Archive for Revenge of Frankenstein

The Unchosen One

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2021 by dcairns

I picked up BARABBAS on DVD from a charity shop along with KING OF KINGS, £1 each, and was amazed at how good it was. I mean, this is Richard Fleischer’s widescreen period and I was pretty disappointed by 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. But Fleischer was good at widescreen and 3D and stuff, at least sometimes. I don’t quite know how to account for his patchiness.

But BARABBAS is based on an acclaimed novel by Pär Lagerkvist and adapted by Christopher Fry (The Lady’s Not for Burning) with an uncredited assist by Nigel Balchin (The Small Back Room). It has De Laurentiis’ millions behind it — but used with a winning combination of intelligence and taste and sheer vulgarity. When we first see the Coliseum, for instance, it’s a massive great set, with real extras in every row, not foosball figures rising and falling in rows, and the area is packed with brawling gladiators, some of them little people, with elephants, a tiger pit, flaming waters — absolutely crazy excess. And that’s basically just an establishing shot, though it’s about twenty shots.

This is one of those BEN-HUR jobs, biblical maginalia — take a character who’s around at the time of Christ and follow his wacky misadventures. Here it’s the thief who was spared crucifixion, played by Anthony Quinn in a boldly sullen, bovine manner — remarkable to have such an epic built around such an uningratiating figure. He’s surrounded by a good, eclectic cast that includes Katy Jurado, Silvana Mangano, Ernest Borgnine, Arthur Kennedy. Strongest impressions are made by Jack Palance as a sadistic gladiator — terrifying! — Harry Andrews, once described by Richard Burton as the world’s greatest wearer of costumes — and Michael Gwynn, building on his REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN experience by playing an eerie Lazarus.

(I bought the Burton diaries, btw. He also OUTS Harry A., thus rocking my world. NEVER would have guessed that.)

They shot a genuine solar eclipse for the crucifixion, but the jaw-dropping set pieces and beautiful compositions and lighting by Aldo Tonti (NIGHTS OF CABIRIA) make that a mere sideshow. Look at this shot (below) — the figures seem like hanging garlands dropping from the central hub, and the different skin tones of the various faces give it a floral look too.

Here we see the guy making the crown of thorns — unsung artisan of torture — and he pricks his finger making it. I said it was vulgar. They want to make you feel the sharpness of the thorns because we’re so used to the image we’re numb to it, but it’s pretty cheap. Still, I prefer it to the Mel Gibson solution which would just be to show graphic penetrative skin-ripping detail in close-up. And where would a biblical epic be without at least a bit of trivialising vulgarity?

It’s all amplified hugely by Mario Nascimbene’s score — his favourite trick is to sit down on the low notes of his piano in some reverberant cavern, creating an awesome slam. Sometimes we don’t even get the slam, just the dead echo of its passing. Spooky.

Barabbas has an encounter with the early Christians in Rome’s catacombs — it has a phantasmal quality that reminds me of Philip K Dick’s hallucinatory musings — “The Empire Never Ended” — anything taking place that far back in time should give us temporal vertigo, but so few movies pull it off — SATYRICON does, and so do bits of this.

Just when I thought I couldn’t like the film any more, for what it is, along comes the ANSWER TO A MYSTERY — beautiful depth-composed tracking shots of mass crucifixion — as used as stock footage with a lava overlay by Ken Russell in ALTERED STATES. I told you I really really wanted to know where that stuff came from. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I can die happy — I just had my second Covid jab and I want to get the benefit — but I’m absurdly pleased to have sorted that out.

Frankenstein Must Be a Freud

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 17, 2008 by dcairns

Headshrinker.

Well, he describes himself as an expert in psychiatry at one point in FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN…

“I always regarded ‘Baron Frankenstein’ as a forerunner to Dr. Christian Barnard, the South African surgeon who was the first man to transplant the human heart, which he did in 1967…” ~ Peter Cushing.

That same year, as I was working up to getting born, Cushing returned to the role of Dr. F in the third canonical Terence Fisher-Peter Cushing-Hammer-Frankenstein, which Fiona and I looked at again as part of our week-long Frankathon

Strange film! After the extremely neat dovetailing of the first two films in the series, this delivers a bit of a jolt, continuity-wise. After last seeing Frankenstein ensconsed in a thriving Harley Street practice and a new, but identical body, it’s kind of a shock to see him experimenting with soul-catching force fields in Europe, his hands mysteriously mutilated… it would seem the fabled Frankenstein sequence is not as coherent as advertised — unless you do what we’re doing, and swap this film with MUST BE DESTROYED. That explains the Baron’s burned hands, at least.

But to briefly consider this film in the light of the year it was made:

Almost a decade had passed since director Terence Fisher’s last visit to the lab, and in the interim screenwriter John Elder had given us EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN for director Freddie Francis. Francis was a very competent director who was sometimes actually inspired (he was a seriously brilliant cameraman, whose work on THE INNOCENTS and THE ELEPHANT MAN should be enough to earn him immortality, without the need for Frankenstein’s soul-catcher) but he couldn’t do much with Elder’s wandering, unstructured script. Jimmy Sangster might cheerfully own up to being not the world’s best screenwriter, but he’s a veritable Joe Mankiewicz compared to Hinds.

Alas, Hinds does duty as writer on this one as well, and having, in EVIL, sabotaged the careful continuity of Sangster’s work, here he procedes to ride roughshod over his OWN continuity. One of the weird things about EVIL is the way it’s a sequel that contains its own original. This also happens in EVIL DEAD II, which begins by reprising the first film. Elder fits his remake of CURSE into an insanely prolonged flashback, reminding us of all the stuff that should be pretty obvious from the framing story — like, how Frankenstein is this guy who’s made a monster… In this alternative universe, the Baron’s first monster WASN’T destroyed in an acid bath, but frozen, to be revived later on, in this movie…

I’m going to stop writing about EVIL OF now because it makes my head hurt (oh, for a sharp bone saw and some forceps). On to FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN, which has the benefit of a groovy title (although I’d prefer it to go all out and begin with “…AND”) and a slightly less shaky narrative. Elder’s biggest mistakes this time are, in order of egregiousness:

1) Ignoring both Sangster’s and his own continuity. Not only has Frankenstein aquired a new lab and assistant (an uncharacteristically muted Thorley Walters as a drunken old village doctor) but a new speciality, physics. He spends the film’s first half wasting our time with his force field, which may be novel but rather lacks the gory frissons of his early surgical experiments. 

2) Beginning far too early, a recurring Hammer problem (I always cite CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT as the daftest, since it begins, for no reason, with the protagonists’ birth). This one starts off in a supporting characters’ childhood, in what seems to be a borrowing from Frank Borzage’s sublime MOONRISE: our loveable stooge Hans (there’s ALWAYS a character called Hans, and usually a Karl and a Kleve, for some reason), having witnessed his father’s execution on the guillotine, feels predestined for the same fate.

3) Metaphysical crimes. Suddenly Cushing’s Baron is obsessed with THE SOUL, which never interested him before. The whole plot could have been made to work with brain transplants, which would have taken less time to set up and would have been consistent with the Baron’s M.O. as established in three previous films. The film’s soul transplant never makes much sense, but it IS intriguing.

A progressive touch: a disabled, unmarried character with a sex life.

4) Crude characterisation. Three Vicious Local Toffs are set up early on, and their characters fail to develop beyond being V.L.T.s for the whole running time. During the first forty mins they endlessly repeat their basic cycle of nasty behaviours, taking forever to actually set the plot in motion. Once they do, Hans is executed for a murder they committed, his disabled girlfriend drowns herself (oh, what hours of misery Lars Von Trier could make of this!) and “Baron Frankenthing” as a local yokel calls him, can finally do something, implanting the captured soul of Hans in the repaired body of his beloved, Krista.

5) For some reason, this causes her to go blond.

Frankenstein’s personality is a little different here, but I’m not going to call that a fault, just a difference. As in EVIL, there’s more of a sense of Dr. F as a Great Man Surrounded By Fools, persecuted for his genius by an uncaring world. There are certainly hints of the old callous bastard Sangster created and Cushing brought to unapologetic life, but mostly this is a reformed Frankenstein who generally means well. He’s a little warmer, more concerned with justice, and altogether less rapey than the Baron seen in MUST BE DESTROYED. Maybe his experience almost being roasted alive by Freddie Jones has reformed him somewhat.

When Dr. F testifies as a character witness for his unjustly accused assistant (Cushing idles in the witness box, flicking through the bible he’s sworn on — “Looking for loopholes,” Fiona suggests) he makes a poor job of it, but one feels he meant well. If Sangster were writing this, he’d have Cushing deliberately condemn Hans, just so he could get his body (and soul) to experiment on. Which would have given Cushing a lot more to bite into, actually.

Elder redeems himself with Cushing’s zestful seizing of the opportunity to abduct the executed man’s soul. He’s his old cold-blooded self again, arguing against asking his subject’s permission: “He might refuse.”

Capturing the human soul with a satellite dish and a carrot.

The mystery and majesty of the human soul — stripped bare! And if that doesn’t suit you, we have Susan Denberg.

Then we get a very odd remake of MY FAIR LADY/PYGMALION, with Cushing and Walters making a lady out of, well, in this case, a cadaver, and granting it a male soul. Soon they have her making breakfast for them. Krista is played in both disfigured and reanimated versions by starlet Susan Denberg, a slightly controversial figure. Here’s what the IMDb has to say:

Mini Biography

After becoming immersed in the 60s high life of drugs and sex, Denberg left show business and returned to Austria. News interviews at the time show a depressed Denberg in the company of her mother, at home in Klagenfurt. These news items, repeated in fan periodicals for years, gave the impression Denberg was suicidal or had already died. Actually, she is still alive.

Spouse: Tony Scotti (? – 1968) (her death)

So, according to this, she died in 1968 but is still alive. Shades of her character in this film.

(Tony Scotti, incidentally, had his moment of fame in VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, playing a character with a truly beyond-fabulous name: Tony Polar. I propose a new sequel, TONY POLAR MEETS FRANKENSTEIN. The Baron, rendered immortal by injections of spinal fluid, has set up shop as a plastic surgeon in Vegas, where a reclusive Howard Hughes type is sponsoring him to create the Perfect Woman from murdered showgirls. Only Tony Polar can stop him!)

PYGMALION soon collides with THE BRIDE WORE BLACK as Denberg, urged on by her lover’s transplanted soul (?), begins wiping out the V.L.T.’s who caused his death. Confusingly, the soul’s urgings seems to emanate from his severed head, even though it’s supposed to be inside HER, according to the Baron. Logic was never Elder’s strong suit. What follows should be immensely satisfying, as the horrible V.L.T.s (who include Derek Fowlds of TV sitcom Yes, Minister) are bloodily murdered, but it’s somehow all a little underdone. Frankenstein becomes the Man Who Knew And Tried To Warn Them, kept under house arrest by the authorities until it’s too late. Leaving Thorley Walters to ineffectually drop out of the narrative, Cushing arrives at the scene of Denberg’s last murder too late to do anything but witness her suicide.

In a welcome nod to NIGHT MUST FALL, she’s been trotting around with Hans’ head in a hatbox. Now she drowns herself, AGAIN. As usual, she transforms into a burly, gallumphing stuntman.

The film has more ideas than REVENGE, to be fair to it, but many of them are not the kind of ideas that can be usefully exploited for horror purposes. The business with trapping the soul is echoed in a howlingly wonderful ’70s weirdfest  called THE ASPHYX, with the Roberts Stephens and Newton Powell attempting to trap the “death force” in a similar fashion, and similarly, that film fails to actually behave like a horror film (but it does contain my favourite ever mind-boggling line, yelled by Stephens in a crescendo of passion: “Was the smudge trying to warn Clive of danger?”).

So, once again, Baron Frankenstein lives to operate again (although throughout this film he requires the buffoonish Walters’ assistance, since his hands are maimed — when did this happen?). I think it might have been nicer if Hammer had gone to the trouble of killing him off each time, as they did in CURSE, and then beginning the next film by explaining how he escaped death. REVENGE breaks with this pattern by showing Cushing die AND be resurrected at the end, which is OK too. But having the Baron just sort of wander off, as he does here, is a little less than awesome.

Frankenstein Must be Enjoyed

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2008 by dcairns

We have been watching…

Well, the second Terence Fisher / Jimmy Sangster / Hammer Frankenstein film, REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (there’s no revenge) was one I was curious to see again, mainly because I had terrible memories of it. It’s without any real monster, which put me off as a kid. I guess the point is, Cushing IS the monster.

One of the nice things about the Hammer Franks is their continuity, and this one certainly plays fair, beginning exactly at the end of CURSE OF, with Peter Cushing’s Baron being led to his appointment with Madame Guillotine. But with the aid of a hunchbacked assistant (where did he come from? well, the continuity isn’t perfect) Cushing escapes, decapitating the priest instead. Good! He was an officious jerk in the first film, that priest.

Then Sangster’s script provides one of its better moments of humour, as two grave robbers (Hammer stalwart Michael Ripper, and Britain’s greatest expressionist, Lionel Jeffries) dig up the Baron’s coffin and find a headless priest. As Cushing steps from the shadows, Ripper flees and Jeffries suffers a heart attack. Cushing’s contemptuous shrug in response to the stranger collapsed in his grave is pure comedy gold.

Banned in Sweden!

We next encounter Cushing operating (wantonly) under the pseudonym of Dr. Stein. He’s got a thriving medical practice, and also runs the poor hospital, where he’s merrily harvesting healthy limbs from the poor of the parish in order to create a substantially improved monster (Michael Gwynn). This one, a departure from Christopher Lee’s “road accident” look, just has a few facial scars. The new body is to be repository for the hunchback’s brain — the Baron has found a happy volunteer, for once.

Sangster smartly plants the hunchback’s infatuation with socialite Eunice Gayson (who would go on to appear in the first two Bond films as Sylvia Trench: the Bond girl with the least sexy name) before the brain transplant, and develops it further post-op.

Hammer solemnly swore to the British censor that they would cut this shot — and then didn’t!

Cushing has enlisted a new assistant, Francis Matthews, who proves less scrupulous than his first, effectively blackmailing the baron into teaching him his advanced scientific knowledge — which, as always with Jimmy Sangster, consists of complete nonsense. In the first film we’re told that a brilliant mind will transform the scarred-up visage of Christopher Lee into a handsome and noble countenance. In this one we learn that a chimpanzee transplanted with the brain of an orang-utan suffered a “burst brain cell” and became a cannibal. This is to have dire consequences for our poor hunchback.

But not too dire: probably for censorship reasons, when Gwynn goes berserk after being punched about by a sadistic janitor (inefficiently, Sangster gives much screen time to one janitor, then gives the plot point to someone we’ve barely seen) he’s allowed to look at the beefy corpse and salivate, but then he gets himself under control and runs off, his hunched back reasserting itself in some completely spurious way, defying even the tenuous “logic” of Sangster’s script.

“It’s a shame, because he’s quite good, and he’s doing the best he can…with what they’ve given him,” said Fiona of Gwynn’s performance. He does that John Barrymore thing of trying to suggest a monstrous transformation just by pulling faces — always dicey. I liked him as a character, and he’s a good contrast with Christopher Lee’s mute lunk, but he needed more of a decline into savagery.

As always with Sangster, there’s a bit of wholly inappropriate comedy relief right towards the end. Here it’s a courting couple — he’s more interested in ants than making out, so she storms off and gets mauled and possibly slightly eaten by Gwynn, who then dies of natural causes — but not before accidentally exposing Dr. F.’s true identity. A nice scene, with the shabby monster invading a swank concert party. Death as social embarrassment and vice versa.

All the brains are REALLY SMALL — even Frankenstein’s.

Then Frankenstein is “ripped to pieces” by his impoverished victims (they ARE victims, but Sangster portrays them consistently as vile, verminous and criminal — they could have hobbled out of VIRIDIANA). This would feel more like a climax if it had followed directly on from the “monster’s” death, without a bunch of boring piffle with the medical council in between. 

Fortunately for the franchise (hereafter to be referred to as the “Frankenchise”) he’s prepared a duplicate body. HOW??? I refuse to believe you can make a Peter Cushing from bits of corpses: you wouldn’t find cheekbones like that if you searched for years. Nevertheless, this allows Cushing to fake his own death more convincingly than the last time, and we end with him set up in practice in London, name changed from “Dr. Stein” to “Dr. Franck”. At this rate he’s going to wind up calling himself “Dr. En.”

“He burned his own body.” ~ Not a line every actor gets to say.

Freeze frame and roll credits, with a fairly obvious invitation to another sequel. Hammer being the kind of clunky outfit it was, they didn’t manage one for six years, and then it was the non-canonical EVIL OF. So our next visit to Frankenstein’s surgery will be for FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN, in the year of my birth, 1967.