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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Revenge of Frankenstein

Hammer Films quickly followed up the success of their 1957 hit Curse of Frankenstein the next year with a sequel: The Revenge of Frankenstein (RoF). Again, Peter Cushing stars as Dr. Victor Frankenstein. RoF is a direct sequel, picking up the story line exactly where the first film stopped. It is one of the better sequels, in that it was, in many ways, as good as the first film.
Despite the posters, the new monster is not green. Nor is it nearly as sensational as the poster suggests.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Victor is led to the guillotine by the priest. The executioner and hunchback Karl exchange a glance. The blade falls. Later, two grave robbers dig up Frankenstein's grave. Inside, is the headless body of a priest. (Flash forward) In the city of Carlsbrück, a mysterious Dr. Stein has set up practice. The local physicians complain that Stein refuses to join their guild, AND has also taken half of their rich patients. He also does charity work in the poor hospital. (this where he gets his body parts, btw) A delegation of doctors come to investigate, but are rebuffed. A young doctor lingers. Hans recognized Victor from the funeral (first movie). Hans wants Victor to take him on as a pupil. He agrees. Victor has already assembled a new body. Karl, the crippled hunchback, volunteered to be the brain donor to get a perfect body. After the operation Victor and Hans taken New Karl to an attic at the poor hospital, so they can tend him regularly. Hans tells New Karl that he'll be famous and studied by thousands. New Karl is aghast at the bar-less prison of fame. Later, a pretty volunteer at the charity hospital learns of the special patient in the attic, so goes up to bring him cheer too. New Karl convinces her to loosen his straps. She leaves her address to help him find a job when he's better. Later, Karl has freed himself, dressed and escapes out a window. He goes to Victor's lab to dispose of his old body. A janitor catches him. The cruel janitor beats up Karl, which damages his brain. Karl becomes savage and kills the janitor. Meanwhile, Victor and Hans go looking for Karl. He's nowhere to be found. Later, at dinner party at the Countess's estate, Savage Karl busts through a window. His arm is paralyzed, his leg is gimpy again. His hunch is back. He implores, "Frankenstein, help me…" but dies. Now everyone knows Victor's true identity. All his rich patients are gone. His poor patients turn on him, mercilessly beating him. Hans rescues him, but the injuries are too great. "You know what to do," whispers battered Victor. After putting Karl's brain in his new body, Victor made another body with a face that looked like himself. Hans transplants Victor's brain into the new body. The police arrive to arrest Victor for murder. Hans shows them his dead, battered body. (flash forward) London, and the office of Dr. Frank. Hans, and Dr. Frank (Peter Chushing with a mustache and monocle) go out to greet a rich patient. The End.

Sci-fi Connection
There is more of the medical/surgical element in BoF than there was in CoF. Brains were a popular topic in 50s sci-fi. Check out some of the other Brain-themed titles here: Brain Films. Check out some of the story lines. You'll see that brains were big. That popularity shows in RoF. We get a couple good views of brains floating in jars of water. The sparky, buzzing equipment from CoF returns to Victor's new lab. As a horror film, BoF is rather mild. It's almost more of a steampunk sci-fi film.

Saga Connection
RoF picks up exactly where CoF left off. The two films are really Part 1 and Part 2 of a single thread. Karl, the hunchback and the priest replace the two guards walking Victor to the guillotine. Christopher Lee is no longer the monster, of course (acid bath).

Where's the Revenge? -- Even though Victor says, at one point, that he'll have his revenge, RoF is noticeably light on the usual revenge. None of the people who either sentenced him to die are "venged" upon. None of the doctors who persecuted him are venged either. Even his supposed proof-of-genius project (Karl) goes wrong, so there's no professional vindication either. Perhaps the "revenge" is more along the lines of outsmarting his enemies. This comes in the form of his identical "new" body, thereby cheating his enemies of true victory.

Dr. Not-So-Bad -- Victor in CoF was cold-hearted, obsessed and self-absorbed. In RoF, he's not quite so evil. He seeks to help poor Karl, rather like how Dr. Niemann promised to put hunchback Daniel's brain into a good body in House of…. But without the duplicity of Niemann. Dr. Stein among his genteel clients seems affable and charming. Even though he was stealing body parts, Dr. Stein was managing to help the poor too, even if just as a byproduct. In his monologues, Victor reclaims some of the misguided altruist flavor of Universal's Henry and even Mary Shelley's Victor.

Blood Sisters -- Hammer shot RoF at the same time it was shooting it's Dracula remake, starring Christopher Lee as the Count. A sharp-eyed viewer will note re-use of several interior sets. The spiral columns of Dracula's castle the easiest to spot. Dracula's crypt (same barred door) becomes Victor's lab, etc. There are many other smaller recycling too, between these two sister films.

Bottom line? RoF is a watchable enough movie in its own right. It is a fine followup to the first film. Even though famous as one of Hammer's Horror Collection, there is little of the gratuitous blood and gore that would mark the genre later. It is more of a gothic horror tale in the old school. Sci-fi fans can enjoy some of the moral/ethical puzzles common to some sci-fi movies.

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