Hammer-Rama: The Evil of Frankenstein, by Alexander Miller
Hammer’s Dracula and Frankenstein series have their high and low points, but neither grew tiresome or redundant. Much of that is thanks to director Terence Fisher, their frontrunning director who helmed the inception of both series. Discounting the studios later attempt to revamp the Frankenstein franchise with the Ralph Bates vehicle The Horror of Frankenstein, The Evil of Frankenstein was the only one (out of six) without Fisher’s steady hand. Does that make the film any less commendable? Not entirely. Cinematographer-turned-director Freddie Francis stepped up and shoots a colorful entry into the series, but the problem with The Evil of Frankenstein isn’t a due to poor direction but a clunky script that disjoints the previous continuity as well as a poor choice in its execution of the monster.
While the end of its predecessor, The Revenge of Frankenstein, found the Baron (Peter Cushing) with his assistant Dr. Hans Kleve (Francis Matthews) reestablished in London under new pseudonyms, The Evil of Frankenstein begins with the Baron already fast at work with a different assistant (or the same since they both answer to “Hans” yet are played by different actors) on a new creature. Of course, people are meddling with his work, and a lone interloper smashes a few instruments with his cane, spurning Frankenstein and Hans to flee to his native village of Karlstaad, hoping to salvage supplies from his abandoned chateau. Not exactly the best idea given his history.
When Hammer first delved into Mary Shelley’s creation, Universal put on their war paint saying that they would sue if they got a whiff of copyright infringement in regards to their 1931 film. But they didn’t plan on Hammer becoming an international sensation, not to mention distribution partners. So they loosened up as far as letting them duplicate Jack Asher’s iconic monster makeup as well as any other similarities to James Whale’s original Frankenstein. This hardly sounds like the impetus to base a movie around, and yet the freedom to adopt a likeness to its forebearers feels like springboard for The Evil of Frankenstein. Iconography goes a long way.
Anthony Hinds (once again under the name John Elder) cobbles an uninspired script that has the Baron and his assistant discover one of his previous monsters preserved in a frozen glacier (how convenient). However, his hulking creation is suffering from brain damage – if this doesn’t give you deja vu, just wait ’til you see their revised interpretation of Jack Pierce’s makeup and the sets that are more or less just a rehash of what we saw in 1931. Once Frankenstein meets a charlatan hypnotist Professor Zoltan, an ousted swindler, the Baron enlists him in securing his creations attention. However, Professor Zoltan has some scores of his own to settle, and with sole control over this monster which of course leads to a disastrous finale.
The Evil of Frankenstein retains the studio’s pedigree of gothic atmosphere, and naturally Francis’ instincts (as a former DP) will emphasize visuals and his graduating filters, angles, and his eye for color give the film texture and style, but it’s not enough to carry the weight of a lousy script. Unlike Christopher Lee in the Dracula movies, Cushing stepped in for every official Frankenstein title, but his darkly wry wit is less predominant in this outing. Zoltan, the hypnotist, is another misfire, a character that feels like he was plucked from a lesser AIP title (or even a Scooby-Doo episode) and a weak device to accelerate the story.
Frankenstein’s monster appearing in a glacier of all places isn’t particularly interesting. It’s as if they were literally so excited about Universal’s copyright lease they had to present the creature as if it were some frozen treasure. As a horror fan I am more than familiar with the suspension of disbelief, but I can’t reconcile the incredibly stupid image of this towering behemoth preserved in a mountain of ice – did the monster wander into a glacier? Was there a severe climate change in Karlstaad? Did the village usher in a brief ice age in recent years? In a hazy flashback, the monster is chased off by the local constables, runs up a mountain(?), and gets shot, thus falling into a crevice which we can assume is cold. Thinking about it more makes my half jocular expedited ice age theory seems legitimate in comparison. Flashbacks are a friend to the horror sequels, and since you have the right to use footage from your own Frankenstein movies, why not use sequences from The Curse of Frankenstein?
The fact that they opted to shoot new footage to match the new monster only reinforces how much they were hinging on using Jack Pierce’s makeup design. Hammer’s special effects and makeup artists Les Bowie, and Roy Ashton have proven themselves capable time and again that they’re skilled enough to make original designs and monsters, however Hammer was so jazzed about Universal’s lift on the copyright ban so Frankenstein’s monster in this 1964 version is just a muddy retread of Pierce’s design. The only notable likeness to Karloff is a square head, and the apparent discomfort that Kiwi Kingston must have endured to look like an immobile block of expired cheese with eye holes and paper mache slapped on the top.
Francis said that he “wanted someone much more physical than dear old Chris” (meaning Christopher Lee), and cast wrestler Kiwi Kingston in the role, physical he was, but underneath all of that makeup anyone could have played the role of the monster. Francis also said that “I would cast someone who could act a little better” but I think the monster’s forgettable presence is a cumulative effect of an overall problematic production.
Hammer’s Frankenstein series features some of their best titles, but The Evil of Frankenstein isn’t among them. The film suffers in more areas than it excels. It’s a worthwhile venture for Hammer completists, but if you’re new to Hammer and their Frankenstein movies, it would be wise to start at the beginning. Of the six with Cushing, only one of them is notably weaker. Terrence Fisher would return to helm the next in the series Frankenstein Created Women, but more on that later.