Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Horror of Frankenstein (1970)

          Even though Hammer Films’ long-running horror series were never big on continuity, it was a bummer whenever series entries were missing their regular stars. Thus, one of the many reasons The Horror of Frankenstein is so disposable is that Ralph Bates plays the titular mad scientist instead of Peter Cushing. It’s not that Bates is bad in the movie—quite to the contrary, he’s got a light touch for deranged perversity that suits Hammer’s campy style. However, the presence of Cushing in Hammer’s other Frankenstein pictures creates the illusion of a series that’s progressing forward, even though the movies are highly repetitive, simply because Cushing’s performance gets more intense in each successive film.
          Conversely, The Horror of Frankenstein represents pure narrative backsliding, because it’s a retread of the series’ first entry, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957); as in that picture, brilliant but reckless young doctor Victor Frankenstein tests his theories about the nature of human life by building a monster from pieces of corpses, only to see the monster escape the confines of Castle Frankenstein and murder unsuspecting villagers in the generic European countryside. Yes, it’s once more into the origin-story breach of Gothic production design, grubby henchmen, heaving bosoms, and over-the-top Technicolor gore.
          The specifics of the plot don’t merit recounting, since the storyline is just a mishmash of things you’ve seen a zillion times before, so only the movie’s few novel touches are worth mentioning. As directed and co-written by Hammer stalwart Jimmy Sangster, The Horror of Frankenstein tries to send up the series at the same time it delivers monster-movie thrills, so Bates gets to riff on the idea of doctor-as-deviant, and his grave robbers of choice are an amiable husband-and-wife team (he cuts up the bodies, she does all the digging). The movie’s monster is a big letdown, however, because he looks more silly than scary. As played by Darth Vader himself, British bodybuilder David Prowse, the monster looks like a Muscle Beach escapee in a Halloween costume, with a cheesy rubber skullcap and gauze-bandage bike shorts. So, while The Horror of Frankenstein has some meager redeeming values, the movie itself is like the monster—a patchwork of used parts artificially animated to something that fleetingly resembles life.

The Horror of Frankenstein: LAME

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