Everything about this movie is fantastic except the script. That's not to say that it's badly written; indeed much of it is pretty good. However its ending is poor, as if the intended final act got lost behind the sofa and the producer hastily whipped up a replacement with the help of the tea ladies.
It looks luscious. The sets, the costumes... everything positively drips with historical accuracy. Hammer mysteriously moved Frankenstein forward a good fifty years, to 1863 instead of 1817 (when Mary Shelley wrote the novel) or the eighteenth century (as indicated by the dates on every letter within the narrative). Perhaps this was for the sake of the visuals. A later era means better technology, which in turn allows for lovely electrical machinery in Frankenstein's lab or modern-looking syringes.
Peter Cushing is wonderful, but you all knew that. All reports indicate that in real life he was the most courteous and considerate of gentleman, giving him as an actor the unique quality of being urbanely charming even when giving you the shivers. You almost like him! This is a hardworking and highly skilled doctor, working with the poor and basically trying to help mankind. He's not even much of a bastard, this particular film being relatively low on murder, blackmail, etc. (Other Hammer films made him anything from disturbingly dedicated to out-and-out evil.) However he's always slightly scary, thanks to his fixation on carrying out disgusting experiments. Revenge of Frankenstein taps into that whole "sinister doctor" vibe. The working life of a medic is unspeakably gross by the standards of normal people, so when you meet someone like Frankenstein who's so cold-blooded about sawing off limbs and cutting open heads... brrrr.
He has some pretty wacky medical theories, though this shouldn't surprise anyone. Incidentally, he pronounces his name as "Franken-shtein". Maybe that's where Mel Brooks thought up that gag of "Fronkenshteen" in Young Frankenstein?
Having said all that, Cushing's co-stars deserve a mention. Eunice Gayson is extremely pretty. Francis Matthews plays a character who's ironically more like Shelley's original Victor Frankenstein than Peter Cushing's mad scientist was ever allowed to become with Hammer (though he's nearer here than elsewhere). Michael Gwynn's air of seediness reminded me of John Hurt.
However I was going to discuss the script.
It's nothing like Shelley's novel, of course. Dracula movies can be more faithful than Frankenstein ones, because Bram Stoker had a strong plot and Mary Shelley had a series of random episodes connected by contrivance and coincidence. She has great set-pieces and lots of intense discussion of the moral issues, not to mention a depressing ending and powerful emotions, but the Frankenstein story with which we're familiar is largely a creation of 19th century stage traditions and the subsequent movies which fed off them and each other. Universal in the thirties concentrated on the monster (played by Boris Karloff) but forty years later Hammer were more interested in Frankenstein himself.
The script has clever touches. I liked Otto. In places the story also threatens to get really nasty, dropping playful hints that might chill the blood of even a jaded modern-day audience. If they ever remade this film, it could easily be strong stuff. For most of its length, Revenge of Frankenstein builds nicely towards a satisfying climax... but that climax never comes. There's a cop-out or two, then the film ends in a manner that doesn't seem to make much sense. Why does he look like that? What happened to the mortal remains? Is it the real him or has someone been conducting some 19th-century plastic surgery?
Admittedly the final scene is quite nice. But it's the kind of "nice" you get from the latest episode in a series, not the climax of a film.
But despite this complaint, I'd definitely recommend this movie. It looks great, it cleverly builds up its atmosphere until you're quite nervous about what's going to happen, it stars Peter Cushing and (despite all I said) the ending isn't bad. It's just a six out of ten instead of a nine. The Frankenstein movies are perfect for Hammer's style, despite the fact that they got more mileage from Dracula and his fellow vampires. 1950s special effects are perfect for this series and you couldn't improve on them with 21st century movie technology. Something like Shadow of the Vampire feels modern despite its painstaking recreation of the 1920s, but the dated quality of a Hammer movie actually enhances the historical feel.
A classy piece of work. Very nice indeed.