give you a fresh appreciation of Cushing's greatness even though Ralph Bates is still rather good. I enjoyed him a lot. He even squeezes some black comedy from his sheer cold-bloodedness. A poor performance from him in the central role would have made this film worthless, whereas in fact he manages to create his own valid interpretation of what's still undeniably the Cushing Frankenstein.
Unfortunately my opinion here doesn't seem to be universal. Opinions are mixed. A good number of folks regard Bates's Baron as an unlikeable little oik, altogether too full of himself and without even one redeeming feature. I found him fascinating, but I was coming at it from a very particular point of view and it must be admitted that he has little to recommend him as a human being. He's begging for a slapping, if not a kicking. He's also the most homicidal Baron Frankenstein I've ever seen, making Cushing look like a boy scout at a church fete. His sex drive is also worth a mention, being unusual not just for Hammer but for any Frankenstein film. The Baron is generally faithful to his Elizabeth. But hey, it's the 1970s.
The acting's strong all round, which is something of a rarity with Hammer. There's plenty of sex but no nudity (disappointingly for a late Hammer film), although Kate O'Mara in particular is wearing a mega-super-wonderbra that practically picks them up and throws them over her shoulders. This would have been even more striking had she been as buxom then as she'd become a few decades later. The only weak link is Dave Prowse as the Monster, who wasn't cast for his acting and knows it. Regrettably the Monster is assumed to be a psycho killer with no explanation at all. Why? He's the Monster, that's why! Karloff must have turned in his grave. There's no attempt to empathise with him or show his perspective or point of view. Isn't this betraying the core of Mary Shelley's concept? Although having said that, by default he does end up having a mildly interesting relationship with Baron Frankenstein and had they cast an actor in the role, there might have been potential in those scenes. Doing so might even have redeemed that little girl's risible "He was quite a nice monster really" at the end, although we're probably shooting for the moon there.
One's left pondering certain questions, though. Why do these Frankensteins never animate crippled dwarves with severed hamstrings and/or a built-in off switch? Why are they all built like Christopher Lee or David Prowse? Asking for trouble, I call it. Would you like to meet either of them in a dark alley? (Dammit, the horror genre shouldn't be leaving Mel Brooks to answer these questions.) And why are they always happy to use the brain of someone they've personally murdered, given a more general cause to hate 'em and/or allowed to be damaged by (in this case) a dirty great slice of glass? Since this is the most risibly plastic-looking brain in movie history, maybe Frankenstein thought it didn't matter?
By rebooting with a new actor in the lead role, the script can go back to something more approximating Mary Shelley's original rather than meandering off with the baffling brain transplant experiments which Cushing's Baron had been up to of late. I rather like this script, in fact. Sensibly they don't let the Baron waffle on about his work, since that can always tend to make him seem boring and/or crackpotty. Okay, he's a dangerous loony. We know. Doesn't mean the scriptwriters have to go dribbling on about it. It's technobbable! It's 19th century medical technobabble! Frankly it doesn't mean anything and thankfully here it's been cut down to a minimum. Frankenstein himself is a complete bastard and the body count's pretty impressive by the end. Oh, and the very end is hilarious, if only for the brazen cheek of the filmmakers. No, you can't have a sequel.
Overall, a big surprise. I'd been led to expect a load of rubbish, but instead I really enjoyed it. Not everyone will, though.