October Horrorshow: The Revenge of Frankenstein

The last we saw the Baron Frankenstein, at the end of The Curse of Frankenstein, he was being led to the guillotine. Believing that he was innocent of any crime, he was meeting death with hate in his heart. But as fate, and economics, would have it, Frankenstein was saved at the last moment by Hammer Film Productions, who knew a hit when they saw one.

The Revenge of Frankenstein is the follow-up to Curse, released in 1958. The regular gang is all here. Anthony Hinds produced, Jimmy Sangster banged out another screenplay, Terence Fisher directed, and Peter Cushing returned to star as Frankenstein. Christopher Lee sat this one out, as he did Brides of Dracula. But that’s okay. This particular series of films belongs to Cushing.

In the opening to this film, Frankenstein makes his escape to freedom, aided by the hunchback Karl (Oscar Quitak), who is the Hammer analogue to Igor or Fritz. Frankenstein has made a deal with Karl. He will provide the deformed and crippled man with a new body, should his life be spared. Karl held up his end, now it remains for Frankenstein to deliver.

Frankenstein moves to a new city and begins practicing medicine under the name of Dr. Stein. He’s popular with both the aristocracy and the indigent, and that really annoys the local medical council, who understandably enjoy what had been a monopoly on the Carlsbruck medical scene. One of their members, Dr. Hans Kleve (Francis Matthews), has different ideas. He is part of a delegation from the council who deliver Dr. Stein an ultimatum. But, Kleve recognizes Frankenstein. He later pleads to become Frankenstein’s pupil, and learn all the secrets of reanimating dead flesh. Frankenstein agrees, and the duo set about getting Karl his new body.

Frankenstein was a bit of a deluded obsessive in the first film. His focus is still laser sharp in this sequel, but gone is the frantic necessity of what he does. The Frankenstein of Revenge is cold and calculating. When he finds a decent body part among his indigent patients, he doesn’t hesitate to cut it off in the guise of healing. His evilness in the first film could be blamed on misdirected enthusiasm, but in Revenge it is far less clear. His experiments are revolutionizing medicine. Were he a real doctor out here on the other side of the screen, his name would be part of history, but his ethics are practically nonexistent.

He does give Karl his new body (played by Michael Gwynn), and this medical miracle seems to justify everything Frankenstein has done, at first. But, things begin to go wrong, as they often do in film. Karl, unfortunately for him, has a bit of the monster in him. He befriends a nurse at Dr. Stein’s clinic, Margaret (future Bond Girl Eunice Gayson), and she aides his escape. He must be stopped, and so must Frankenstein.

The Revenge of Frankenstein is the most engaging of the Hammer films I’ve reviewed so far this month. It has a story that isn’t beholden to any source material. Sangster was able to try out different things and we see his talent as a writer on full display. Sure, it can get a little hokey at times, but The Revenge of Frankenstein is a gothic horror flick from the 1950s. Being a little hokey is part of the fun.

This was a very satisfying film all around, in fact. Cushing was great, the setting had all the atmosphere one wants from a Hammer flick, and the ending was gloriously devious. Frankenstein will be returning, and I can’t wait.