"It would be a pity to lose you... So soon."
I've got to say. I love this film.
The Revenge of Frankenstein is a lot of fun. Directed by the King-Fisher, Terence himself, starring the ever fantastic Peter Cushing, and blessed with a really tight screenplay; when you read about Jimmy Sangster? This film is the kind of shit they're talking about.
We have to talk about Jack Asher. Just quick. This guy, he was painting with colour years before Bava and Argento. How can you disagree? Those splashes of red on Christopher Lee after the Monster is attacked for the first time? The contrasting reds and blues in Dracula? The long green shadows in Hounds? He's just as good here in Revenge. Mixing shades of pink and purple with greens and greys, this film no matter how grim, seems to feel his most vibrant at times.
The Frankenstein series of films are generally better written and of higher quality than other Hammer pictures but I still miss Cushing’s energetic turns as Van Helsing in the vampire flicks. Still dreaming about Cushing jumping over that table in Brides man.
Baron Frankenstein, I apologize, Doctor Victor Stein, is energetic here in a more meticulous and malicious manner, the performance is captivating - but still. A lack of jumping over tables and casually swiping aside falling candlesticks is never a good sign.
But that's just me.
There are loads of great performances here too, don't get me wrong.
Oscar Quitak is wonderful in his few scenes as pre-op Karl, and MIchael Gwynn puts in a convincing physical performance as post-op Karl, the monster of the piece. George Woodbridge consistently entertains as the Janitor and Michael Ripper appears in a brief but hilarious role early on.
The film opens with a quick bit of exposition.
Cut to a manly, bearded Baron von Frankenstein, dragged towards the gallows. A swift escape and a very silly but very menacing re-entry from Baron Frankenstein, we cut to Carlsbruck. Frankenstein under the alias of Doctor Victor Stein has set up a successful medical practice, much to the chagrin of his peers on the Medical Council.
We cut to a dashing Peter Cushing accompanied by his equally dashing sideburns. A lady of high aristocracy enters with her daughter Vera. "You must inspect her. There is something very wrong," she insists.
Doctor Stein attends to Vera.
"But you always used your ear before," said Vera, as the Baron lifts his stethoscope to her breast.
"I know you're very busy with all your work at the poor hospital." adds Vera's mother.
His work at the poor hospital indeed.
Not only was that previous scene I just recounted chilling for another creepy reason but the idea of a man like Cushing's Frankenstein volunteers at a "poor hospital" is pretty horrifying in itself.
Cut to the poor hospital.
"But doctor! I won't be able to work no more!"
"What's your trade?"
"Well you'll have to find another trade or use the other arm. Five o'clock in the theatre."
The man is using the poverty stricken to harvest body parts. I cannot stress that enough.
I quite enjoyed the Medical Council, though their involvement in the storyline was a pretty unnecessary one. The President, as played by Charles Lloyd-Pack, was pretty amusing. His repartee with his 2nd in command allowed me one of the only laugh out loud moments of the film. A bit more of that would have extended a little bit more goodwill towards that b-story.
Through their meddling anyhow, Doctor Hans Kleve gains access to Doctor Stein, confronting him about his true identity.
You see Doctor Hans Kleve had been at a certain Doctor Berstein's funeral.
A Doctor Bernstein that Frankenstein had murdered in the previous film.
That's the curious thing about Revenge of Frankenstein. It is actually a direct sequel to the Curse of Frankenstein, unlike the rest of the films. They clumsily botch up the fact that the Baron got his head lopped off in the previous film, having him escape through the magic of jump-cut and sketchy writing, and his assistant is a direct link to the first film. It's remarkable, and much appreciated that they didn't attempt to keep up pretences later on in the franchise.
Anyway. Doctor Hans Kleve had been at the funeral, he informs the Baron who is currently not bothered, and tucking heartily into a chicken leg. Dr Hans Kleve pushes further.
You are Baron Frankenstein, he accuses Dr. Stein.
"And what if I am."
This is where the fun really begins. Frankenstein and Kleve join forces, Stein taking his protege to his laboratory. What a laboratory it is, with purple lights, and whirling thingummies, and the ever present and classic bubbling test tubes.
When Stein is sure they are very alone he shows Kleve something very curious. The effect of electricity on preserved, dismembered body parts. The sound design is fantastic here, the clicking of Stein's generator(?) fading in and out of the score. It effectively builds up tension to say the least.
Stein then shows Kleve his greatest work, a fresh body to transplant a brain into. This body is nothing like the patchwork monster from the previous thing, this is almost a thing of beauty.
It just needs a brain, and Karl (Oscar Quitak) the hunchback, is more than willing. Especially after Doctor Stein's newest assistant, Margaret (Eunice Gayson, Syliva Trench in the Bond films) enters the scene.
"There is quite a sound mind in that unfortunate body."
The transplant is a success but Doctor Kleve panics post-op Karl who convinces Margaret to help him escape.
Then shit gets weird.
After a conversation with the Janitor Doctor Kleve realises that chimpanzees do not eat meat, unlike Otto, the chimp currently sat in Doctor Stein's laboratory.
"Did Otto eat flesh before you operated?"
"Ate another monkey?"
"What else would he be married to?"
"Do you mean to tell me he turned into a cannibal?"
"Yes. I didn't attempt to correct it, he's perfectly happy and in good health."
"Couldn't the same thing happen to Karl?"
Yes. Yes it could.
Making his escape fairly early on after his operation, not giving his brain enough time to heal, his body regresses into it's former deformed state.
He drools as he stares down at a man's corpse.
Interesting note: Apparently the BBFC weren't happy with the drooling as they felt it had sexual connotations. I did not get that at all. I literally just thought he was really hungry for human meat.
Realising he's in trouble, our poor afflicted Karl searches out for the good Doctor, leaving a swathe of carnage in his path.
A fun scene was with Gerda and the Ant Boy. Gerda obviously wanting some extra-curricular type fun prods at the boy, who is a lot more interested in his ants. Frustrated in more ways than one she leaves the confused boy behind, only to be quickly despatched by Karl. The idea of punishing the youth for their emerging sexuality would be something explored much further through the video nasties from the 70's and 80's.
I really enjoyed the climax of this film, without giving too much away it definitely made me want to watch more films in this series. In comparison to the previous film, The Curse of Frankenstein, this entry benefitted from a streamlined second act which propels us into straight into third act carnage. Also a positive, a very short prologue. (Unlike Vampire Circus.)
This film is good. Accept it. Watch it. Enjoy it.