Monday, 3 May 2010

The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

Country: UK

The Evil of Frankenstein is the third instalment in Hammer’s tremendously successful reinterpretation of the Mary Shelley novel. The previous two films The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) delighted audiences and shocked stuffy critics with their baroque settings, violence, colour, and the unnervingly mannered and icy central performance from the brilliant Peter Cushing. These two films were both directed by Terence Fisher and maintained a sense of continuity thematically and visually. Fisher’s direction in these films is striking without being obvious a lesson that Freddie Francis should have took note of. By 1964 Fisher however was out of favour with Hammer. The reason for this is unclear but the lukewarm reception of The Phantom of the Opera (1964) is thought to have had something to do with it. In his stead was a man who would become a regular at rivals Amicus, the noted cinematographer Freddie Francis. This wasn’t his first foray for Hammer having previously directed the undistinguished Psycho (1960) inspired thrillers Paranoiac (1963) and Nightmare (1964). The results of allowing Francis his opportunity to work on the Frankenstein series are largely unsatisfying and lacklustre and mark an unfortunate break in the continuity set up in the first two films.

There is quite a difference between Freddie Francis the DOP and Francis the director. It is a paradox of his career that he was able to excel himself visually in the films of others and produce such indifferent results in his own films. The low budgets didn’t help of course, nor the interference of know it all producers. The only horror film he made that can compare to the visual brilliance of The Innocents (1961), The Elephant Man (1980) and The Straight Story (1999) is the Amicus production The Skull (1965). He had a very low budget then, so really there is no excuse for the flat, drab, unadventurous and unattractive horror films he made. Perhaps it was a case of contempt for the genre, or perhaps ineptitude? The Evil of Frankenstein does suffer from this drabness and paucity of visual enjoyment, but it is also a failure at a narrative level. A pointless flashback sequence which questions the continuity and thus the veracity of the first two films is one such blunder. A blunder on this occasion that can be attributed to the screenwriter Anthony Hinds. The film isn’t a total aesthetic failure though. The Baron’s laboratory in the flashback is the most impressive seen in the cycle, but this is mere decoration that fails to cover up for the stupidity of the sequence in the first place.

Any film featuring Peter Cushing has some redeeming qualities, but even the ever dependable Cushing struggles with the liberties taken with the Frankenstein character. He comes across as a petty crybaby, his quest this time merely a childish vendetta against those that destroyed his work and drove him into exile. On this occasion the Baron seems as much if not more concerned with the theft of his possessions than he does with discovering the secret of life. His relationship with the hedonistic hypnotist Zoltan is an interesting angle that remains unfulfilled. The make up for the creature isn’t a patch on The Curse of Frankenstein, but its not a disaster. It affords the film a very striking moment when we see the Creature entombed in a glacier (a plot development that is however utterly ludicrous). The inclusion of a feral deaf mute girl intended to function as a double for the Creature is also another half baked avenue. All these elements could have provided the film with interesting themes, but when left to limply hang as they do, they function more as pointless baggage. Even the usually reliable set design and art direction feels dated and tired adding little to the proceedings. In 1967 Terence Fisher would return to helm the fourth film in the series Frankenstein Created Woman, a far more successful and rewarding venture all round and The Evil of Frankenstein would begin its slow drift into the semi-obscurity it deserved. However its status as an ill conceived aberration makes it worth viewing.

The Celluloid Highway's 50th Film Review.

© Shaun Anderson 2010


  1. This was the film that was produced in conjunction with Universal films. Its a bit different because Hammer was trying to make a film that was more in line with the Frankenstein films that Universal had made, and not so much with the Hammer version of the character.

    I kind of enjoyed this one, it has some interesting shots. Freddie Francis is one of my favorite Hammer directors, he directed some of the most beautiful looking of the Hammer Dracula films: Dracula Has Risen from the Grave. The colors are astonishing on that one! He also made the excelent 1972 version of Tales from the Crypt.

    But with Hammer, he mostly made some of the best ones, Paranoiac and Nightmare beyond excellent examples! I love both of those films, so eerie and atmospheric, the black and whites make them even spookier.

  2. I think the films directed by Freddie Francis were competent enough horror films, but generally speaking I've always found his films a bit flat and lifeless. The only film he directed that I think is a true great is THE SKULL. I felt he made some weak films for Hammer. I dont share your enthusiasm for DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE I'm afraid.

    I can appreciate the beautiful cinematography of PARANOIAC and NIGHTMARE, but again I think there were better examples of the PYSCHO inspired thrillers - TASTE OF FEAR (aka SCREAM OF FEAR) and THE NANNY.

    I think his vision was often compromised when he was working for Amicus. The budgets were extremely low and the production schedule very tight. Not to mention the continual interference of producer Milton Subotsky. Nevertheless they were entertaining films. But I still think there is a massive difference between the films where he acted as Director of Photography and those he directed himself....

    thanks for the comments as always!

  3. Really man? Oh I love DRACULA HAS RISEN! But thats okay, I love it simply for its color scheme, but also, it has some truly iconic images, some of the shots of Dracula are the best of the whole series, like when he gets stabbed with that giant stake on the chest...awesome scene!

    But its like you say, story wise, maybe its not the strongest film. Basically on this movie Dracula is just angry because somebody desecrated his castle with a giant cross.

    He made a film called The Creeping Flesh, I have that one, but I dont love it. Its the one where they are resurrecting an ancient creature or something...the creature itself was so dissapointing, but hey, it had Peter Cushing in it working with Christopher Lee again, so it was a plus because of that.

    I need to see THE SKULL!

  4. Yes I've always thought that DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE is a case of style over substance. It is still significantly better than SCARS OF DRACULA though.

    I havent seen THE CREEPING FLESH yet, but its one I've been looking out for.


Related Posts with Thumbnails