The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)

The Curse of Frankenstein presented a loose, more violent take on Mary Shelley's story.  It drummed up its share of controversy but, as usual in art, controversy turns out to be a good thing.  Long after the Universal monsters had fallen out of favor Hammer managed to revive one of the best of the series.  By nature it was completely different because, although Shelley's book was public domain, James Whales's film was not. 

The narrative of The Curse of Frankenstein is framed by Victor Frankenstein's (Peter Cushing) story to a priest of why he did what he did.  Rather than blindly obsessive like Henry Frankenstein was in the 1931 movie, Victor is willing to murder to achieve his results and this tendency has him sentenced to death by guillotine - a situation we find him in at the beginning of The Revenge of Frankenstein.

Victor, with the help of a man named Karl (Oscar Quitak), manages to escape death and flee to another city where he sets up practice as Dr. Stein.  When not treating upper class ladies for a variety of ailments he operates a charity hospital for the poor, where his operations provide him with many of the materials he needs to continue on with his work.  When confronted by the town's medical council he is recognized by Dr. Hans Kleve (Francis Matthews) who, instead of turning him in, asks to be his pupil.

As it turns out Victor is still pursuing his goals, but this time apparently to assist Karl, who has been partially paralyzed due to a blood clot.  Frankenstein proposes to put Karl's brain into a new body he has constructed (Michael Gwynn) to free him from his crippled state.  At first it appears to be a success, but after the interference of a well-meaning assistant named Margaret (Eunice Gayson) Karl is set free too early and, after an altercation, becomes dangerously violent.  With Karl on the loose and Victor's identity soon known, he and Kleve must make preparations for what comes next. 

I have to give the writing team, led by Jimmy Sangster, credit for not going the obvious route and remaking Bride of Frankenstein for the second movie.  Since the original ended with what appeared to be Victor marching to his death I am still quite sure that a second film was never intended but, since The Curse of Frankenstein was such a surprise hit in the UK and in the U.S., a sequel became inevitable.  There is no major contrivance when it comes to the escape, only bribery and violence. 

What I did have some issues with were anachronisms that pop up here and there.  I'm pretty sure the sinks featured are about 20 years early, even if not in a private home but in a medical facility, as the main action in this film takes place in 1863.  In fact, Victor and Hans's habit of proper hygiene before surgery would have still been revolutionary, even scoffed at by a number of medical professionals, at the time.  All the usual scientific doo-dads that show up in a Frankenstein movie, however, are easily dismissed, and like any good movie of its type there isn't any long explanation about how any of it works other than "science."

Peter Cushing, when playing a bad guy, often is great at understated evil, and here is no exception.  Also, we don't have a lumbering, crazed beast in the monster, but rather an intelligent man who is feeling betrayed as he realizes that, even after trading bodies, he's still going to be an object to be stared at rather than treated like a real human being.  Eunice Gayson is wasted as a plot contrivance, but at least they didn't try to make her a love interest for Hans, although there is obviously some unrequited interest on Karl's part. 

Terence Fisher as usual uses his budget and solid directorial skills to good measure, and the set design is wonderful as expected.  It is a bit bloodier than most of what one would expect in 1958, but it managed to make it to the screens as Fisher intended, with an ending that proved that older film censorship rules were starting to fall by the wayside.  The best thing is that The Revenge of Frankenstein is not just a retread of Curse, telling a unique story that still allows the film to stand on its own.

The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)
Time: 90 minutes
Starring: Peter Cushing, Francis Matthews, Michael Gwynn, Oscar Quitak, Eunice Gayson
Director: Terence Fisher



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