Jimmy Sangster, 1970
Starring: Ralph Bates, Kate O’Mara, Veronica Carlson, David Prowse
The young Victor Frankenstein wants his father to fund his science work and, when the greedy old man refuses, Victor casually kills him, inheriting the estate and the title of Baron. He goes off to Vienna and attends medical school, but an affair with the dean’s daughter drives him back home to his castle. He begins experimenting on dead animals — successfully bringing them back to life — and with the help of a local grave robber, he moves his work to human subjects. But the creature he creates is violent and unstable, eventually leading the police to his door.
I’m not really sure what Hammer Studios was thinking with this sixth entry in their Frankenstein series. Where the abysmal third film, The Evil of Frankenstein, ignored the first two and struck out on an entirely new path, this is a loose remake of the first, The Curse of Frankenstein. It’s not a terrible film, but I can’t fathom why the studio thought that a remake of their own formula would be necessary. It is also the only entry in the series not to star Peter Cushing, which is its most tremendous fault. The smug, sociopathic Ralph Bates (Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde) isn’t bad in the role, but utterly lacks Cushing’s cold precision and captivating charm. Like Cushing’s Baron in The Curse of Frankenstein, this Baron’s crimes are flagrant, if always opportunistic, and he has frequent affairs with women. He uses the monster to his own ends, eventually to do away with those of inconvenience him, which is his undoing.
Directed and written by one of Hammer’s best writers, Jimmy Sangster, perhaps The Horror of Frankenstein’s biggest fault is that it’s not sure if it wants to be a straightforward horror film or a satire. It’s almost like the studio was attempting to recapture their fading glory and spoof themselves at the same time. I honestly have trouble understanding what’s humorous about the film, though are a few delightful moments. In my favorite scene — and probably the film’s funniest — Victor interrupts two highway robbers laying siege to his gorgeous school friend Elisabeth (Veronica Carlson). He calmly murders them and then casually doubles back to harvest their body parts. The early scene where he kills his father is also pretty ridiculous, as it’s so unexpected and also kind of unprovoked.
There are some welcome familiar faces in the cast, such as Kate O’Mara (The Vampire Lovers) as the Baron’s housekeeper and manipulative lover. In an echo of The Curse of Frankenstein, he does away with her when she entertains illusions about becoming the lady of the house. Dripping with seductiveness and menace, O’Mara arguably steals the film. Unfortunately the great Jon Finch (Frenzy, Macbeth) is sadly neglected in a small role as a local police inspector on the case and David Prowse (Darth Vader) is utterly wasted as the monster, though he fares better in the next and final film, Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell.
I can’t really recommend The Horror of Frankenstein, though it will appeal to Hammer completists and anyone who just doesn’t get tired of Frankenstein adaptations. The lackluster monster and disappointing conclusion keep it on the same level as The Evil of Frankenstein, while the humor is sadly misguided. I wish I had better things to say about this one, but it’s a pretty clear example of how Hammer were floundering in their later years and 1970 certainly marked the beginning of the end. There are a variety of releases currently available, including Anchor Bay’s Hammer Collection DVD, but you’re better off with The Curse of Frankenstein, The Revenge of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Created Woman, and even Frankenstein Must be Destroyed.