The Evil of Frankenstein
Review by Mike Finkelstein
Having survived previous attempts to stop him and his "evil" experiments, Baron Victor Frankenstein is back to his old tricks in a new city with a new assistant. As he works to revive dead flesh once again (because everyone needs a hobby), a priest interrupts the work, destroying equipment and ruining the experiments. Knowing the authorities could be at his lab soon, Frankenstein and his assistant, Hans, flee the scene.
Knowing they need money and a place to work, the scientists head back to Frankenstein's homeland. Knowing they have to avoid the authorities, as the Baron had been banished ten years prior, the two work in secret in the old mansion. But when they find the body of his first successful experiment trapped in a glacier, the Baron decides that the work is more important than any risk. Will he be able to control the monstrous experiment this time, or will everything he's worked for end in ruin once again?
For those watching through the whole Hammer series, The Evil of Frankenstein is a bit of an odd film. For starters it marked a bit of a soft-reboot for the film series -- Frankenstein is still played by Peter Cushing, but his character is different, less crazed and evil than in the previous films. The monster looks different than in the previous movies as well, making the claim that this is his "original" monster seem a little odd. Plus, event from the previous movie, The Revenge of Frankenstein are disregarded in this film, streamlining the whole story.
Much of the reason for this is that a distribution deal had been struck between Hammer and Universal, easing many of the copyright issues that had plagued the early Hammer Frankenstein films. Instead of having to avoid the various script and design notes that Universal had copyrighted, Hammer was free to crib ideas and make-up effect whole hog from Universal as they saw fit. Taking the opportunity, then, they relaunched this film series with a Frankenstein fans of the Universal series might recognize more.
While this might have pleased some, for this reviewer this just seems like a step back for the series. Sure, the previous two films in the series had been over-the-top with a near-raving Frankenstein getting into trouble (and damn the consequences) -- it's this version of Frankenstein that went on to influence many other mad scientists down the road (there's an element of the mad Dr. Frankenstein in characters like Herbert West in The Reanimator doing terrible, evil science just to see what will happen). The Hammer films were refreshing for having the scientist be the "monster", and to then make the monster more monstrous and the scientist just a victim of circumstance... well it ruins the fun and the horror.
Even still, to get the plot going the film makers include not just the monster but also an evil burgomeister, a corrupt cop, and a mad hypnotist in an over-stuffed plot that never really goes anywhere despite the number of things happening. We don't spend a lot of time with any of the characters, and we don't really care when people die -- shit happens, and it all just kind of washes over us, the viewers.
Still, the movie isn't without his charms. Peter Cushing is, as always, fun to watch. He commands the scenes he's in. Even just watching him work in his lab, with no dialogue and nothing much happening, is still a treat because he has a presence that fills the screen. He has an easy chemistry with Sandor Elès (playing Hans, the assistant), and the scenes between the two of them are lively and fun. Not every part of the movie works, like the parts with the monster, and anything that doesn't feature the two leads, but we get enough of Frankenstein and friends to make the journey worth it.
As far as Frankenstein movies go, The Evil of Frankenstein is enjoyable enough. It doesn't really work, but it's miles above most of the films cranked out (such as much of the Universal Frankenstein cycle, or many of the later Hammer Frankenstein films). For fans of the characters and concepts, this is a decent enough film, but it's hard to suggest this over the 1932 or 1957 originals.