Thursday, October 13, 2016

Frankenstein Month: 'The Evil of Frankenstein' (1964)

Although it's the third movie in Hammer's Frankenstein series, The Evil of Frankenstein is essentially a reboot, retaining only Peter Cushing as Baron Frankenstein while throwing out basically all of the continuity of the previous two movies. Director Terence Fisher and screenwriter Jimmy Sangster have been replaced by Freddie Francis and John Elder, respectively, and the eerie gothic style of the first two movies has been replaced by something more garish and in-your-face. Cushing is still great as Frankenstein, giving him a mix of arrogance and erudite charm, but the plot is underwhelming, rehashing elements of the previous Hammer movies and the Universal movies, without really moving the story of Frankenstein forward.

In the new version of the series timeline, Frankenstein was kicked out of his hometown of Karlstaad for unleashing the monster, and he's been on the run ever since, attempting to restart his experiments in other places. After his latest setback, he decides to return to Karlstaad to gather supplies and valuable from his former home. There he discovers his original monster still preserved in ice in the surrounding mountains, and he proceeds to bring the creature back to life. After an opening in which Frankenstein and his assistant Hans (who appears to be an entirely different character from his assistant Hans in The Revenge of Frankenstein, and is played by a different actor) get chased out of their most recent home base, the movie slows to a crawl. There's a lengthy flashback to Frankenstein's original creation of his monster, a sort of retcon that shows a creature much more similar to the one in the Universal movies (thanks to a distribution deal with Universal, Hammer no longer had to worry about copyright infringement if their monster looked too much like Universal's). Sadly, this does not mean the return of Christopher Lee from The Curse of Frankenstein; instead, the monster is played by New Zealand wrestler Kiwi Kingston, cast primarily for his size, presumably.

Eventually Frankenstein and Hans discover the monster in the ice (aided by a deaf-mute beggar girl who just kind of stands in the background for most of the movie, adding nothing to the story), bring him back to the castle and fire up the lab again so that they can revive him. By this point the movie is more than halfway over, and the monster doesn't really get to do much. He's sidelined in favor of a ridiculous late-film villain, the carnival hypnotist Zoltan (Peter Woodthorpe), whom Frankenstein enlists to sort of jump-start the monster's brain. Instead, Zoltan takes control of the monster, but then all he has the monster do is commit some petty theft and attack Zoltan's enemies. The plot feels disappointingly small for such larger-than-life characters, and it abandons any of the intriguing philosophical undertones of the previous movies (especially Revenge).

Although Zoltan is a pretty meager villain, the movie still has to stage a big finale, with Frankenstein and the monster battling it out as the laboratory goes up in flames. The villagers who drove Frankenstein out of the town in the past gather to stop him again, but they're mostly inconsequential; they just stand on the hillside gawking as part of Frankenstein's manor crumbles around him and the monster. This should be a shocking end for both characters, but the movie does little to build up their antagonism or to invest the audience in them as characters. And the rewriting of continuity proves that there's no reason they can't just pop up completely unharmed in the next movie.

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