“ Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy - Science Fiction / Theatrical Release: 1958 / Suitable for 12 years and over / Director: Terence Fisher / Actors: Peter Cushing, Francis Matthews, Eunice Gayson, Michael Gwynn, John Welsh ... / DVD released 2002-08-19 at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment / Features of the DVD: Anamorphic, Dubbed, PAL, Widescreen „
A review of the Sony DVD currently selling for about £4 on amazon.
This was Hammer's second Frankenstein film, made in 1958. The Curse of Frankenstein, from the year before, had made them a small fortune, so they were quick to exploit its popularity. This is a direct sequel, starting where the previous film left off, and has the same director (Terence Fisher) and star (Peter Cushing).
Frankenstein begins the film by escaping death on the guillotine (for his crimes in the first film). Setting up in a different part of Germany under the name 'Dr Stein', he becomes a popular society physician, carrying on his experiments on the quiet. His goal this time is to transplant his hunchbacked assistant's brain into a new body. Inevitably, there are unforeseen side effects...
Although this was one of the first Hammer horrors, the studio had already settled into the formula that would do them proud for the next 15 years or so. The film is shot in particularly lurid colour; the sets and costumes, though cheap, look decent enough; and the script is intelligent but harbours few surprises. The music isn't as memorable or intense as usual, but still seems to be trying to whip the audience into a frenzy of excitement at the most mundane on-screen incidents. It's directed pretty well, with one or two effectively nasty bits, but don't expect to be scared.
Hammer's Frankenstein films were focused on the Baron rather than the monster (probably to distance them from the Universal series). With one or two exceptions, they were commendably inventive in finding new things for him to do each film (although always with the underlying theme of experimenting on the dead). Having done the traditional man-makes-monster in the first film, here they go for something a bit quirkier. This 'monster' is more to be pitied than feared; Frankenstein himself is far more sinister. A classic horror film cliché is the mad scientist's hunchbacked assistant wanting his master to make him handsome; here that's exactly what happens, but at quite a cost.
Peter Cushing is on fine form as the Baron. As ever, he's rude, funny, sardonic and occasionally charming, even dandyish. He does some great sarcastic sneering and is certainly the most dynamic character in sight. He boasts wonderful sideburns and is rather bulkier and more muscular than you'd imagine given how gaunt he became in later life. I find myself increasingly distracted by his hair, though. He always has the same style in every film he's in - given that it's certainly a hairpiece in his later work I've been trying to figure out when exactly he stopped using his real hair. I think he's already wigged up in this.
The rest of the cast contains a number of Hammer perennials. Francis Matthews, a frequent Hammer juvenile lead, is good as Frankenstein's pupil. Other familiar faces (if you know your Hammer films) are Roger Lloyd-Pack, Michael Ripper, Lionel Jeffries and Richard Wordsworth (the latter going a bit overboard as a humorous hospital porter). The 'monster' is played by Michael Gwynne, who does a good job of portraying a man whose mind is in an unfamiliar body, but does go a little over the top when required to turn into a drooling killer - his psycho performance would have been considered excessive in the silent era, and his hair is all over the place.
There's no romantic subplot, surprisingly, but a pretty lady is clumsily shoehorned into the plot so she could be featured in the trailer. There's also a very gratuitous 'Victorian underwear' scene, probably quite racy at the time. The violence is practically non-existent, and there's not even a lot of blood. There are a lot of severed body parts in fish tanks, though, which might be why this has a 12 rating. There's also a chimpanzee, whose relevance to the plot is minimal, but everyone loves a chimpanzee, don't they?
The picture quality on the DVD is pretty good. The only extras are a poor image gallery and a couple of trailers. The trailer for Revenge of Frankenstein is quite good, with Cushing addressing the camera directly. The other trailer is for Earth Vs The Flying Saucers, which looks like a cheap black and white version of Independence Day.
Hammer continued in much this vein for a decade before changing tastes forced them to spice things up. This is a perfectly competent Hammer horror; it doesn't really stand out, but few of them do. If you like Hammer, you'll like this.