Saturday, 15 August 2015

Assembly Line: Part Two - Changing his Mind

Freed from the shackles of Shelley's original tale, Hammer's Frankenstein comes into its own with... a cannibalistic chimpanzee called Otto and a 'monster' which looks like Michael Palin?

Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)

This film is not just a sequel, but really 'the' sequel, establishing Hammer's tradition of continuing franchises. 
And unlike the original Universal Frankenstein series which followed the adventures of the monster, the Baron himself is our main character in this and the following films from Hammer.
Made back to back with Dracula and sharing some of that film's sets, Revenge reunites almost all of the production staff from the first Frankenstein film. Narratively, it dovetails perfectly, literally continuing from the last scene of Curse of Frankenstein in a superb pre-credits sequence.
As much as I love lobby cards , this hand-coloured example is an affront to the careful and striking colour used in the actual cinematography.  Cushing certainly doesn't wear a purple one-sie, for a start.
The Baron's escape from the guillotine isn't spelt out, but gradually revealed through the first part of the film and is in fact crucial to the plot of this film.  Amazingly for a script which was apparently stitched together with undue haste, Revenge of Frankenstein is one of the best written and most tightly plotted Hammer films I've so far seen.
Cushing is in brilliant form, posing as a certain Doctor Stein and running a very successful practice, stealing patients from established GPs and body parts from the poor he purports to be helping. All the while urbanely disdaining the jealous establishment and focusing on his sole obsession of creating life.
His skills certainly appear to have developed, instead of Christopher Lee's 'walking road- kill' the 'creature' this time does appear to be physically perfect, barring some careful suturing and an uncanny resemblance to a young Michael Palin. It is also an empty vessel, awaiting hunchbacked, malformed assistant Karl's brain - allowing him a new life in an healthy body. All goes well, until it is noticed that the previous test subject, Otto the chimpanzee, has developed cannibalistic tendencies since his own transplant...

Lucy the Chimpanzee with co-star Peter Cushing
Michael Gwynne's portrayal of the tragic Karl 2.0, deteriorating not only physically, but mentally, is very affecting and makes up for the absence of a more recognisably monstrous creation. In fact, on a psychological level, he is a far more frightening figure.
"Thwow him to the gwound, Centuwion - vewy woughwy!"
Apart from a depressing, but thankfully brief, veer into sadism, this film is a surprisingly classy production, dependent more on exquisite performances and well-woven drama than the gore this series is more readily associated with.
And the twist ending is a master-stroke.  If anyone was to wonder what becomes of that arm adornment in future films, I'm sure the Baron's skills are more than equal to the challenge of tattoo removal.  I hope the next films are at least half as good as this one. 
Doctor Stein and Doctor Franck - no relation.

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