The Horror of Frankenstein (1970)
Hammer, perhaps in response to The Fearless Vampire Killers (Roman Polanski's spoof of their bloodsucker flicks), sends itself up in this black comedy remake of Curse of Frankenstein. They replace Peter Cushing with the then up-and-coming horror star Ralph Bates and inject the tale with more sex, more violent death, and a wicked sense of irreverence.
After knocking up the headmaster's daughter, the Baron leaves the University with his friend Wilhelm (an empty-headed clone of Curse's Paul Krempe). The two are working on the secrets of life and death, but when Frankenstein suggests moving from reanimating dead turtles to creating human life, Wilhelm threatens to shut him down. Such a problem must be taken care of, and folks who weren't too fond of the overly moralistic Krempe will enjoy his counterpart's final fate. The mad scientist, now a solo act, makes his creature (David Prowse), but has difficulty controlling it. The whole fiasco ends on a very comic note.
Bates is in top form here, obsessively pursuing things that Man Is Not Meant to Know and sardonically tossing off some very funny lines. He's perfectly suited for the role as it is written. This Baron is not the subtly suggested sociopath of Curse. He is a calm, collected, and utterly mad lunatic with zero regard for human life or dignity. He brazenly wears his God Complex on his sleeve, and he doesn't care who he has to frame to keep his machinations private. His attitude toward women is appalling, an aspect that Bates really pushes in his performance. Victor is screwing the brains out of his maid and treating Elizabeth (Veronica Carlson), the woman who loves him, first like a houseguest and then like a common servant.
The supporting cast is less excellent. Prowse plays a rather unconvincing monster - you can see "Where is my paycheck" written on his forehead. Graham James, who plays Wilhelm, could be a guest lecturer at the Keanu Reeves School of Vacuousness (early summer enrollment now open). Only Kate O'Mara is really notable, as she pours it on as the sadistically saucy maid with a wonderfully heaving bosom.
The camerawork, while not on the same par as other Hammer films like The Plague of the Zombies, is rather good. On many occasions, it was actually better than in Curse. Director Jimmy Sangster, working with cinematographer Moray Grant, should be commended.
The real reason to see this movie is that its sense of humor is deliciously dark. You root for Frankenstein, not because he's a particularly nice person. On the contrary, you root for him because he's a total bastard, and you want to see what bit of nutty debauchery he'll engage in next. This is the kind of guy who assembles his creature with numbered limbs, so that the whole thing goes together like a Lego set.
Still, in all the jovial poking-of-fun, something is wrong. The film quite often lacks any real meat and writer-director Jimmy Sangster's clever dialogue and quick pacing can't always fill the void. Certain devices are overused, like the acid bath and the "humorous" husband-and-wife graverobbing team.
If you're a fan of Hammer, its good to see the studio has a strong sense of humor about its own work. Horror of Frankenstein is not to be missed.
This review originally published on ZombieKeeper.com, written under the pseudonym Doc Nightshade.