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Old 20th March 2012, 12:42 AM
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Default The Hammer Frankenstein Thread

I recently emabrked on a marathon of watching alll the hammer Frankenstein films in sequence and thought I'd post my thoughts on them here. Feel free to discuss!

Curse of Frankenstein (1956)

Well, it's Hammer, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee - and it's Frankenstein! Hammer's updating of the tale - in full colour no less! - is the studio's first proper foray into horror territory, and it's a class act all the way. In spite of a low budget, the set design is sumptuous, the story-telling top notch, and every performance within is a winner. Even Melvyn Hayes surprises as the young Baron, perfectly capturing the essence of what Cushing would become later in the film.

The story is familiar to just about everyone, but Hammer strip the story back to bare basics and it's a wise move. Terence Fisher directs with flair (I forget sometimes just how good he is until I revisit one of his films) and is economical with the story, but packs it full of innovation and inventive storytelling. Cushing is outstanding as Baron Frankenstein and Lee manages to infuse the creature with just the right balance of pathos and menace. He really portrays the creature as a beast with a mind in an unfamiliar body.

What also sets this film apart is that it's in glorious colour, probably the first time many cinemagoers had been presented with a colour horror film with splashes of red blood everywhere!

Cushing makes the role his own, but rather than the mad, maniacal Frankenstein of Colin Clive, here Cushing plays him as a deviant genius. He's not so much evil as clinical and cold-hearted. All he can see is his goal and removes every obstacle to that goal ruthlessly. There's not a scrap of compassion in the man, but he's undoubtedly a genius. There's a darkness in him, but he can't see it - everyone else can, though. Particularly the lovely servant girl, who when she threatens to blow the whistle on the Baron, he delivers her to his creature to be slaughtered. The fact that she's pregnant, possibly with the Baron's child, makes it all the more chilling.

All-in-all an absolute classic and a great way for Hammer to start business.

The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)

It's Cushing and Hammer again - just like putting on an old coat, it's fits so much better than a new one.

This time around we learn that the Baron escaped the guillotine by arranging to have the priest executed in his place whilst he makes good his escape. He heads to the small town of Carlsbruck and sets up practise there under the name of Dr Victor Stein. But a young local doctor quickly twigs to who he is and begs to become his student. And so the pair set about perfecting to do what Frankenstein failed at previously - building the perfect man! And they have a willing brain donor this time too, Victor's deformed servant, who wants a new body. But of course, no good can come of this, and it doesn't.

It's interesting that in this instalment that Frankenstein is far more personable than in Curse and maybe even a touch more sophisticated too, particularly in the social graces. He's certainly more benevolent in some respects, he helps the poor who are sick, he wants to help his deformed servant, and he's rather nice to his assistant, Dr Kleve (Framcis Matthews). The set design is also a lot more ambitious, Curse was a bit stagey, but this is grander in scale. Not as sumptuous though, this is more edgier, grittier, grimy and dirty. The period detail is marvellous though, it must be said. Hammer never put a foot wrong in that respect.

The ending is bizarre and I'd completely forgotten it. After being beaten to death's door by his former patients upon learning who he is, he gets Kleve to rebuild him. So, basically, out of all the Frankenstein films, his assistant Kleve is the only one who truly succeeded. It also means that from this point on the series features not Frankenstein, but rather a remodelled version of himself. Interesting.

But, when all's said and done, this is a fine entry in the Hammer Frankenstein saga and well worth watching again. And once again Terence Fisher does a sterling job.

The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

The film opens in true Hammer style with the theft of a corpse which leads back to Frankie's lab, where a disgruntled priest turns up and starts theratening the Baron. Realising it's time to move on, he takes his young protege, Hans (Sandor Eles), and heads back to his home at Karlstaad. Back to his ancestral home, with the intention of claiming his goods and valuables. Arriving there they find the place ransacked and looted and vandalised. Hans asked what happened, and in a strange move we get a reinvention of the Baron's history to kick off the series at a new starting point. Of how he built a man-monster that went a bit berserk and was chased off by the villagers, presumed dead. However, when the Baron and Hans go into town, they are recognised and have to make a hasty escape into the hills. They take refuge in a cave and discover the monster frozen there. The Baron decides to thaw out the creature and continue his unnatural experiments...

This is an interesting entry in that it rewrites (and even discards) what went before and kind of reboots the franchise. It also borrows more heavily from the Universal films, the creature is very similar to Karloff's look (huge papier mache forehead aside), including the big boots - and of course the creature frozen in ice. I wonder if Universal were lenient as they were financing the film? Anyway, here the benevolence of Frankenstein is absent and he's once again the misunderstood genius. Cushing plays it to the hilt, as usual - but this seemed less of an evolution of the character and more of a back-step. That's not to say it's a bad film, it's still hugely entertaining, but probably the weakest in the series so far. Sandor Eles holds his own next to Cushing, it must be said, and gives as much passion to the role as Cushing does.

It's a stirring scene when Frankenstein discovers his trashed home and opines 'Why can't they leave me alone?' Might have something to do with the fact he builds monsters that kill local people? Just a thought.

Overall, a worthy addition to the Hammer stable and Freddie Francis does a good job, though I've always slightly preferred Fisher's work. But thats splitting hairs, they both do excellent work.

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

The film opens with young Hans witnessing his father's guillotining. The credits roll and then we see Hans fully grown and working as assistant to Baron Frankenstein and Dr. Hertz. The Baron has figured out how to capture a person's soul and preserve it and transfer it to a new body. Unfortunately, three local toffs in their drunkenness kill the local pub landlord, but the evidence points to Hans. When Hans is accused of murder, but refuses to give up his alibi, as it would bring his lover's name into disrepute, the Baron sees an opportunity he can seize upon. Hans is found guilty and dragged off to the guillotine, and his lover, in a twist of fate, witnesses his death, much as Hans witnessed his own father's death. Christina, in her unbearable anguish, throws herself into the river and drowns. The locals bring her to Dr. Hertz to see if they can help her - and the Baron intercedes and says they'll do what they can. Frankenstein has a diabolical plan to put the soul of Hans into Christina! In life, Christina was deformed and scarred, but the Baron puts her right and manages to get Hans's soul into her body. But as Hans/Christina starts remembering, revenge is on their collective mind, and she sets about seducing and murdering the three toffs. Things quickly turn sour and she ends up killing herself by jumping into the river again. Talk about deja vu.

Frankenstein begins quite genial in this one, but soon becomes single-minded and determined yet again to create life where there is none. The Baron, for the first time, reveals his agenda - he wants to conquer death, it's not just about building creatures and creating life, he wants to cheat death. And, I suppose, as he gets older the thought of his own impending death gives him the impetus to succeed in his work. It's also an interesting forerunner of The Asphyx, in that the central concept is almost identical - the ability to capture one's soul. It could also be argued it's also a forerunner of Hammer's own Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde, with its gender-bender theme - a man trapped in a woman's body!

Interestingly, in this entry, the Baron can't do surgery himself, because his hands are scarred and disfigured. I'm guessing it's burns that he received at the end of Evil of Frankenstein. Would that be right?

Cushing is superb as ever, and in spite of the hokey plot, he plays it to the full. Thorley Walters, always amazing to watch, is excellent as the somewhat mystified and bumbling Dr Hertz. Although, with Hertz being a bit of a buffoon, you wonder why Frankenstein puts his life in his hands when conducting his early experiments in near-death experiences. Susan Denberg is lovely as Christina and Robert Morris is very good as Hans. But the real standout performance for me is from Peter Blythe as Anton, leader of the vicious young rich hooligans - he's thoroughly despicable and you can't help hating him. A real revelation as an actor.

Terence Fisher is on directorial duties again and does a first-rate job and the ever reliable James Bernard provides a lovely music score.

Another winner from Hammer and a real joy to revisit again.
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Old 20th March 2012, 12:48 AM
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Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969)

Frankenstein is on a massive rampage in this one - he dashes through the film, raping, murdering and experimenting like mad! This is fast and furious and breathlessly entertaining.

The Baron (Cushing) has his eye on a former collaborator and wants his brain. His former colleague has gone mad and is in the local nuthouse and Frankenstein wants to transplant his brain into another body, cure him of his insanity, and learn the secrets of his old friend. Along the way he blackmails a young couple (Simon Ward and Veronica Carlson) to assist him in his nefarious activities, especially as the young man works at the asylum. But things quickly unravel once the Baron transplants the brain into Freddie Jones, whose wonderfully off-kilter performance really adds another dimension to the story.

Probably the darkest and nastiest film Hammer ever made, the Baron is truly evil and without conscience in this entry. He murders, blackmails, rapes and generally causes mayhem wherever he goes. He's unashamedly nasty and vindictive here, gone is the beneficent Baron who at least had good motives at heart. In this one he just wants to fulfill personal ambition and he removes everyone in his way.

Fisher directs again and does a fine job. The cast are impeccable and, I have to say, I think this is probably my favourite in the series.

Horror of Franknestein (1970)

Cushing is absent in this one and Ralph Bates attempts to fill his shoes. Bates is no Cushing though, nevertheless he does a fine job in his own style.

It's a basic retelling of the original tale, only this time with more blood, boobs and some jokes. It's all a bit of a mish-mash though and for a supposed comedic retelling of the story, it's not funny at all, really. Dennis Price is great fun as the provider of body parts for the Baron and Kate O'Mara and Veronica Carlson are both lovely as the two women in the Baron's life.

Frankenstein is portrayed more as a kind of scientist playboy in this offering, which is often at odds with his cold clincism. Nice of Hammer to try something different, but it's a bit of a misfire unfortunately. Having said that, this isn't a bargain basement Hammer, all the sumptuous set design and top class acting you'd expect from Hammer is here. It's just a shame the story itself is so lame, as everything else is just perfect. Although the lumbering giant monster as portrayed by Dave Prowse seems a bit out of place.

Overall, it's not great and I was flagging at some points. The film is a little overlong, in my opinion. But I can't say I didn't enjoy it because I did, just not as much as the other films in the Hammer Frankenstein series. And the ending is shit. Not very dramatic at all. It was as if everyone was bored and just wanted to go home at this point. I can imagine them saying 'Oh, just infer that he's dumped Prowse in the acid tank and imply he's been destroyed, no need even for any special effects!'

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

The Baron gets dandy! Frankenstein has faked his own death and is working as the house doctor at an insane asylum. When a young surgeon, Simon (Shane Briant), found guilty of similar crimes to Frankenstein, ends up in the asylum, the Baron quickly enlists him to assist him in his diabolical experiments. And together they cobble together a rather unsightly creature that's hairy as f***. But the Baron is undeterred and proceeds regardless, declaring he'll never stop experimenting. Simon is none-too-happy, especially regarding the Baron's intentions for the lovely but mute Angel (Madeleine Smith). But it all comes unstuck, as it usually does, with the inmates eventually ripping the creature apart. It's also interesting that Frankie's hands are bad again in this one, after miraculously being able to use them just fine in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed! But it's an inconsistency that's easily overlooked.

Frankenstein is a lot more flamboyant in this final entry but no less single-minded in his quest to create life. You'd think he would have learnt by now, but no. Cushing is mesmerising as Frankenstein and gets good support from Shane Briant, Madeleine Smith, Charles Lloyd-Pack and Bernard Lee. A triumphant end to a remarkable series of films, and I'm glad Fisher was able to bookend the series by directing this final instalment. It's probably the bloodiest of the lot, too. This is probably down to it being shot in the more permissive 70's and horror had become a lot more graphic since the days of the early Hammer films.

I've really enjoyed watching this series again and watching them in order, which is something I've never done. Great stuff.
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Old 20th March 2012, 04:49 PM
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Fantastic posting there sir. Frankenstein is a great series from universal to Hammer all just great films.
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Old 20th March 2012, 05:20 PM
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Nice one Daemonia.

My faves are Revenge and Monster from Hell.
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Old 20th March 2012, 05:31 PM
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Ha! I was thinking of doing a similar thing, although I don't have copies of Created Woman, Monster From Hell and Horror Of at the moment and probably won't own the first two again until their project BD's are released. Horror definitely is a bit weak and really does suffer from it's awkward attempts at humour but I'll have to buy it again at some point.

Anyway, I watched Curse a couple nights ago. Fantastic film and, dare I say it, in terms of early gothic Hammer better than Dracula and certainly better than The Mummy. I love the Universal Frankenstein's but this really was a different path and probably Cushing's best performance as the increasingly ruthless Baron Frankenstein.
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Old 20th March 2012, 05:36 PM
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Nice thread Daemonia. Funnily enough I am reading a book on Hammer films and it makes me want to re-visit them again.
I love the crash zoom used to reveal Christopher Lee's, creature's face in "Curse".
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Old 20th March 2012, 05:48 PM
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Great thread Dae!

I love of of Cushing's Frankenstein outings with Must be Destroyed and the Monster from Hell my faves.
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Old 20th March 2012, 06:03 PM
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Is there an uncut DVD release out there of ..Monster from Hell yet?
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Old 20th March 2012, 06:40 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mr 420 View Post
Is there an uncut DVD release out there of ..Monster from Hell yet?
The OOP Anolis is still the most complete but Hammer have sent out a request to source material for an upcoming release that is supposedly only on a Dutch LD so I imagine that will be at least as complete as the Anolis if not more. I'm holding out and hoping...
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Old 20th March 2012, 07:45 PM
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There is only a couple of frames missing from the Anolis DVD of 'Monster from Hell', it's pretty much complete.Like Reaps, my faves are FATMFH and FMBD, both excellent, atmospheric entries in the series.
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