Nov 7, 2017

The Horror of Frankenstein (1970)

The Seventies have arrived, and Hammer had to find a new approach; atmospheric Gothic horror wasn't going to cut it in the era of Easy Rider, porn chic, and Rosemary's Baby.  They had to kick things up a notch.

With The Horror of Frankenstein they did without Peter Cushing as the mad doctor for once, and went with a younger face, Ralph Bates (above, at left).  Rather than the usual eccentric that Cushing played so well, Bates is a cocky sociopath with a dry wit.

But it's not just Vic Frankenstein that's had a makeover, it's the whole enchilada; a bold new take on Shelly's horror masterpiece, and a departure from the previous decade's Hammer flicks.  People didn't much care for the new Hammer, and fans still resent it, but I'm willing to give it a go...

Within the first ten minutes, Victor has already killed his father (in order to be able to attend the university) and impregnated the dean's daughter.  To avoid any marital commitment, he returns to his castle with his friend Wilhelm (Graham James, above left).

At his castle, Victor saves the lovely Elizabeth Heiss (Veronica Carlson) and her father from a couple of highway robbers.  Of course, he won't let their dead bodies go to waste...

Kate O'Mara plays Alys, the housemaid, whos boobs seem to want to burst out of her bodice the entire movie.  It's this sort of thing that fans griping that Hammer had traded its dignity for T&A. However, I'd contend that Hammer had always been selling the sizzle, and this was just a natural progression.

Wilhelm is a witless simpleton, forever oblivious to Victor's maniacal behavior.  He helps him set up his laboratory, and barely raises an eyebrow when he discovers the robber's decapitated head. What's Victor up to? I'm not sure he even bothers to ask.  I suppose he's just there for the view.

Wilhelm is also oblivious to the fact that Victor is shagging Alys nightly.  This relationship is a bit on the disturbing side because, at the start of the film, we learn that Alys was shagging Victor's father.

Wilhelm isn't concerned with Alys, however.  He's got his sights on a different lady...

Elizabeth and her father invite Victor and Wilhelm over for dinner as a thank-you for saving them from the highway robbers.  Wilhelm is smitten.

You'll note that Kate O'Mara isn't the only Hammer Babe to be bursting at the seams; Veronica Carlson fills her dress out admirably as well.

Unfortunately for dim Wilhelm, Elizabeth has eyes for the dark and dashing mad doctor.  Victor, however, could give two shits about her.  After dinner, he steals her family's turtle (?) to take home to his laboratory.

At the lab, Wilhelm and Victor murder the turtle then bring it back to life.  Funny - I don't remember that part of Mary Shelley's work.

Soon, the enterprising Vic, has moved on to humans.  He kills Elizabeth's father and pays a grave-robber (Dennis Price) to get him the brain, which he clumsily drops on the floor.  The broken glass in the brain won't cause any problems with Victor's creature, will it?

Wilhelm finally grows some balls and protests to this madness, but gets fatally electrocuted for it.  (Has there ever been a more pointless character?)  Not letting anything go to waste, Victor uses Wilhelm's hands for his creation. The gravedigger supplies the rest of the parts... and it's go time!

David Prowse, the fellow who played Darth Vader, is the Monster.  After some requisite mad scientist pyrotechnics and laboratory tomfoolery, the Monster awakes, breaks his shackles, easily gives Victor a beat down, and exits stage left.

The Monster goes on a killing spree, but Victor is able to apprehend his creation and locks it safely in the basement.

Sadly, his old school chum, Stefan, was in the wrong place at the wrong time and is pinned for the murder.  The local constable, Henry Becker (Jon Finch), is there to take Stephan into custody... but he doesn't trust Victor one bit either.

Recently orphaned Elizabeth is left penniless and is staying with Victor.  Lt. Becker, who has a pathetic crush on her, doesn't care for this either.

Wave goodbye to Alys' cleavage - she's dead.  Victor put her in the cell with the Monster because she threatened to go to Lt. Becker with damning information.  She's witnessed the many visits from the grave-robber, she's seen dumb Wilhelm go missing, she's spied him carving up body parts, and worst of all, her jealousy of Elizabeth was getting annoying.

As is to be expected, the Monster breaks loose again and is soon happily killing villagers.  After the creature has sufficiently riled up the populace, it returns to the castle and goes for Elizabeth.

Victor hides his Monster in a vat which he uses to dissolve body parts with acid (I think you see where this is going).

The ending is surprisingly ho-hum.  Elizabeth is saved by Victor, but she reports the incident to the Lt. Becker.  However, Becker has brought along a couple villagers who've witnessed the Monster, and one of them accidently pulls a rope which pours acid into the vat.

The film ends with Victor looking forlornly at a vat of acid (which contains the dissolved remains of his Monster).  What?

There's no final retribution for Victor whatsoever.  He's done nothing but murder people this entire movie, yet he gets off scot free!  He even gets to have Elizabeth!  The two good guys that loved Elizabeth, Wilhelm and Becker, end up on the losing side. Wilhelm was murdered and Becker gets to go off with his tail tucked between his legs because he can't prove Victor's guilt.

We don't even get to see the Monster die.  The acid is poured into the vat, but we don't see a damn thing.  Very undramatic, very anti-climactic, and unsatisfying.  Douche-bag Victor wins in the end.

Shit ending aside, The Horror of Frankenstein is a good monster movie overall.  I can't rank it among the great Hammer films, but it delivers some good old fashioned creature feature entertainment. VZ1 recommends.