Archive for Spring-Heeled Jack

Frankenstein Must Be Annoyed

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 16, 2008 by dcairns

Well, he’s forever losing his patients (sorry).

This one DOES have a nice singalong theme tune by James Bernard.

So, some clever people on the IMDb have worked out that maybe the best way to make sense of the Hammer FRANKENSTEINs, leaving aside HORROR OF, which substitutes Ralph Bates for Cushing (how do we feel about this? I’d say it’s an interesting alternative in theory, in keeping with the Baron’s history of sexual ambivalence, beginning with Colin Clive. I’m renting HORROR, because I quite enjoyed FEAR IN THE NIGHT, which HORROR helmer Jimmy Sangster also directed). According  to Elsa4077  you need to swap 1967’s FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN with 1969’s FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED, and regard EVIL OF as a dream. This allows the firey climax of DESTROYED to serve as the missing explanation for the Baron’s burned hands in CREATED WOMAN. It’s a pretty good theory, especially since Cushing’s hands are fine throughout DESTROYED, but damaged again in FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL, the last in the series. which makes no sense if the stories run in the order they were shot in.

It doesn’t explain what became of “Dr. Franck’s” Harley Street practice or his partnership with Francis Matthews, though. I propose an exercise in fan fiction, dealing with the London-centric mad science that brings about Dr. Hans Kleve’s death, amid welters of Kensington gore, and leads to the Baron fleeing back to the continent. Let’s call it FRANKENSTEIN HAS RISEN FROM BELGRAVIA, and have the London experiments result in the mysterious figure known as Spring-Heeled Jack. Douglas Noble, AKA Stripforme, suggests that the Baron could end up as Jack the Ripper, but he CAN’T, silly! We all know that Jack the Ripper was really Martine Beswick in DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE.

We first meet the Baron this time in a natty spats and latex monster mask combo (his cheek bones still show through, says Fiona), decapitating a doctor in order to supply his latest creation with a suitably educated brain. An intruding burglar leads to the destruction of this monster-to-be, and the discovery of the Baron’s secret lair. Plus an impressively nasty moment when, fighting with the baron, the burglar is knocked over and finds himself touching the severed head. Jeepers!

In his memoir, Rungs on a Ladder, production manager Christopher Neame (son of Ronald) reports that the actor playing the burglar was so distressed by the rushes, he was found pacing a corridor clutching his head to ensure it was still attached.

This opening, and the rest of the film, is considerably more energetic than the previous entries in the series, with series regular cameraman Arthur Grant using wider lenses, getting in closer, and moving the camera sharply in nearly every shot. Terence Fisher’s increased liveliness behind the lens is all the more remarkable considering he was walking with the aid of a stick after recently been seriously injured after drunkenly wandering into traffic.

Next we meet incompetent Inspector Thorley Walters, playing a quite different kind of idiot from his kindly assistant in CREATED WOMAN — officious, and in a perpetual state of umbrage. He’s a bit like Raymond Walburn’s apoplectic authority figures in Preston Sturges’ films. Assisted by long-suffering police doctor Geoffrey Bayldon (another veteran of these things) Walters is lots of fun, although the investigative part of the film fails to really catch up with the rest of the narrative. But the comic dialogue is surprisingly sharp (screenwriter Bert Batt was an A.D. who had never written a film before) and the acting by everybody is just DELIGHTFUL: Robert Gillespie as the dry-witted mortuary man — “I last saw him on the day I slid him into the drawer,” — Allan Surtees as the sergeant, reporting as if it were a mere formality, “His head’s been cut off.” Priceless.

The Geoffrey and Thorley Comedy Show.

Needing a new place to set up shop, Baron F moves into Veronica Carlson’s lodging house. I suggested last time that having used up the pseudonyms “Stein” and “Franck”, he would have to start calling himself “Dr. En”, and he almost does — he’s “Dr. Fenner” now. Mad genius that he is, he’s soon blackmailing Veronica and her doctor boyfriend, Simon Ward, who’s been dealing coke on the side to support Carlson’s ailing mother (another plot thread that goes nowhere, but let it pass). This strand of the story shows Frankenstein at his most unsympathetic (and he’s not exactly the most warm-hearted fellow in the other films), forcing Carlson to make him endless cups of coffee, then raping her. Then getting her to make more coffee, which I thought was going a bit far.

The controversial rape was added in at the behest of the distributor, supposedly, and everybody was compelled to go through with it even though subsequent scenes had already been shot. It’s a pretty appalling insight into British cinema circa 1969 that a gratuitous rape scene was considered a way to bolster the entertainment value and commercial appeal of an already pretty gory horror film. Terence Fisher shot the scene under protest, and both Cushing and Carlson found the experience mortifying. Cushing, ever the pro, throws himself into it with gusto, and interestingly the sequence is the most dynamic in the film, with a powerful subjective camera track in on Cushing ominously offering the door-key to Carlson, and then a flurry of violent handheld camera as he wrestles her on the bed. Now, Fisher HATED handheld photography: “The camera never stops moving, and the audience quite rightly wonders why,” and he uses it just once elsewhere in this film, so there’s a suggestion that it’s use here was a gesture of contempt for the offensive material. But it works, making the scene properly ugly, rather than the titillation the distributor had wanted.

There’s a serious question about whether this scene (damnit, these are SERIOUS FILMS!), tacked on late in the day, damages the Baron as a character. We know from his liaison with the French maid in CURSE that he’s not solely dedicated to his work. He’s a lusty kind of fellow (as was Cushing). But he’d always behaved like a gentleman, of sorts. If we take the films to chart a descent into depravity, this scene shows the Baron having become even more heartless than ever, and it’s in keeping with his committing a gratuitous murder later on, just because his plans have been thwarted. For all his Man Of Science act, the Baron is a rather headstrong, emotion-driven guy. And also evil as fuck.

The plan this time is to abduct Frankenstein’s crazy partner, Dr. Brandt (the skin care specialist?) from the asylum where Simon Ward works, and cure his madness with a groundbreaking trepanning procedure. But the mad scientist suffers a heart attack, and Cushing is forced to transplant his brain into the body of Freddie Jones, as you do. This film is very big on brain transplants, with everyone acting as if they’d never been done before (REVENGE is all about brain transplanting, with even Cushing joining in himself), but remembering the recent work of Christian Bernard transplanting the first human heart in 1967, it’s easy to see why this stuff was of special interest at the time.

Gurgle.

Freddie spends much of the movie in a comatose state, having his head drilled and milksyphoned into him, which is no way to win an Oscar, but then he wakes up and gives what Fiona suggests is THE BEST GUEST-STAR PERFORMANCE EVER IN A HAMMER FILM. Desperate to be reunited with his wife — the great Maxine Audley from PEEPING TOM — who believes him dead (she’s seen his old body) he escapes from the Baron’s HQ andclimbs in her window. What follows is a wooing-by-proxy scene, with Jones speaking from behind a screen, that practically echoes CYRANO DE BERGERAC, and is the certainly most emotional material in any of the Frankenstein films.

It turns out the Baron only brought Brandt back to life and sanity in order to get from him an important MacGuffin formula which is raised rather late in the proceedings and never explained, but at least it’s clear that Frankenstein is acting in the interests of science, not charity, which is consistent with his M.O. Cushing arrives at chez Brandt to get the formula, but the brain-transplanted Brandt is waiting for him…

Things then erupt in what I can only call a fiery denouement, expertly staged and cut (Fisher was a former editor who had a real mastery of building scenes from simple but effective blocking). It looks like it’s possibly be done with multiple cameras, a necessity considering the special effects involved, but it doesn’t rupture the carefully designed shooting style of the film. There’s a rhythmic quality to the slamming and opening of doors and hurling of lanterns, and Cushing’s work here, particularly stylish in longshot, reminds me of the reason Scorsese gave for his gang’s enthusiasm for this actor: “We admired the precision of his movements within the frame.” They must have had some great 42nd St cinephile discussions, those boys.

Freddie can sling a lantern with the best of them.

Well, a real, honest-to-God fiery denouement is exactly what one wants in a Frankenstein film, and they pull out all the stops here, throw them on the floor and burn them. The credits pop up as Freddie’s house goes up, just like at the end of APOCALYPSE NOW. The horror! It’s never explained exactly how the Baron escapes cremation to ride again, but at least this acts as a belated explanation for his singed mitts.

All in all, this seemed like both the most dynamic film in the series to date, as well as the best-written, with comedy relief brought in early enough so that it doesn’t jar, unlike in the Sangster scripts, and a reasonably solid structure and controlled pace, unlike those written by John Elder. If it doesn’t have the cerebral and metaphysical qualities of CREATED WOMAN, it benefits from keeping it’s brain on the subject at hand — demented surgical mayhem — and not being distracted with stuff about souls and force fields. A shame Bert Batt didn’t write more.

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