Evil of Frankenstein, The (1964)
Cast: Peter Cushing, Sandor Eles, Peter Woodthorpe, Kiwi Kingston, Katy Wild
Director: Freddie Francis
Nutshell: The brilliant Peter Cushing returns as the Baron in film that has all the familiar trappings but lacks the style and sense of menace and horror that the films of Terence Fisher enjoyed. Considered one of Hammer’s weakest efforts there is none the less plenty to enjoy especially Cushing in vintage form.
The Baron is back in The Evil of Frankenstein, Hammer’s 1964 instalment of their Frankenstein franchise and he is played by a man who made the role entirely his own over the years; Peter Cushing. The baron is back collecting fresh corpses and carrying on his dubious experiments absolutely determined to succeed in his endeavour of creating life. He has built himself an impressive new laboratory with all the bells and whistles and yet he remains frustrated. And yet his work gathers momentum until the local parishioner bursts into a highly sensitive procedure and wrecks the place with his walking stick hounding him out of town once again.
Baron Frankenstein heads back to his ancestral town of Karlsbad taking his assistant with him. Here he finds his old property in a wretched state but his determination remains intact. He explains to Eles about his last experiment and how he had succeeded creating life but that the energy in the electrical force was insufficient to charge the brain enough to a normal state and thus his creation, a huge 6.5 hulking beast of a creature was alive but pretty dead in the brain department. All the monster was interested in was eating flesh and little else. While Cushing is trying to work out what went wrong the monster escapes into the countryside finding plenty of livestock to gorge upon. Irate farmers soon descend upon the creature and he is chased away until he falls off the top of a mountain top not to be seen again.
A shock discover in the mountains spurs the Baron on to resurrect his lab and take his experiments to their final fruition. Buried in a block of ice within a crevice in the mountains is the monster; absolutely preserved and ready to be resurrected once again. The Baron melts the ice away and returns to his lab with a renewed vigour only to be disappointed once again as the Monster appears to be as listless as he was before. Then Cushing contacts the sleazy hypnotist Zoltan to try to stimulate the monster’s brain using his powers of hypnosis. Cushing’s notion is a success but unfortunately the monster now only responds to the command of Zoltan who begins to use the creature to plunder and loot the townspeople to amass a wealth in jewels and gold. The poor monster is sent on a crime spree by Zoltan but when Cushing makes the discovery he is as incensed as any “father” would be at the cold-hearted exploitation of their “child”.
There is a battle between Cushing and Zoltan for control of the monster as The Evil of Frankenstein lurches towards a typically fiery trademark Hammer conclusion. The film is impressively mounted with some tremendous work being done by the Matte Painting specialist whose work breathes atmosphere into an otherwise pretty flat affair. The production design when it comes to the Baron’s lab is suitably impressive and Peter Cushing is faultless in his performance as the demented Baron Frankenstein and yet this film falls short of the mark. Primarily, the change in directors from Terence Fisher to Freddie Francis resulted in the entire tone, character and flavor of series being radically altered for the worse.
Fisher was a master of the horror genre while Francis was a superb cinematographer who had no particular flair or vision when it came to the genre. He just did a job and unfortunately audiences reacted to his effort with total indifference despite the towering presence of Peter Cushing and the film hardly made a dent in the Box Office upon release, faring rather better in the USA). One of the major drawbacks of the film was the appearance of the Monster (played by a professional wrestler Kiwi Kingston) whose “face” was basically a Papier Mache mask designed to look quite similar to the Karloff version of the Monster that Universal had employed so successfully. However, the thick mask rendered the actor incapable of any expression or emotion and his stumbling around clumsily in massive boots appears more ridiculous than frightening.
The monster certainly looks mighty impressive in the promotions and the posters but in the movie, the poor fellow looks rather comical; a bit like the Frankenstein Monster from the Breakfast cereal! Most unlikely to give you any sort of shudders let alone sleepless nights.