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Monday, March 5, 2012

Evil of Frankenstein

After a five year hiatus, Hammer Films released its third Frankenstein film: The Evil of Frankenstein (EoF). Somewhat in keeping with the previous film, (Revenge of…) which contained little recognizable revenge, EoF contains scant evil by the doctor. Peter Cushing stars again as the baron. The story line is not a continuation of that in RoF, but is instead a near-total rewrite. This prompts many Hammer fans to consider EoF the weakest of Hammer's series.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A scruffy man steals the body of a recently deceased young man from his ramshackle cabin. He is seen by a small girl. The man brings the body to another cabin, in which Victor and Hans have set up a rustic lab. However, a local priest traces the body theft to Victor's cabin. He smashes some of Victor's gear and leaves to get help. Victor and Hans pack up and leave. They ride back to Karlstaad, where Victor's chateau is. He planned to sell some of the furnishings and paintings to finance a new start, but the chateau is bare. In flashback, Victor tells how he created his first creature, which escaped and killed local sheep. Hunters found it, shot it, and it was lost in the Alps. The flashback ends. Victor and Hans go into town, mingling amid the carnival wearing masks. Victor sees the Burgomeister wearing his (Victor's) old ring and talks too loudly about him being a thief. They narrowly escape the police. A deaf-mute beggar girl leads them to a mountain cave for shelter. In the cave, Victor discovers his creature, frozen in glacial ice. They make a fire, thaw him out and sneak back into the chateau. They repair the gizmos and revive the creature. It lives, but in a coma. Needing a mental jolt, Victor enlists the aid of a sideshow hypnotist. Zoltan does revive the creature, but is the only one the creature will obey. Zoltan abuses this power, having the creature steal gold objects from the village church, then kill the Burgomeister and a policeman. Victor banishes Zoltan, but Zoltan sneaks back and orders the creature to kill Victor. The creature, conflicted, stabs Zoltan instead, and flees to the mountains. The police arrive and arrest Victor for all the murders. In town, the police and villagers finally believe it was the monster, not Victor, so they travel in the typical mob to the chateau. Victor escapes and beats them there. The creature suffers from headaches. The beggar girl offers him wine to soothe him. He likes it and gets drunk. When drunk, he drinks from a bottle that isn't wine. Angry and in pain, he wrecks the lab sparking a fire. Hans and the girl escape. Victor and the creature remain in the flames. The chateau tower blows up. The End.

Sci-fi Connections
There is the usual small amount of steampunk equipment and bio-medical stuff. Victor's lab is more "classic" because of the deal with Universal (see Notes below). The theme of science/research being harassed by society, has relevance even today. The notion of unscrupulous men abusing science for their own selfish agenda, is also relevant.

Saga Connection
Jimmy Sangster, who wrote the screenplay for the first two films, and Terrance Fisher, who direct both prior films, were not involved. As a result, the story line is almost completely unconnected to the prior one. Only the presence of Victor's assistant, Hans, is a carryover. Via flashback, the whole story is recast as if the first two films had not existed.

Universal Influence -- In the making of the prior two films, Hammer was careful to avoid similarities with Universal's story lines, characters or the look of their sets and costumes. In the late 50s, Hammer and Universal had a distribution agreement. Hammer also bought the rights to remake all of Universal's prior monster themes. EoF seems to showcase this now-legal ability to copy. The monster's make-up takes on the tall forehead, flat top and clomping big shoes of Jack Pierce's makeup. The monster is found encased in ice in a cave, thawed out and brought back to life, ala Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man and House of Frankenstein. There is a schemer who uses the monster to commit crimes, ala Ygor in Son of…. There is the fire and explosion in the lab, at the end, destroying a tower of the castle, ala Bride of…. The homage (or cheap copying, depending on your point of view) of Universal sometimes puts off Hammer fans.

Mild Scientist -- Despite the title, Baron Frankenstein is the mildest he's been since Bride of…. Far from being evil, Victor is not-unjustly angry at the Burgomeister for stealing all his possessions. Victor still steals bodies, but isn't killing anyone for their parts, ala Curse of…. In fact, Victor is aghast that Zoltan used the monster to kill people. Victor seems genuinely worried about the village when the monster had escaped. At the end, it was Victor who assumed the monster's altruism at the end of Bride of…, telling Hans to take the beggar girl to safety. All in all, this was a very un-evil Frankenstein.

Sets Dejavu -- A sharp eyed viewer will notice reuse of Hammer sets in EoF. The lab set is the same (even if slightly redecorated) as in Revenge of…, and the same as Dracula's crypt. The village buildings should look familiar too.

Bottom line? EoF will well paced and entertaining enough on its own. Hammer fans may hold it in lower esteem, but Universal fans may enjoy the homage to the classics. Cushing, as always, is worth watching.

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