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The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)
Superficially, The Evil of Frankenstein is a great addition to the legendary Hammer series. Superficially, the acting is sublime, the story is engrossing, and the film is action-packed. Superficially, this movie is a masterpiece not unlike its predecessors, The Curse of Frankenstein and The Revenge of Frankenstein. But I didn't get the title The Queen of Classic Horror for being superficial. And looking underneath the surface of the seemingly perfect The Evil of Frankenstein exposes a couple loose wires.
But let’s focus on the good points first, because The Evil of Frankenstein has a lot of them. Some parts of the script are quite creative. Dr. Frankenstein finds his monster in a frozen cave and discovers that the monster’s brain has gone dormant, which I assume happens quite frequently when one’s head is encased in a block of ice. Therefore, as Frankenstein must revive his monster (because that is the law: find the Frankenstein monster, revive the Frankenstein monster) calls for the assistance of Zoltán, a hypnotist. Zoltán quickly hypnotizes the monster to kill people at his bidding, and once again mayhem ensues. Yet another interesting and engaging twist to a common, and possibly overdone monster story.
The Evil of Frankenstein did everything right by Hammer horror standards. It benefits from a subtly creepy atmosphere woven through the entire film, which is aided by some impressive advancements in set design (Frakenstein’s laboratory is most impressive). Peter Cushing has another spell-binding performance as Dr. Frankenstein under his belt. I love his version of the Doctor more and more with every performance as he brings in a new aspect of his personality. In The Evil of Frankenstein he brought a hint of paternal vulnerability to the role as he desperately tries to fix his reanimated corpse “son.” To round out the enjoyment, we’re treated to the Hammer music score we all have come to love and a climax that will take your breath away.
But I have an issue.
Now, I should say up front that my problem with this film will likely have no bearing on the opinion of the casual Hammer film fan. If you need a Hammer fix every once and a while, by all means, The Evil of Frankenstein will give you just as adequate of a fix as the other standard Hammer masterpieces. If you fall into this category, do not listen to me and by all means go rent it and enjoy it. You know… like now.
Are all the Hammer amateurs gone now? Phew, I thought they would never leave.
Here’s my problem. Even though The Evil of Frankenstein appears to be a fine third entry in the Hammer Frankenstein series, I was a little disappointed that they took the path of least resistance. Curse and Revenge had one thing going for them that pushed them ahead all other attempts to retell/spoof/rip-off the Boris Karloff masterpiece -- originality. They were not simply modernized versions of an old story, they were an old tale with extremely creative, unique, and deep aspects woven in. While everyone in the world thought of Boris Karloff when they thought of Frankenstein, Hammer was going against convention by putting whole new twist on the monster. The Evil of Frankenstein, on the other hand, simply copied The Boris Karloff version for modern times. Sure it had some original parts, as I noted previously, but the “ripping off of Karloff” was just as pronounced. Up until this point, the Hammer Frankenstein was either a mere emotionless presence (Christopher Lee in Curse) or a tragic human dueling with his own vanity (Revenge).
In The Evil of Frankenstein, the monster is -- well, he’s Boris Karloff’s version. He looks like him, acts like him, and has the same pseudo-human qualities. They even blatantly ripped off the (admittedly very stupid) opener for one of the Universal Frankensteins when Dr. Frankenstein just so happens to find his creature in a block of ice in a cave and, of course, has to revive him. That exact scenario happened verbatim in one of the Universal Frankenstein sequels. This is disappointing as Hammer clearly has the talent to come up with something more creative, or at least something that is not a blatant rip-off. Instead, they decided to choose not to think and decided to hack what has come before. Bummer.
But even though it may not be as creative as the previous Frankensteins, The Evil of Frankenstein has plenty to offer. It will certainly keep most casual classic horror fans entertained, and will probably please most Hammer fans. Give it a shot. It doesn’t break many barriers and is nothing you haven’t already seen before, but it’s certainly more solid than most second sequels and proves to be a very enjoyable ride.