Tag Archive for Hammer Films

All Good Things

Peter Cushing in "Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell" (1974)

“All good things must come to an end.” — Chaucer

Welcome back to Day Seven of the
Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon. This is it, the final chapter in the Hammer Frankenstein saga. After Jimmy Sangster’s attempt at a younger, more comedic Frankenstein in The Horror of Frankenstein (1970), we’re back on track with Cushing in the title role and Terence Fisher in the director’s chair (sadly, for the last time). The script, by Anthony Hinds writing as John Elder, brings back familiar gimmicks and themes from the series to bring things to a satisfying conclusion. I must confess that I do not know how obvious the end was for Hammer and company and whether or not they intended to continue the series past Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974).

Despite being passed over for Horror, Peter Cushing kept quite busy in the intervening years. After an unbilled cameo as Baron Frankenstein in the Rat Pack farce One More Time (1970), he continued to be a linchpin for Hammer. He appeared in two installments of The Karnstein Trilogy, The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Twins of Evil (1971). He also continued his work in the Amicus portmanteau films with The House That Dripped Blood (1971) (with Christopher Lee, though in different segments), his iconic portrayal of the tragic Arthur Edward Grimsdyke in Tales from the Crypt (1972), as well as Asylum (1972). Lee and Cushing also took their chemistry outside of Hammer with the criminally underrated Horror Express (1972), Nothing But the Night (1973), and The Creeping Flesh (1973). In all, it was a golden age for Mr. Cushing’s fans when his final performance as Frankenstein finally made its way to theaters.

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

We begin with a body-snatching, not exactly breaking new ground if you’ll pardon the pun, but the recipient is not Baron Victor Frankenstein as one might assume. No, we are introduced instead to Dr. Simon Helder (Shane Briant), a detached scientist pursuing those familiar forbidden avenues of research first trod by the Baron. He is found out by the authorities and committed to an asylum, much to the shock of Asylum Director Adolf Klauss (John Stratton), who at first assumes Helder must be the new staff doctor.

As the fresh fish on the block, Helder gets some rough treatment, not the least of which is a nasty hose-down as if he were some filthy indigent rather than a learned doctor. When the abuse is interrupted, we zoom in on Helder’s savior and find it to be none other than Baron Victor Frankenstein. In subsequent discussion with Director Klauss, we learn that Victor has taken on a new identity once again as Dr. Carl Victor and that Klauss is a willing accomplice in the charade.

Hammer Films and Director Terence Fisher always gave Cushing great freedom with subtle character notes, including his handling of props. Here, he was given a hand in the design of his wig, but the results show Peter to be a more accomplished actor than wefter and he would later describe the result as making him look like Helen Hayes. Victor also sports his black leather gloves again, his hands burned at the end of either The Evil of Frankenstein or Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, take your pick.

Helder is quite the student of Frankenstein’s work, however, and recognizes him immediately. He convinces Victor to take him under his wing in exchange for assistance in his latest experiments. Helder gets the guided tour and meets some of the other inmates including a man who believes he is God. Victor makes the perhaps self-deprecating joke that the patient is not the first to suffer under that delusion. It should be patently obvious that all of these, from sculptor to mathematician, are mere raw materials for Victor, his living Erector Set. To drive the point home, when the dead sculptor’s coffin is accidentally dropped and falls open, we see he has lost his talented hands post-mortem.

Madeline Smith, Shane Briant, David Prowse, and Peter Cushing in "Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell" (1974)

Madeline Smith, Shane Briant, David Prowse, and Peter Cushing in
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

The surgery scenes are the most graphic and unflinching depictions of Victor’s work in the series. Briant, having previously appeared in Hammer’s Demons of the Mind (1972), doesn’t even try to hold his own against Cushing, and it perhaps works to the film’s advantage. His Helder proves a valuable assistant, able to perform the delicate operations now denied to Frankenstein due to his damaged hands. Frankenstein is giddy as his project begins to take shape, cackling like a madman in juxtaposition to Helder’s cold callousness, and one could envision them as father and son working on a ’57 Chevy instead of building a man. There’s even a nice little nod to Curse as Victor sits down for some chow before the big brain swap.

Assisting them by handling the stitchwork is the asylum director’s daughter, the mute “Angel” Sarah Klauss, played by the stunning Madeline Smith. Smith had already made quite the impact as a model and actress, appearing in Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) with Christopher Lee but not Cushing and alongside Cushing (but not as Van Helsing and without Lee) in The Vampire Lovers (1970). With two mad scientists and the Klauss family secrets, it becomes quite clear that the distinction between patient and staff is purely arbitrary.

Movie Poster for "Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell" (1974)

Movie Poster for Frankenstein
and the Monster from Hell

The patchwork monster is played by David Prowse, who was the only actor to play such in two separate installments of the Hammer Films Frankenstein series. He would, of course, re-team with Cushing as the diabolical duo of Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars (1977). He also trained Christopher Reeve for Superman (1978) after getting over his own disappointment at not landing the title role.

In his single-minded madness, Victor seems to have forgotten that his supply of brains all suffer from a fatal flaw. While his selection, the Professor, may have been a mathematician and violinist, he was also clearly a madman. When the “Monster from Hell” takes his first steps, we shouldn’t be surprised that a murderous rampage ensues.

Once the creature is overwhelmed and destroyed, Frankenstein is undeterred. Victor has them break out the hose to clean up so that he can start again fresh. This may be his swan song, but in his final moments on film, he reminds us that he’ll never, ever stop.

“To Baron Frankenstein, creator of man…”

All good things must come to an end. And so it goes with the Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon, the Hammer Frankenstein films, and sadly, the life of Mr. Cushing, who passed on August 11, 1994. He is fondly remembered by friends and fans alike. His work stands as a testament to his dedication, his talent, and his humility.

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Thanks to everyone who participated, moderated, commented, or lurked during the Blogathon. Heartfelt thanks also go out to my patient wife, who has endured my own Frankenstein-like obsession with these films for the past two months. I’m sure she wouldn’t have been shocked to receive a phone call requesting bail money. “My co-workers all laughed at me when I tried to build a man from paper clips and used coffee cups, but I’ll be the one laughing when Office Maximus and I have our revenge!”

Lastly, but surely not least, thanks to the late, great Peter Cushing for providing us all the inspiration to share our collective artistic gifts with each other and the world as he so generously and graciously did. He has my continued appreciation and admiration.
Rest easy, good sir.

So, let’s do it again in 2113. I intend to be here. As evidenced in these six films, brain transplants are easy to facilitate if you have the right training, equipment, and materials. After all, what could go wrong?

Who Wants to Live Forever?

Veronica Carlson and Peter Cushing in a promotional photo for "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed" (1969)

Welcome to Day Seven of the
Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon. We’re in the home stretch on our journey through the six Frankenstein films starring Peter Cushing and produced by Hammer Films, and today, we’ll focus on the final two.

Here, we’ll discuss the penultimate chapter, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969). Not written by a Hammer regular, the screenplay instead came from assistant director Bert Batt and is the only one he ever wrote. Batt previously worked with Cushing on Violent Playground (1958) and would continue as an assistant director on a number of Hammer and Amicus films. Terence Fisher returns to direct, but, sadly, his career is nearing its end.

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

As has become common in this series, the film opens with a decapitation. In this instance, Dr. Heidecke is beheaded on his own doorstep by a sickle-wielding murderer. There isn’t much in the way of flinching here, making this one of the grislier murders seen in a Hammer Film to this point, and serves as a harbinger for things to come. Laxer guidelines at the British Board of Film Censors gave filmmakers a little more leeway, and Hammer certainly wasn’t going to look that proverbial gift horse in the mouth.

With the severed head in a hatbox, the murderer returns to his own home to find a burglar on his doorstep. The burglar hightails it inside and goes from frying pan into fire as he stumbles upon a mad scientist’s laboratory, complete with a frozen cadaver. The would-be robber gets away to warn the authorities, prompting our killer to do a little quick clean up to dispose of evidence. When the killer removes a baggy Michael Myers-style mask, it is revealed to be none other than Baron Victor Frankenstein.

When the police raid the Baron’s house, he is already gone. They are led by Inspector Frisch, played by Thorley Walters, here opposing Cushing’s Baron rather than assisting him as in Frankenstein Created Woman (1967). Walters is perhaps best known for playing Dr. Watson on four separate occasions, including alongside both Christopher Lee and Christopher Plummer in the Sherlock Holmes role, but never with Cushing.

Under the name of Mr. Fenner, Victor has found lodgings in the boarding house of Anna Spengler (Veronica Carlson). She is working a scheme with her fiancé, Dr. Karl Horst (Simon Ward), who works at the local asylum and who is stealing drugs for the two of them to sell on the black market to make ends meet. Victor blackmails his way right into the midst of their enterprise and enlists their unwilling aid in a scheme of his own.

Veronica Carlson and Simon Ward in "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed" (1969)

Veronica Carlson and Simon Ward in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

One of the patients at the asylum is a former colleague of Frankenstein’s. Dr. Frederick Brandt was a pioneer in removing and preserving brains, a subject near and dear to Victor’s heart as he’s been busy collecting the brains of the brilliant, such as poor old Dr. Heidecke from our opening scene. Unfortunately, Brandt’s groundbreaking work ran afoul of the same kind of stigma and opposition as Frankenstein’s. He didn’t handle it nearly as well, however, and is now incurably insane, his secrets locked inside a broken mind.

Victor intends to break that lock by operating on his pen-pal’s brain and fixing the issue. He needs young Horst to sneak him into the asylum and help him acquire some necessary equipment. Before that can get too far, Karl stabs a night watchman and now he’s neck deep in trouble with Victor since murderers face stiffer penalties than drug dealers in the judicial system. The guillotine, perhaps?

Movie Poster for "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed" (1969)

Movie Poster for Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

A controversial scene where Frankenstein rapes Anna seems uncharacteristically sadistic for the Baron, but this tendency was probably foreshadowed as early as the first film when coercion and lies were enough to get the job done. It appears we are truly seeing Victor at his worst as his life continues to spiral out of control.

Still, the scene is unflinchingly savage and clearly uncomfortable for both Cushing and Carlson. Director Terence Fisher was also displeased with its inclusion, but executive James Carreras was insistent, hoping to appease American distributors who wanted more exploitive fare by 1969, I suppose. As a last minute addition not originally included in Bert Batt’s script, it goes unmentioned for the rest of the film.

In any event, the bedlam-break is a Pyrrhic victory as Brandt suffers a heart attack in the process. Frankenstein’s solution is pragmatic. He intends to kidnap Brandt’s therapist, the healthy Professor Richter (Freddie Jones), and do the ol’ switcheroo. The transplant is a success, but Brandt’s wife recognizes her husband’s old colleague on the street and follows him to his new base of operations.

Simon Ward, Freddie Jones, and Peter Cushing in "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed" (1969)

Simon Ward, Freddie Jones, and Peter Cushing in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

Victor is able to convince her that the man with his face wrapped in bandages is her husband, cured but much in need of rest. The moment she’s out the door, Victor and his accomplices flee the scene. When Brandt awakens in Richter’s body, he sets out to find his wife, but not before getting stabbed by a fearful Anna on his way out. She gets stabbed by Victor in turn for her failure.

Brandt, a brilliant physician, is able to take care of the wound. When he reaches his wife, she does not recognize him, of course. With Inspector Frisch and the police closing in, Victor has a showdown with his former friend that results in a raging inferno and a terrible choice.

“You must choose between the flames and the police.”

There is, predictably, some debate over the placement of Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed in the timeline. The biggest point of contention seems to be the Baron’s hands, which were burned in Evil and subsequently gloved in Frankenstein Created Woman, but seem pristine here. Frankly, I’m surprised he doesn’t have new hands in each installment, like some kind of morbid action figure. Whey bother with manicures when soft new hands are just a few stitches away?

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Veronica Carlson stands out as the tragic Anna, whose world is bleak when we first meet her and the result of her poor decisions see her plummeting down the rabbit hole into oblivion. Carlson had previously worked for Hammer as a pawn in Count Dracula’s vengeance in Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968). She’d rejoin Thorley Walters in a pair of uncredited roles (Thorley as Watson) in the bawdy comedy The Best House in London (1969) and with Cushing in The Ghoul (1975) for Hammer clone Tyburn Film Productions.

Sadly, the next Hammer Frankenstein film would be without Cushing in the role. Written and directed by Jimmy Sangster, The Horror of Frankenstein (1970) serves as a reboot with the 30-year-old Ralph Bates as the Baron. David Prowse plays the monster and Veronica Carlson returns to the series as a particularly brain dead Elizabeth.

Thankfully, Cushing would return to the role one last time in Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974) with Prowse getting a second chance to play the monster. We’ll take a look at that later tonight when we bring our little retrospective to a close. Join us, won’t you?

“Had man not been given to invention and experiment, then tonight, sir, you would have eaten your dinner in a cave.

You would have strewn the bones about the floor and then wiped your fingers on a coat of animal skin.

In fact, your lapels do look somewhat greasy. Good night.”
– Baron Victor Frankenstein

Frankensteins Prefer Blondes

Peter Cushing in a promotional photo for "Frankenstein Created Woman" (1967)

Welcome to Day Six of the
Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon. We’re continuing our exploration of Peter Cushing’s six Hammer Frankenstein films with the fourth installment in the franchise, Frankenstein Created Woman (1967).

As Brittney-Jade points out over at Day of the Woman, Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein is really a peripheral character in this tale of love and loss, seduction and revenge.

Nearly ten years since The Curse of Frankenstein took theaters by storm, Peter Cushing returns to the role that put Hammer Horror on the proverbial map. In that time, “The Gentle Man of Horror” had also made quite a name for himself at Hammer, Amicus, and elsewhere. The title Frankenstein Created Woman predates actual filming by a good bit and was derived from Roger Vadim’s And God Created Woman (1956), the film that made his wife Bridgitte Bardot a star and led to the coining of the phrase “sex kitten”.

With a series of provocative promotional photos such as the one below, containing staged scenes not included in the film, Hammer seemed to have set out to create their own sex kitten in Susan Denberg. Denberg was Playboy’s Playmate of the Month for August, 1966 and a finalist for Playmate of the Year 1967. Like many models, she expressed her desire to enter the acting field.

Susan Denberg and Peter Cushing in a promotional photo for "Frankenstein Created Woman" (1967)

Susan Denberg and Peter Cushing in a promotional photo for Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

Anthony Hinds, again as John Elder, returns to script with Terence Fisher taking the directorial reigns back from Freddie Francis. Fisher returns to his roots with limited sets and a small cast that put the story first and foremost. He would stay in the director’s chair for the remainder of the Hammer Frankenstein films.

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

As the film opens, we find ourselves returned to the shadow of the guillotine, a theme Fisher had established through the first two entries in the series. Duncan Lamont, the Police Chief from Evil, returns here in a very different role, albeit brief, as the condemned man. Accused of murder, he is drunkenly defiant and unrepentant until he notices his young son looking on from the distant treeline. He screams for his boy to turn away, begging his captors not to execute him in front of his son, but he has already lost their sympathy. The decapitation is indelibly burned into the boy’s mind and, as we will discover, it haunts him his entire life.

We find the grown Hans (Robert Morris) working alongside Dr. Hertz (Thorley Walters) on a timed experiment. At the count of one hour exactly, the two open a refrigerated chamber in their laboratory and pull out a long iron box. When the iron box is opened, its contents are none other than Baron Victor Frankenstein. Once he is resurrected by Hertz, his experiment is declared a success, proving that the soul does not exit the body immediately upon death, but lingers for at least an hour postmortem.

Hans and Hertz are an interesting pair of henchmen. Hans suffers under the social stigma of being a murderer’s son known for his own ill temper. Hertz serves as Victor’s hands. The Baron’s own are twisted and burned, presumably in his escape from fiery doom at the end of The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), and he wears sinister black gloves over them. Hertz appears to steady his hands with judicious slugs of cheap brandy and makes reference to his role as the village’s only physician being the sole reason for even modest success.

Frankenstein Created Woman father and son Duncan Lamont and Robert Morris went on to team up for Hammer’s Quatermass and the Pit (1967). While Thorley Walters worked with Cushing previously in the non-Hammer thriller The Risk (1960), there are also a couple of notable near-misses. He played Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace (1962), but with Cushing’s pal Christopher Lee as Holmes and not Cushing. His Renfield clone Ludwig serves Lee’s vampire lord in Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), but Andrew Keir’s Father Sandor opposes Drac in that outing instead of Cushing’s Van Helsing. We’ll see more of ol’ Thorley when he returns in a different role for Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969).

“You see? A shield of indestructible matter!”

Hans is dispatched to the local pub to secure appropriate beverage for celebration, and this is our first introduction to Denberg’s Christina. The image is a surprising one, especially to those drawn in by the film’s promotional materials. Barmaid Christina is scarred, disfigured, and partially paralyzed, in an even sadder state than poor Karl from The Revenge of Frankenstein. As we gradually discover, she is also Hans’ secret lover, each able to see beyond shallow village judgments to the beauty within the other.

Those village judgments are personified in the form of three young well-born rakes out for a bit of mischief. They taunt Christina and her father, the barman, until it proves too much for short-tempered Hans. A brawl ensues in which Hans gets the better of all three dandies, scarring ringleader Anton (played with wicked relish by Peter Blythe). Hans makes the fatal mistake, however, of threatening Christina’s father when the barman breaks up the fight upon the arrival of the authorities.

The three fops come back for revenge later that night and matters quickly escalate until they beat the barman to death with their walking sticks. Given Hans’ reputation, he makes the perfect patsy. He is summarily arrested the moment he stumbles upon the crime scene.

The subsequent trial is the standout scene in the film for me and features some great work by Cushing. The first is yet another example of his stagecraft as he absent-mindedly thumbs through the Bible he’s been sworn in on. He acts as if it’s the first time he’s seen one and is unimpressed, despite his current obsession with the immortal soul. The second is an exchange with the rakes who try to add witchcraft to Victor’s stated list of credentials. Frankenstein argues that while a doctorate is not offered in that field, if one were, he would surely qualify. Great stuff.

Peter Cushing in "Frankenstein Created Woman" (1967)

Baron Victor Frankenstein testifies in Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

Hans refuses to damage the modesty of Christina with his alibi, seeing as he was in bed with Christina at the time of the murder. In spite of the friendly testimony from Baron Frankenstein, Hans is convicted and sentenced to the guillotine just like his father before him. Out of town to visit a doctor during the trial, an excited Christina returns just in time to witness the blade’s fall.

Victor and Hertz have already procured the head and body of Hans to capture his soul when grief proves too much for Christina, and she drowns herself in the river, providing a convenient vessel. The bulletproof force field used to contain the soul, represented here by a ball of light, may be too much for modern sensibilities, but I find it appropriate to the Victorian era. It’s no hokier than the “science” depicted in such period fare as At the Earth’s Core (1976). It reminds me of the 19th century science fiction of Nathaniel Hawthorne, such as “The Birth-Mark” or “Rappaccini’s Daughter”, both being concerned with the pursuit of artificial perfection.

Movie Poster for "Frankenstein Created Woman" (1967)

Movie Poster for Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

Indeed, Victor and Hertz take the opportunity to “fix” Christina, transforming her into a blonde Bavarian beauty. Frankenstein calls the hair a side effect, but I think the title of this post hews closer to home. There is also a bit of bitter irony that while traveling the countryside and nearly bankrupting her father in search of a doctor who could help her, a capable and willing, if morbidly insane, candidate who is able to accomplish it as an afterthought can be found right in her home village.

This was not the first time Denberg played a character with an artificially enhanced physical appearance. In the Star Trek episode “Mudd’s Women” (1966), she plays Magda Kovacs, a “mail order bride” benefiting from the use of the “Venus pill.” While the rest of “Mudd’s Women” wore make-up to depict their character’s unenhanced appearance, Denberg merely had her hair tousled. It may have been at her request, but I’m not sure that it’s a flattering implication.

Even with Hans’ soul now residing in the bombshell body, Christina is largely a clean slate post-op. Frankenstein isn’t too forthcoming in helping her with her identity crisis, distracted as he is by the metaphysical aspects of his experiment. Hans’ severed head becomes a source of sinister direction, and through her, he begins taking his revenge on the three spoiled dandies.

This is new ground for the Frankenstein films, as Christina’s appearance draws her victims in rather than having them run for pitchforks and torches to assault the abomination. Hans knows just how to use his newly acquired assets to bait his traps while Christina was always uncomfortable in her own skin. The kill scenes are surprisingly lush and lurid, evoking the work of Mario Bava rather than James Whale or even Terence Fisher’s usual style.

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Some are put off by the sequence of the kills, preferring instead if Christina had built up to the murder of ringleader Anton rather than dealing with him first. I believe the order is a conscious choice, and shows that Hans’ thirst for vengeance was not so easily sated until all three were dead. Avenged, he departs Christina’s body and leaves what remains of her own soul to bear the murderous guilt.

Once more it proves too much for Christina, and before Victor can stop her, she throws herself off a cliff back into her watery grave. The closing moments, the look on Victor’s face, can be interpreted either as sympathy for the young lovers or regret at another creation slipping through his fingers into oblivion. Given Cushing’s range, I like to think it’s both.

While clearly upstaged by the brief but memorable appearances of Cushing’s Frankenstein, Denberg surprisingly holds her own. Although her thick Austrian accent forced Hammer to dub her dialogue, she turns in a great performance as both the disfigured Christina and the vessel of vengeance, changing her body language to suit each aspect. Terence Fisher shows great restraint in not overly exploiting her, to the disappointment of many, I’m sure, and she remains sexy and sultry but believable as a murderess.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t encourage you to click the badge above to check out all of the myriad offerings in the Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon. There are some great articles, amazing art, music videos, interviews, and more. We’ll be back tomorrow to bring our little journey to its conclusion as we look at Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974). We hope to see you here!

The Evil That Men Do

Sandor Eles and Peter Cushing in "The Evil of Frankenstein" (1964)

“The evil that men do lives after them.” — William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

This is especially true for Baron Victor Frankenstein, who has a bad habit of bringing bad men back from the great beyond. Everyone needs a hobby, I suppose.

Welcome to Day Five of the
Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon. Today, we’re going to take a look at what many consider to be the first reboot of Hammer Films’ Frankenstein franchise, The Evil of Frankenstein (1964). While there’s a definite change in direction, I’m not entirely sure continuity is cleanly severed, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Along with the supposed break in continuity came a break in creative personnel as Evil would be the first Hammer Frankenstein film not written by Jimmy Sangster. Instead, Anthony Hinds, son of Hammer Films founder William Hinds, would pen the script under the pseudonym John Elder. Hinds had cut his teeth, so to speak, collaborating with Sangster on the script for The Brides of Dracula (1960) with Cushing reprising his Van Helsing role sans Lee’s title vampire. With Captain Clegg (1962) (U.S. title Night Creatures) in between, Evil would be the third time Hinds wrote for Cushing.

The second switch was unplanned, as Terence Fisher was set to direct this third installment in the franchise until a car accident left him unable to do so. Freddie Francis, already an Academy Award-winning cinematographer and longtime Hammer contributor, was brought in to helm the project. Given his background, it isn’t surprising that Francis brings some of James Whale’s influence into his compositions, in contrast to Fisher’s sparse, stagey arrangements.

Because of a distribution deal with Universal, Hammer Films were able to freely reference their series, and it is clear by creature design, laboratory sets, and promotional materials that this film was intended to take advantage of that and perhaps bridge the gap between the two Frankenstein film franchises. Hinds’ script also reinforces these connections with secluded mountain sets and mobs of angry villagers, both absent from the previous films largely because of budgetary constraints.

The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

Movie Poster for "The Evil of Frankenstein" (1964)

Movie Poster for The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

Our film opens with a body snatching that doesn’t quite work out as planned. The ubiquitous meddling priest succeeds in driving Victor Frankenstein and his assistant Hans (played by Cushing and Sandor Elès, respectively) from his village, destroying much of their laboratory in the process. While Victor’s human assistants traditionally let him down (from Paul in Curse to Karl and Margaret in Revenge), they have also saved him from the icy grip of death (Kleve in Revenge). This dependence on others will become a clear problem in Evil.

With their work demolished, Victor takes Hans back to his home village of Karlstaad, hoping to sell off some of his inheritance to fund further work. They find the chateau in ruins and looted clean. Disappointed and defeated, Victor relates the story of his exile.

This presents the biggest obstacle to including Evil in the continuity begun with Curse and Revenge. The title text of Curse clearly places the setting in Switzerland, a fact subtly reinforced during Victor’s exchange with Kleve in Revenge. Shelley’s Frankenstein is born in Geneva, Switzerland and educated at Germany’s University of Ingolstadt in Bavaria. Karlstadt [sic] is in the appropriately named Unterfranken region of Bavaria, Germany.

There are some interesting details in this flashback sequence. Firstly, Victor sets the events 10 years ago. In Revenge, Kleve indicates that it’s been a little more than 3 years since the death of Professor Bernstein.

While Sandor Elès is nearly 10 years younger than Francis Matthews, I do not take it as gospel that his Hans is not intended to be loyal assistant Hans Kleve. Hans was not present for the events of Curse, and in Revenge, he only helped with a pair of groundbreaking brain transplants, not the creation of life. There is also the suggestion that Kleve knew of Frankenstein’s work by reputation despite the Baron’s insistence on not publishing in Curse. Is it possible that the events relayed in flashback occurred sometime between the opening of Revenge and the later events in Carlsbrück? There’s certainly no other explanation given in Evil as to why Hans does Victor’s bidding.

Except Victor’s story fits neither the events of Curse nor the possibility proposed above. The monster, in flashback, attacks and consumes only livestock, and Victor is merely charged with assaulting police and heresy, sentenced to a brief imprisonment, a fine, and ultimately exile. Consider the source, however. Victor is hardly a reliable narrator and lying would be the least of his sins. There are even some who have looked at Shelley’s original novel as the ravings of the quintessential unreliable narrator, calling into question whether the monster exists at all.

Movie Poster for "The Evil of Frankenstein" (1964)

Movie Poster for The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

Hiding behind masks during a village festival, Victor and Hans scope out the scene in Karlstaad. Victor sees one of his signet rings adorning the hand of the local Burgomaster, and it looks like he’ll be doing more revenging here than in The Revenge of Frankenstein. Victor cannot control his outrage, so he and Hans are forced to flee, a reaction a bit more exaggerated than brief imprisonment, fine, and exile would suggest.

They hide amongst the festivities, eventually evading authorities in a hypnotist’s exhibit. The hypnotist, Professor Zoltán (not to be confused with the Hound of Dracula), is as easy to rile as the Baron, and Zoltán ends up being taken into custody in their stead. Peter Woodthorpe is delightful as the puffed up carny and makes an effective foil for Cushing’s Baron. Woodthorpe followed up his role as Professor Zoltán by playing a nudie photographer in the Jimmy Sangster/Freddie Francis thriller Hysteria (1965) with Kiwi Kingston and as an ill-fated landlord in The Skull (1965) for Amicus, directed by Francis and starring Cushing, proving that he was quite adept at handling slimy, sleazy characters.

A second attempt to reclaim his valuables by Victor only serves to show that the constable who shot his creation in the flashback sequence has subsequently been promoted to Chief of Police (veteran actor Duncan Lamont, who returns to the series with a brief but important role in Frankenstein Created Woman). Victor and Hans are forced to continue their flight into the mountains. Here, they find the creature, frozen in ice.

Professional wrestler Ernie “Kiwi” Kingston plays the creature, made up to resemble the Karloff version more than a little. Kingston was an all-around accomplished sportsman, a successful amateur boxer, rugby player, and equestrian. In Germany, he would ride a horse to the ring and dismount onto the ring apron. While it might’ve been cool to see him ride down villagers as the monster, we’ll have to settle for a spearing, but you’ll have to wait for that.

“The evil of a man who created a monster by crude surgery
and harnessed the tempestuous forces of nature to give it life!”

As if there was any doubt, this square-headed monstrosity cannot be the same creature played by Christopher Lee in Curse, since that one was dissolved in a vat of acid. Still, Victor is eager to get the frozen freak back to his ruined chateau laboratory and bring it back to consciousness. Once accomplished, the immobile thing will not obey his verbal commands.
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Victor believes Zoltán to be the solution to his problem. Found to be practicing without a license, the hypnotist has been sentenced to that most popular of Karlstaad punishments, exile. Professor Zoltán has his own plans, however, and what follows might as well be called The Revenge of Zoltán or The Evil of Zoltán. When Victor objects, a power struggle predictably ensues, with Zoltán ordering creation to kill creator.

Frankenstein keeps his monster at bay with an oil lamp, but Zoltán blocks the only path of escape. This is where the spearing comes in. The monster goes on a rampage, destroying the lab equipment and starting a raging inferno. Judicious application of chloroform just serves to make matters worse. Hans and a deaf-mute girl (as easily omitted from the film as from this synopsis) look on as the chateau explodes in a ball of fire, presumably consuming Baron Frankenstein and his monster. Hans pronounces the final verdict, “They beat you after all.”

Except we’ve got two more days and three more films, so it’s far from conclusive.

Despite my musings and suggestions, it is admittedly difficult to fit The Evil of Frankenstein into the Hammer Films Frankenstein chronology. The more interesting intellectual exercise, I think, is to examine the progression of Peter Cushing’s portrayal of the Baron, from murderous man-child to charitable curmudgeon to vengeful outcast. We’ll continue on this path tomorrow, when we discuss that time when Frankenstein Created Woman (1967). You wouldn’t want to miss that, would you?

Best Served Cold

Peter Cushing and Alex Gallier in "The Revenge of Frankenstein" (1958)

“Revenge is a dish best served cold.” — Klingon proverb, at least according to no less an authority than Khan Noonien Singh

Welcome to Day Four of the
Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon. We’re going to continue our coverage of Peter Cushing’s six Hammer Films performances as Baron Victor Frankenstein. Given the ending of our previous installment, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), that might seem unlikely as the good Baron was facing the guillotine for the murder of his maid Justine.

Still, Curse broke British box office records as film-goers eagerly or hypocritically ignored the scathing reviews and moral outrage. Further installments were inevitable. To cut costs, The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) shared sets and was filmed back-to-back with Horror of Dracula.

Peter Cushing’s Frankenstein might be able to escape his doom, but Christopher Lee’s Monster, dissolved in a vat of acid, did not fare as well. Peter would have to go solo for the rest of the series without his good friend. This struck me as curious, given the heavy make-up Lee wore, and it wouldn’t have been too ridiculous to have him take another, human role later in the series. Alas, such was not to be.

Jimmy Sangster and Terence Fisher returned to write and direct, respectively. This consistency helped to establish the visual style of Hammer Horror, that of garish color and period costume. Sangster had to up his game as well, writing his way out of the corner of the first film and charting new territory away from both Mary Shelley’s novel and Universal’s franchise.

The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)

Our first image is that of the guillotine, continuing right where we left off, but something must be up because surely we’re not in for 89 minutes of decapitating action. The opening title text indicates Frankenstein has been “condemned to death for the brutal murders committed by the monster he had created,” but the mere existence of the monster is disputed at the end of Curse, and only Justine’s body would be available to blame on Victor. I suppose, given the macabre nature of his laboratory and its contents, that he would be blamed for every unsolved murder in Switzerland.

Lobby Cards for
The Revenge of
(click to enlarge)

Lobby Card for "The Revenge of Frankenstein" (1958)
Lobby Card for "The Revenge of Frankenstein" (1958)
Lobby Card for "The Revenge of Frankenstein" (1958)
Lobby Card for "The Revenge of Frankenstein" (1958)
Lobby Card for "The Revenge of Frankenstein" (1958)
Lobby Card for "The Revenge of Frankenstein" (1958)

Alex Gallier returns as the priest from Curse, leading Victor to the headsman with a shuffling trusty in tow. There’s a conspiratorial nod between headsman and henchman, and we follow as the blade is slowly winched upward. We pause as it hangs at the top, hearing a scuffle ensue, and then the blade falls out of frame, quickly seguing to a woman’s shriek and the popping of a wine cork.

Revenge doesn’t take long to establish one of its key conflicts, that of class struggle. Here, we see the underclass at play, getting drunk and plotting avenues for illicit gain. Ten marks for a fresh grave robbing seems a trifle steep, but beggars can’t be choosers, even if the beggar in question is Baron Victor Frankenstein.

Strangely enough, these lowly criminals are exhuming the grave of the recently buried Baron Frankenstein. Inside the coffin is a headless priest, which proves too much for one of the pair. The real Baron Frankenstein introduces himself to the remaining grave robber, who faints dead away. Victor jumps into the grave to check on him and shrugs his shoulders as if to say, “Well, that’s an unexpected bonus.”

A quaintly painted cityscape and title card take us to the fictional city of “Carlsbrück”, where we find the “Medical Council of Carsbruck [sic, umlauts in short supply I guess] in Session”. The Council has a problem with a particularly popular and independent new doctor in the city, Dr. Stein. There is a clear distinction between the men meeting here and in the pub scene earlier. These men are impeccably dressed, the furnishings are posh, their manner cultured and conservative. These are men of means, not action, and their solution to the Stein problem speaks to that. They will send a delegation of three members to seek an appointment and demand Stein joins the Council.

We then see Stein at work, and his office is even more lavish than that of the Council. Nearly a dozen highborn patients crowd his waiting room, sharing it with a colorful parrot and potted plants. As Victor Stein/Frankenstein gets ready to receive the first, he takes a boutonnière from a vase, preserved with a small bit of water, and tucks it into the buttonhole of his lapel. He sniffs it to test its freshness.

This little prop manipulation is pure Cushing and a testament to his stagecraft. The seemingly innocent gesture will be revisited later, where its importance will become more clear. Suffice to say, Victor Frankenstein appreciating the properties of a preserved dead thing shouldn’t be all that surprising.

The remainder of the scene is some lightly sexual tomfoolery with a local Countess, obviously seeking to match her daughter up with the successful doctor through Münchausen by proxy. We do have our first mention of Victor’s work with the poor, however, and it becomes clear that Victor and his work will become a point of intersection and, most likely, contention between the upper and lower classes. It is also clear that Victor may be one of the most eligible bachelors in Carlsbrück.

When we next catch up to Victor, he’s hard at work in his “chirurgie” ward, administering to the poor. It is here that the Medical Council delegates catch up to him. They are disgusted to be so close to the unwashed masses. Victor examines one patient, a pickpocket, and admires the “picturesque” tattoo that adorns his forearm before immediately scheduling amputation. He then explains to the delegates that they spurned him when he first arrived in the city, and now that he is successful, he doesn’t need nor want their assistance.

That is enough for only two of three delegates. Dr. Hans Kleve (Francis Matthews) believes he recognizes Dr. Stein from the funeral of Professor Bernstein. Matthews didn’t appear in Curse, so Kleve’s attendance at that funeral must’ve been off-screen. Once pressed, Victor finally confesses to his true identity. Kleve wants in on the Baron’s groundbreaking work, and he’s willing to use blackmail to get the post, a very different arrangement than the one between Victor and his former mentor Paul.

During the early stages of their negotiations, Victor dissects a chicken dinner with surgical precision. When it comes time to weigh the risk of trusting Kleve, Victor suggests the price of betrayal by wiping down his carving knife less than a foot from Kleve’s face. Their arrangement sorted out, Victor brings his new pupil to their back-alley laboratory. Here, we get our formal introduction to Karl (Oscar Quitak), the paralyzed trusty who enabled the Baron’s escape from the guillotine.

Peter Cushing and Francis Matthews in "The Revenge of Frankenstein" (1958)

Peter Cushing and Francis Matthews in “The Revenge of Frankenstein” (1958)

The laboratory is also our first glimpses of Otto the Chimpanzee, the patchwork man, and the artificial brain. The last is particularly goofy, a pair of tanks with a preserved arm and eyes attached to a generator. The eyes tracking a Bunsen burner without muscle, tendon, or ligament is probably meant to be disturbing, but it just comes across as comical to me. I find it to be the only weak point in the film, but it’s easily (pardon the pun) overlooked.

Victor’s creation is not the hideous monster of Curse. Aside from a few scars, the creation (Michael Gwynn) is a perfectly normal man, albeit a rather large specimen. All he needs is a brain.

Kleve initially recoils in horror, believing he is going to be asked to donate his brain, but Victor laughs this off. “No, your brain is too valuable where it is,” he says. No, it is Karl who is going to put his fine brain into the newly crafted body, a body free of pitiable paralysis. And so, the Baron’s latest monster is created to help someone other than himself. Perhaps our little Victor is growing up.

Sure, he’s exploiting the poor in his ward, but I propose you take a second look. Following the continuity from the first film, this is the first time Victor is putting all that medical knowledge and experimentation into professional practice. He may be poaching around for parts, but he also seems genuinely engaged in the challenge of patient care. Given his noble origins, it’s likely the first job he’s ever had, and he’s wildly successful. I’m sure someone could chart a course through Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein, through Cushing’s Sherlock Holmes, and emerge at Hugh Laurie’s Gregory House, but such conjecture is a bit beyond the scope of this post.

Movie Poster for "The Revenge of Frankenstein" (1958)

Movie Poster for The Revenge
of Frankenstein

I confess The Revenge of Frankenstein does sound a bit more marketable than The Redemption of Frankenstein.

Kleve is quickly put to work in the ward, attending to the poor. He also interviews Margaret Conrad (Eunice Gayson), daughter of the minister, who is eager to assist in their charitable endeavors. When Karl accidentally interrupts, his tongue proves just as paralyzed as his right side, clearly smitten with the young lady. Though a bit conservative and buttoned up here, Eunice Gayson would later become the very first Bond girl and the only one to appear as the same character in multiple films, as Bond’s first true girlfriend, Sylvia Trench, in Dr. No (1962) and From Russia with Love (1963).

After placing his boutonnière in a vase (that again), Victor explains the need to placate Margaret to keep up appearances and avoid interference in his work. He suggests Hans have her wash a patient to prompt her resignation. That sorted out, it’s time to get Karl’s brain into his new body.

Despite the suspenseful music, everything goes smashingly, at least at first. Frankenstein prescribes bed rest until his brain adjusts to his new body, enforced with restraints in a private attic room above the hospital. Karl’s relocation is witnessed by a nosy orderly (Richard Wordsworth at his Dickensian best), who hears Karl’s incoherent screams before the sedatives take hold.

Karl (now played by Michael Gwynn) does make rapid progress, and the moment when Victor encourages him to move his right arm for the first time is genuinely touching, mostly due to Cushing’s gentle manner. Victor apologizes that he can’t stay as he is due down in the ward. Do I detect a sense of responsibility?

Kleve fumbles the ball during his monster-sitting responsibilities. He tells Karl all about the lecture tour, where Karl’s old body and new body will be side-by-side to demonstrate their great achievement. Kleve is too absorbed in his own impending fame to detect Karl’s sadness at being treated like a freak even in his new life.

On the ward, both the snooping orderly and Margaret are summarily dismissed by Victor. The dirty indigent tries to commiserate with the highborn girl by telling tales of Dr. Stein’s dark doings, but she’s skeptical. She calls his bluff, so he breaks out his trump card, the poor wretch hidden in the attic.

Margaret tries to puzzle out how the mystery patient knows her name, but Karl, clearly more confident, glosses over their prior encounter. She is so taken with him that she gives him her address and is talked into loosening his restraints.

Meanwhile, the orderly grills Kleve for information. He triumphs the dirty habits of wild animals, and this gives Kleve a sudden insight into the behavior of Otto the chimpanzee with an orangutan’s brain. A now carnivorous orangutan.

Kleve questions Victor about this turn of events. While chimps will eat meat, orangutan’s are almost exclusively herbivorous. “I discovered it soon after the operation,” Victor explains. “He ate his wife.” Hans is aghast. “That’s another monkey?” “What else would he be married to?” Victor finds Otto’s cannibalistic tendencies a small price to pay for a happy, healthy life. Surely, it couldn’t happen to Karl. Karl’s brain is fine, unlike Otto’s, which was damaged during his recuperation (calling back to the first film and the pre-op damaged brain, we’re making progress but we’ve still got a few kinks to work out). Besides, Karl knows about Otto’s fate and will be sure to obey doctor’s orders to mitigate the risk.

Before Hans can come truly unglued about the potential of cannibal Karl, Victor is excited to show him yet another secret project. It’s another patchwork man, but this one bears a striking resemblance to the Baron himself. As they transport Frankenstein 2.0 to the preservation tank, we see the tattooed arm Victor was so fond of adorning his latest creation.

In the attic, Karl is busy disobeying orders and dressing himself, perhaps for the first time. As he flexes his right arm and buttons his pants, it’s hard to blame him even though he knows the risk better than we do. Karl blithely ignores the new right leg that doesn’t seem as sturdy as it should, taking a moment to admire himself in the mirror. He can’t waste another minute before embarking on his new life, and out the window he goes.

Before hitting the highway, Karl has some unfinished business, and sneaks back into the lab to incinerate his old body. He runs afoul of the drunken janitor who doesn’t recognize him and gives him a sound thrashing that manages to wreck much of the equipment. Karl eventually hulks out and throttles the sadistic scum to death. When he sees Otto enjoying a fleshy snack, Karl commences to drooling and is terrified at the implication.

“You will see a man turn into the world’s most terrifying monster!”

Margaret finds Karl hiding in her stables. He begs her not to tell Dr. Stein, and she agrees, but rushes to tell Hans instead, swearing him to secrecy. It doesn’t last long, however, before Victor gets in on the pursuit.

The stress begins taking its toll, and Karl’s new body starts to fail him, reducing him to a shambling, cannibalistic monster prowling the streets. The green tint for Karl used in promotional materials was clearly inspired by the make-up used for the 1931 black-and-white Universal film and not anything in this one, but Gwynn’s gradual transformation is effective just the same.

Before Hans and Victor can catch up with Karl, he literally crashes a posh dinner party attended by Margaret. As the wealthy revelers gasp in fear, Karl stumbles over and begs Victor for help. By name. “Frankenstein help me” are his last words.

In the wake of this scandal, the Medical Council calls an emergency meeting. Hans wants to flee, but Victor is preoccupied. He has prepared for this eventuality.

The waiting room is deserted, and Hans has been summoned before the Council. Victor insists upon accompanying him to face their accusations, but not before discarding his boutonnière (a-ha!).

At the Council, Victor admits to being a Frankenstein, but denies being Baron Frankenstein and claims he changed his name to avoid the stigma the name carries. An exhumation of the baron’s grave ends the charade as the priest’s trappings are found in the coffin.

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The rumors have spread from rich to poor, and Frankenstein finds his patients have no more love for him than the Council. Here, the reception is far less formal, and he is beaten nearly to death by those he tried to help.

Kleve arrives in time to save his life, but Victor fears it is too late. Hans knows what to do. The authorities arrive at the back-alley laboratory only to find Victor Stein’s lifeless corpse.

Later, on London’s fog-shrouded Harley Street West, a Dr. Franck washes up for surgery, and we see a certain oft-admired tattoo. Hans Kleve tells Dr. Franck that his next patient is waiting, but before he steps out into the waiting room, Dr. Franck plucks a new boutonnière from its vase. A fresh flower for a fresh start.

In the end, it seemed Victor Frankenstein was denied both his revenge and his redemption, but he cheated death once more, so join us tomorrow for The Evil of Frankenstein (1964). You’re a bad person if you don’t.

Appetite for Resurrection

Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) makes time with Justine (Valerie Gaunt) in "The Curse of Frankenstein" (1957)

Welcome to Day Three of the
Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon. Today, we’re going to begin our journey through the six Frankenstein films starring Peter Cushing and produced by Hammer Films.

I’ve been a fan of the Mary Shelley classic Frankenstein since I first read it in my youth. The novel is a series of nested stories, starting with the journal of a North Pole explorer and including a tale told by the monster itself, but most of these are abandoned in adaptation for a more linear plotline. I also adore the Universal Pictures film from 1931, starring Boris Karloff and directed by James Whale.

It’s somewhat suprising, then, that I hadn’t seen any of the Hammer Films Frankenstein series until very recently. I had been aware of them, sure, and looked forward to watching them someday, but just never seemed to get around to them. I recorded three of them when they aired on TCM during last Halloween, but still they sat on my DVR, unwatched, until last month when Jon Kitley of Kitley’s Krypt issued a challenge to his Kryptic Army.

The April Mission was to confess to not having seen two “horror classics” and then remedy that. As a dutiful soldier, I chose The Curse of Frankenstein and its immediate sequel, The Revenge of Frankenstein. After a six day work week, they were welcome treats on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

London-based Hammer Films had been cranking out “quota-quickies” for twenty years before The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) was a surprise sci-fi blockbuster. The spelling of the title was a very conscious choice, designed to take advantage of the newly created X certificate given to films of an adult nature, suitable for those 16 years of age or older, and roughly equivalent to the MPAA’s R rating. Even with the X certificate, Xperiment and its would-be sequel, X the Unknown (1956), caused quite a stir with censors because of their macabre subject matter and imagery.

American producers Max Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky had written a script for Frankenstein and the Monster and submitted it to Associated Artists Productions. a.a.p., negotiating to distribute Hammer films in the U.S., forwarded it on to them. Hammer was disappointed with the script and although the novel was already in the public domain, the script borrowed heavily from Universal’s Son of Frankenstein (1939).

Jimmy Sangster had been working for Hammer as an assistant director when his plot for a Quatermass sequel instead became the surprisingly successful Quatermass pastiche, X the Unknown. Despite protests that he was a production manager, not a writer, Sangster was commissioned to write The Curse of Frankenstein in an effort to move the film away from the old Universal treatments. Hammer was so impressed with the results, the project quickly transformed from a black-and-white quickie to a full color production. Though their Frankenstein and the Monster never materialized, Rosenberg and Subotsky would go on to found Hammer rival Amicus Productions, whose horror anthology films would make great use of Peter Cushing as well.

Sangster’s script may have impressed Hammer, but it didn’t fare well with the British Board of Film Censors:

“We are concerned about the flavour of this script, which, in its preoccupation with horror and gruesome detail, goes far beyond what we are accustomed to allow even for the ‘X’ category. I am afraid we can give no assurance that we should be able to pass a film based on the present script and a revised script should be sent us for our comments, in which the overall unpleasantness should be mitigated.”

Regardless, the script remained unchanged. Terence Fisher was tabbed to direct, having already worked with Hammer on some crime films and a couple of minor science fiction entries. Not wanting to be unduly influenced, Fisher avoided seeing the Universal Frankenstein film. Curse was the first time Fisher directed Cushing, but it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Peter appeared in 14 Terence Fisher films in all.

Cushing was chosen for the lead because of his work for BBC television, most notably in Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale’s controversial adaptation of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954). The film opens with Cushing’s haggard and imprisoned Baron Victor Frankenstein receiving a visitor. The priest was summoned by Frankenstein to hear his tale of murder and madness because the people will trust and listen to the priest, and that’s the only chance the doomed Baron has if his story is to be believed.

Movie Poster for "The Curse of Frankenstein" (1957)

Movie Poster for The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

The Baron’s narrative, told in flashback, forms the basis for the rest of the film. We meet the Baron in his youth, played with smug confidence by Melvyn Hayes. Hayes, 22 at the time, appears far younger as the freshly orphaned Baron, heir to the title and his family fortune. The scene features our introduction to Victor’s young cousin Elizabeth. Played by the buxom “horror queen” Hazel Court (Devil Girl from Mars) for the bulk of the film, here she is played by Hazel’s own daughter Sally. Sally did not care for the acting experience, and this remains her only film credit.

We are also introduced to fresh-faced Dr. Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart), interviewing for a position as a tutor. Krempe is surprised to find that the Baron and his prospective pupil are one and the same. While at first amused, Krempe sees the opportunity here, but later horrors prove he made a far better tutor in science than father figure.

Though his scene is brief (less than 3 and a half minutes of screen time), Hayes makes quite an impression as the young Baron. He is headstrong, demanding, and impatient, a boy made a man by the untimely death of his parents, and death would prove his great nemesis, not the villagers or authorities who come to fear and loathe him. Hayes had previously worked with Fisher on the Hammer crime film The Black Glove (1954). Though he shares no scenes with Cushing (seeing as how they play the same character), he would re-team with Cushing outside of Hammer Films in the crime film Violent Playground (1958) and the horror film The Flesh and the Fiends (1960).

The passage of years is reflected in the return of Cushing to the title role and the growth of Krempe’s facial hair. Their first great scientific achievement is the resurrection of a puppy. Victor’s gasp of “Paul, it’s alive,” is as close as we get at this point to the shrieking madman presented in the Universal version. The cute animal’s rebirth, amid non-maniacal joyful laughter, only subtly foreshadows the horror to come and subverts our expectations. This is happy, healthy, adorable science at work.

Krempe wants to publish immediately, to announce their discovery and benefit the world. A smug Victor sips brandy from a snifter. Here, he lets Paul do the shouting as he calmly, politely, coldly refuses to share their discovery. Restoring life is not enough for Victor. He wants to create life from nothing.

A hanged man provides the raw materials. The scene of Victor cutting the condemned man from the gibbet was the first shot for the film. This night crime forms our first truly horrific images. The music begins to take on a sinister tone as well. Paul’s concern grows as Victor grimly sets to work, heedless of the blood staining his noble finery. An acid bath, used to dispose of the corpse’s head, is not only a source of grisly sound effects, but functions as Chekhov’s gun, foreshadowing later events.

“This is Frankenstein… who revolted against nature…
who experimented with the devil and was forever cursed…”

While Paul is nauseated and unnerved, the work makes Victor hungry. His appetites form a theme that runs through the film, his thirst for brandy coupled with a thirst for knowledge, his hunger for power over death, his lust for the maid Justine and for intellectual challenge. Cushing’s enthusiasm in the role is infectious, and makes some viewers uncomfortable as they root for a Victor Frankenstein that is darker and more selfish than other, more refined incarnations.

While Victor is off procuring the severed hands of an accomplished and freshly deceased sculptor, Elizabeth (Hazel Court) returns. Her exchange with Paul is pure confusion as she first confuses him for Victor (having last seen him as children), and then surprises Paul with the announcement that she’ll be moving into the manor, clearly something Victor neglected to discuss with his mentor turned lab assistant.

When Paul warns against the danger of Elizabeth discovering their activities, Victor doesn’t see the harm. He is blind to the horror he is wreaking in the course of his ambition. Justine, the maid and Victor’s secret mistress, is also less-than-enthused about Elizabeth’s arrival. Victor finds her jealousy amusing. Having grown up without adult supervision or rules, he is a petulant child with no sense of responsibility or accountability.

This is apparent in his murderous scheme to acquire a suitable brain, that of Professor Bernstein. As Bernstein and Frankenstein share brandy and cigars, the professor and Elizabeth try to show Victor the importance of family and fraternity. He is moved by Bernstein’s words of wisdom, but undeterred. He has come too far to turn back now and Bernstein’s fate is sealed with a shove.

In Bernstein’s crypt, Paul confronts Victor in the act of removing Bernstein’s brain. In the ensuing struggle, the brain is damaged, and Victor is distraught for the first time, not from having committed murder or losing a mentor and friend, but from having his plans derailed. Victor is forced to admit that he cannot finish his experiments without Paul’s help, and he resorts to subtly threatening Elizabeth to get his way.

During their discussion, a lightning strike triggers the apparatus and brings the creature to life. It’s nearly 50 minutes into the film before the bandages are torn away and we see the horrifying visage of Frankenstein’s Monster (Christopher Lee) for the first time. While Phil Leakey’s make-up may have been last minute, it lends a bloated, sloughed pallor to the creature that works well in color to indicate its necrotic origins.

If not for Paul’s intervention, creation would have strangled creator to death upon their first meeting. Ungrateful, Victor blames the creature’s murderous nature on the damage done to the brain by Paul. Soon, the monster is loosed on the countryside to murder a blind man and his grandson (the latter heavily implied off-camera). Victor promises to warn the villagers, but doesn’t. His chief concern is not their lives but that of his creation. Paul shoots the creature through the eye and everyone lived happily ever after.

Except Victor cannot let the dead lie. Upon his return to the manor, he is confronted by Justine, who reminds him of his promises to marry her. He laughs at her plight, her innocence and gullibility, both taken advantage of to periodically sate his primal lusts. She claims to be pregnant with his child, causing him to grow serious, but he tells her it would be easily blamed on any of a number of other villagers. When she ups the stakes by threatening to tell the authorities about his experiments, he dismisses her harshly. He is not moved by love or responsibility, but by the danger she poses to his work.

Justine sneaks into his laboratory that night, eager to find some proof of his criminal activities. She stumbles upon the exhumed creature, and Victor locks both the maid and his unborn child in to be murdered at the hands of his true creation. Victor blithely plays off her disappearance at a sumptuous breakfast with Elizabeth. “I expect some village Lothario eloped with her. She always was a romantic little thing.”

Elizabeth (Hazel Court) snoops around in "The Curse of Frankenstein" (1957)

Elizabeth (Hazel Court) snoops around in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

With his experiments in order, Victor leaves Elizabeth to plan their impending nuptials. Despite Elizabeth’s eagerness and obvious physical charms, Victor decides to work on the eve of their wedding. Paul arrives at Elizabeth’s invitation, and upon hearing from her that Victor’s work has resumed, immediately heads for the laboratory. There, Victor demonstrates his command over the creature, treating it like a dog, hearkening back to the puppy they first resurrected together.
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Paul is horrified, but Victor is quick to share credit as well as blame for the results of their collaboration. Victor vows to continue until his determination is satisfied. Finally, Paul is left with no alternative. He must go to the authorities and tell them of their collective crimes.

Seeing Paul rush out with Victor in pursuit, Elizabeth is concerned. She heads to the laboratory to see what has distressed them so and finds the acid bath, mere moments before she herself is found by the hideous creature, broken free of his chains. It doesn’t menace her immediately, however, and, during his struggles outside with Victor, Paul has the opportunity to see the thing lumbering about the battlements. Victor rushes to fetch a pistol and confront the thing on the battlements, but both shots and the thrown pistol only serve to focus the creature’s rage on its creator. Victor sets the thing alight with a hurled lamp and watches with revulsion as it falls through a window into the acid bath.

We return to our framing device, with the imprisoned Victor miserable at the fruit of his labors. The priest is unconvinced, but Victor perks up at the announcement that Paul has come to call. Victor seeks corroboration from Paul, but Paul insists Victor is responsible for Justine’s murder (her body presumably found in the laboratory). With the monster dissolved and Paul and Elizabeth departed, Baron Victor Frankenstein is left to face the guillotine alone.

So much for five sequels, eh? Well, we’ll see that guillotine again tomorrow as we witness The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958). Be here or be square.

Remembering Peter Cushing –
 From Hamlet to Hammer

Peter Cushing as Osric in "Hamlet" (1948)

Today is Day Two of the Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon and, more properly, the birthday of this beloved actor. Here at WeirdFlix, we’ll take a quick look at the long and storied career that made him such a celebrated film icon.

Peter Cushing was poised to follow in his father’s footsteps as a surveyor when he accepted a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. After working as an assistant stage manager to the Worthing Repertory Company, he made his stage debut in 1935′s The Middle Watch. By 1939, he was ready to depart for Hollywood and try his hand in film, debuting in James Whale’s The Man in the Iron Mask (1939). Cushing worked with director Whale one more time in They Dare Not Love (1941), but Whale’s most famous film, Frankenstein (1931), would clearly have a greater impact on Cushing’s career to come.

Hamlet (1948)

Hamlet was Sir Laurence Olivier’s follow-up film to his own Henry V of a few years prior. Henry V was the first commercially successful film adaptation of Shakespeare, and earned Olivier an Honorary Award from the Academy after being nominated but snubbed for Best Picture and Best Actor. Hamlet, in which Olivier would also star as well as direct, was not so easily overlooked, being awarded both Best Picture (the first British film to receive that honor) and Olivier’s only Best Actor Oscar.

In his first major film role, Peter Cushing plays the foppish Osric, a courtier dispatched to invite Hamlet to a duel against Laertes. Osric’s verbal sparring with Hamlet brilliantly foreshadows the fencing match itself. As Cushing’s Osric looks on, Hamlet and his nemesis cross swords, but there is a fourth party present who would eventually figure heavily in Cushing’s life and films. Christopher Lee stands sadly mute as a spear carrier in the scene, sharing the screen with Cushing for the first time.

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Hammer Films

With a few notable exceptions, such as the period pieces The Black Knight (1954) and Alexander the Great (1956), Cushing spent most of the 1950s back home working for the BBC on the telly. A star performance in Nigel Kneale’s adaptation of the George Orwell dystopian sci-fi classic Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954) received particular acclaim. During this same period, London-based Hammer Films was making a name for itself with science fiction and horror films, starting with a 1955 feature film adaptation of Kneale’s BBC television serial The Quatermass Experiment (1953).

After a number of production woes, Hammer Films sought out Peter Cushing for their Frankenstein project, now titled The Curse of Frankenstein (1957). Christopher Lee was cast not so much for his acting chops, but for his towering 6′ 5″ frame. Universal fought to keep Hammer from using any aspects of the James Whale/Boris Karloff version, so much more focus was placed on Cushing’s Baron rather than the monster. We’ll take a deeper look into Cushing’s dread Baron tomorrow as we’ll spend the rest of this blogathon discussing and dissecting his six turns as Doctor Frankenstein for Hammer Films.

With a budget of only £65,000 (about $270,000), The Curse of Frankenstein grossed nearly £2,000,000 (about $8,000,000) despite scathing reviews and critical outrage. Hammer went back to the well a year later, re-teaming Lee and Cushing as Count Dracula and his nemesis, Van Helsing for Dracula (1958) (Horror of Dracula in the U.S.). The Mummy followed in 1959 with Lee vs. Cushing once again, and the era of Hammer Horror had well and truly begun.

Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes in "Hound of the Baskervilles" (1959)

Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes in
Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

Perhaps one of the strangest Lee/Cushing Hammer films was
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959). Though Cushing was an ardent fan of Sherlock Holmes and the film was far more faithful to Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories than previous efforts, it received only mixed reviews from critics. Nonetheless, Cushing went on to play Holmes for 16 episodes of the BBC television series and again in Sherlock Holmes and the Masks of Death (1984), his penultimate film.

Cushing and Lee became fast friends. They would work together on 23 films in all, most often as bitter rivals. This includes The Devil’s Agent (1962), where Cushing’s scenes were cut, and their minor collaborations pre-Hammer.

“He really was the most gentle and generous of men. I have often said he died because he was too good for this world.” — Christopher Lee

Later today, we’ll look at the latter years of Peter Cushing’s career, from nearly a decade of horror anthologies (1965 – 1977) to Star Wars to a team-up with three other fright flick legends. Please join us, and be sure to check out some of the other tributes to Mr. Cushing elsewhere around the web by clicking on the badge above. Thanks to Frankensteinia for hosting this wonderful celebration of a life lived and loved.

Remembering H. Rider Haggard (Part 2 of 2)

Ursula Andress as "She"

She: A History of Adventure

Sir Henry Rider Haggard’s She is one of the best-selling books of all time, having sold 83 million copies by 1965. The story of a lost kingom in the heart of Africa ruled by a mysterious white queen named Ayesha, “She-Who-Must-be-Obeyed,” quickly became a classic of imaginative literature and hasn’t been out of print since its first publication. After being initially serialized in the British weekly The Graphic, it was first published as a standalone novel in 1887, the same year as Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebrating fifty years of rule.

She has been adapted for the silver screen ten times, the first six in the silent era, starting with a short film by cinema pioneer Georges Méliès. Méliès filmed La colonne de feu (The Pillar of Fire) in 1899. His 1902 short film, Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon) is widely regarded as the first science fiction film. The final silent film version, released in 1925, was the first feature length adaptation and benefited from having its intertitles written by H. Rider Haggard himself. Sadly, he would die later that same year in a London nursing home.

“I suppose as a boy ‘She‘ interested me as much as anything.” — J.R.R. Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings)

Helen Gahagan in "She"
The 1935 adaptation starred Helen Gahagan in the title role. Her lost kingdom was moved from Africa to Arctic Siberia and sported a more
Art Deco/Great Gatsby aesthetic. Produced by Merian C. Cooper, the film was meant to build on the success of King Kong, but RKO budget cuts forced the film into black-and-white rather than color. Gahagan’s depiction of “She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed” was so iconic, that it inspired the look of the Evil Queen in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It would be her only Hollywood production. She would enter a career in politics and, in her Senate bid against Richard Nixon, would become famous for coining the infamous nickname “Tricky Dick.”

“His openings — what story in the world opens better than ‘She‘? — are full of alluring promise, and his catastrophes triumphantly keep it.” — C. S. Lewis (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)

In 1965, Hammer Films embarked on their most ambitious and expensive project to date, an adaptation of She starring Ursula Andress as the immortal queen. Andress had already secured her Hollywood fame with vampy roles in Dr. No, opposite Elvis in Fun in Acapulco, and alongside Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin in 4 for Texas. The film retains the Victorian setting if not sensibilities of the novel with Peter Cushing leading the expedition to the lost African city of Kuma as Professor Holly.
Olinka Bérová in "The Vengeance of She"
The success of the Hammer venture led to a 1968 sequel, The Vengeance of She. Andress refused to return, so producers went through their Rolodex looking for a replacement, offering the role to model Samantha Jones, Britt Ekland, and Barbara Bouchet in turn. All turned it down, forcing a rewrite to the script and the casting of Czech actress and model Olga Schoberová under the Paramount-provided name Olinka Bérová
(“Baby” Bérová). Instead of the unlikely return of the supposedly immortal Ayesha, The Vengeance of She retells and inverts the tale, with Bérová playing a European ingénue being pursued by the ruler of Kuma, Killikrates (played by a returning John Richardson). Killikrates believes Bérová to be a reincarnation of his beloved Ayesha, just as Andress believed Richardson to be her returning Killikrates in the previous film.
Ophélie Winter in "She"
A 2001 straight-to-video version of She largely serves as an obscure vanity vehicle for French singer and actress Ophélie Winter (2001: A Space Travesty).
Ian Duncan (The Mists of Avalon) plays dual roles as Leo Vincey and Kallikrates. Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) also makes an appearance as Michael Vincey.

Adventure fiction abounds with takes on the white queen amongst the savages, but H. Rider Haggard took a simple concept and used it to transcend its pulp origins, expounding on the nature of civilization, sexuality, and imperialism. The transition of Helen Gahagan from silver screen queen to U.S. Representative is not a coincidence. As gender and race barriers are increasingly broken in the 21st century, it doesn’t hurt to take a moment to reflect on our past and the visionaries like Haggard who questioned the status quo.

“And O you whose eyes shall fall upon these pages, see, they have been translated, and they have been printed, and here they lie before you – an undiscovered land wherein you are free to travel!” — H. Rider Haggard, Cleopatra (1889)