Saturday, February 25, 2012

Horror of Frankenstein, The (1970)

Directed by:
Jimmy Sangster

After a decade-and-a-half run of successful costume horrors usually featuring more mature protagonists, Hammer decided to start specifically catering some of their output toward a younger audience with stories centered around more youthful protagonists. So no, Peter Cushing (who headlined all of Hammer's previous Frankenstein films) wasn't invited to this particular party. Instead we get Ralph Bates in the central mad doctor role. Bates had just made an impression playing the dashing, aristocratic black magic practitioner who helped to resurrect the Count in TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1969) and, while no spring chicken here at 30 years old, adequately fills the role of an evil, unfeeling medical school student. His Victor is a brilliant, smarmy sociopath with a truly pompous attitude who always seems to be pissing someone off. He kills indiscriminately: If you get in his way, you're toast and that's that. When Victor's rich father, who's carrying on an affair with the underage housemaid, Alys (Kate O'Mara), refuses to spring for him to go to a more prestigious university, Victor simply rigs his hunting rifle to explode and kill him.

Now with the title of Baron, a huge castle and a considerable amount of money all at his disposal, Victor decides to go to Vienna to further his studies. During his time there, he manages to knock up the dean's daughter, but tells him not to worry: Now that he has medical training, he'll just give her an abortion. The dean refuses and says he'll arrange for the two to be married. Victor decides to flee for the summer instead, with no real intentions of going back, and invites his classmate Wilhelm (Graham James) to come along with him to aid in his experiments. Away from town six years, Victor is promptly reunited with several former classmates. One of them, the sweet Elizabeth Heiss (Veronica Carlson, a real stunner), is still in love with Victor after all these years and has denied many potential suitors awaiting his return. Too bad for her, but he could care less and never has really liked her, anyway. He much prefers his no-strings-attached arrangement with Alys, who's still working as housekeeper in the castle and promptly becomes his lover.

After successfully reviving a dead turtle, Victor arranges for a sleazy grave robber (Dennis Price) and his wife to provide him with fresh body parts so that he can construct a human. The grave robber is able to acquire six whole bodies after an avalanche and when Wilhelm questions the ethics of all this and threatens to report Victor to the authorities, he's promptly electrocuted to provide even more parts. Now needing a brain, Victor poisons Elizabeth's professor father (Bernard Archard). Because of his debt, Elizabeth loses her home and is forced to come stay in Castle Frankenstein, where Victor plans to make her the new maid and decides to rid himself of Alys when she attempts to blackmail him. After stitching it all together, Victor's human creation (muscleman David Prowse) is revived by thunder. It immediately escapes and chops a villager up with an axe. Victor feeds it raw meat, attempts to teach it basic skills like sitting down and obeying his orders and is eventually able to make it kill for him. The obligatory police detective (Jon Finch), another of Victor's childhood friends, is on to him, though. Much use is made of an acid pit - convenient for eliminating evidence - in the meantime.

Director Sangster, who's better known as a script writer (and co-wrote this one as well), fails to inject much life into this entry, visually or otherwise. Perhaps strangest of all is his inability to really make good use of the lavish costumes, props and sets which were clearly at the studio's disposal. Some of the more talented of Hammer's production people seemed to be on hiatus when this was made, as the photography and music score - while competent - are also a bit lackluster. As scripted, the young mad scientist in this outing seems a bit one-dimensional, as well. The main problem however lies in the pacing. Because over an hour is spent leading up to the monster's creation, the concluding scenes seem rushed, leading up to a truly pathetic and anti-climactic final scene.

On the plus side, O'Mara manages to bring some real verve to her supporting role (which is very much appreciated, especially considering how bland most of the rest of the cast is) and veteran actor Price seems to be having a ball in his small role and has the film's most amusing scene sitting in a cemetery eating sausage and crackers while making his pregnant wife dig up a grave for him! The film provides some effective black comedy here and there (as well as some rather juvenile moments), and the monster design is pretty good. Mr. Prowse would also play the creature in FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1974); Hammer's last Frankenstein film.

Like many of the studio's other titles, this has been well-serviced over the years, enjoying frequently television airings that continue to this day, as well as wide distribution on VHS and DVD (Warner in the UK; Anchor Bay in the U.S.).


1 comment:

CavedogRob said...

Actually I've always like this movie because I was never sure what was suppose to be serious and what was suppose to be satire! It seemed to me somethiing got lost in the production!

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