Cinema Sunday: The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

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Title: The Evil of Frankenstein

Distributor: Universal/ Hammer Studios

Writer: Anthony Hinds

Director: Freddie Francis

Producer: Anthony Hinds

Starring: Peter Cushing, Peter Woodthorpe, Duncan Lamont, Kiwi Kingston, Sandor Elès, Katy Wild

Released: May 1964

MPAA: UR

 

I just recently realized that I hadn’t reviewed this film yet, and this must be rectified! Falling third in the sequence of “Frankenstein” films (after The Curse of Frankenstein – 1957, and The Revenge of Frankenstein – 1958, but before Frankenstein Created Woman – 1967), this film picks up and seems to generally follow canon up to this point (other than how the creature was stopped at the end of the first film and the fate of the Baron), so that is encouraging. The masterful Peter Cushing reprises his role as “Baron Frankenstein” and as usual, owns it! Without going into too much, this selection from the franchise is one I find quite comical, some situations that were meant to be, and others not. Alright, let us sojourn into the past!

 

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The film begins with a funeral, and the corpse of a villager lying in wait, ready to be buried. We then see some unscrupulous character snatch the body! A girl witnesses this, and runs off into the woods. Before she knows what’s going on, she runs right into none other than Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing)! The home of the recently stolen corpse is visited by the local vicar, and he’s appalled by this act of terror. Meanwhile, the drunken fellow that stole the corpse takes it to a secluded home in the nearby area. He sells it to Baron Frankenstein and his assistant, Hans (Sandor Elès), and heads to the pub to spend his earnings. While there, he’s confronted by the vicar who has an idea where the corpse may have been taken (the little girl identifies the drunk). He shows up at the laboratory and begins to chastise the good Baron and his assistant, then smashes their equipment. The Baron lunges at him, and starts to throttle the vicar. Hans pulls him off, and they hightail it out of town.

 

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The scene shifts to the carriage, where both men are heading for a new locale. The Baron wakes up Hans, who’s been napping. He informs him that they’re heading to Karlstaad, and the Baron’s former residence. Hans is apprehensive about it, thinking that the Baron will be identified, and they’ll be imprisoned. Baron Frankenstein tells Hans that they’ll take some things of value from his castle, then sell them for money to start another lab elsewhere. As they near the town, they realize there’s a festival going on, and that they can work without anyone noticing them. They reach the castle, but find that it has been pillaged by unknown persons. Hans then asks the Baron about the origins of the monster, and the Baron recounts that very night.

 

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The following day, the two head into town for some food. Hans is still scared of being recognized, so the Baron buys two masks for them to wear. Once inside a cafe’, the Baron sees his old nemesis the Burgomaster (David Hutcheson), and the Chief of Police (Duncan Lamont). He gets extremely agitated when he notices a ring that the Burgomaster is wearing that was his own before he was run out of town. The police confront him about the disturbance, but he and Hans flee for their lives through the carnival. They end up in the tent of a hypnotist named Zoltan (Peter Woodthorpe). He’s performing some rather impressive feats of the mind, and then asks for two volunteers for his next act. The Baron and Hans step up on the stage, but then the police arrive, and begin to search the crowd. The Baron and Hans slip out through a back door, but Zoltan interferes and gets arrested.

 

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As the two fugitives are trying to keep a low profile, the Baron can’t help himself from confronting the Burgomaster. The two get into a verbal spat, but then the police show up. The Baron locks himself into the bedroom with the buxom young lady that the Burgomaster was “entertaining” for the evening, then uses the bed sheets to make a rope to get away. He and Hans then make their way to the mountains to escape the police. It is here that they meet up with a deaf/mute woman named Rena (Katy Wild). She shows them to a cave for shelter, and it is here, that they make a great discovery. Apparently, the monster (Kiwi Kingston) was thought to have been killed, but ended up frozen in ice. They thaw him out and take him back to the castle for some “work.”

 

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After what seems to be days or weeks, they can’t revive his mind, only the body. The Baron remembers the fantastic feats that the hypnotist performed, and thinks he can possibly awaken the sleeping giant’s mind. He does just that, but there’s one little wrinkle…the monster will only obey him! This annoys the Baron, and really ticks off Hans, but for now, there’s nothing they can do about it, so they offer asylum to Zoltan, in exchange for his helping along the mental status of the monster. The Baron believes that Zoltan is helping the monster learn, but in reality, he’s just playing along during the day, but using the monster for more insidious reasons at night!

Will this monster be able to overturn the murderous impulses that surge through his body? Or will Zoltan push him too far, and put everyone in danger of the evil of Frankenstein!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

If you overlook the slight discrepancies from the first film and the flashback in this one, you can have a blast with this film. The two “Peters” (Cushing and Woodthorpe) in this film are great, and play against each other quite well. It’s not the only film these two gentleman appear in together (also The Skull, 1965), but it’s definitely the film with the most screen time between them.

A couple of the scenes were rather dark, and made it slightly difficult to see what was going on. The sets were great, especially the castle, and the few minutes in the cave where the monster was initially found. Some good moments with the music to add some tension to a few scenes, and Don Banks is the man behind that. Finally, for the third consecutive film, we had a different actor portray the monster. This time, we had Kiwi Kingston, and he fit this part perfectly. A big man who really knew how to be imposing, for sure!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

 

 

Cinema Sunday: The Skull (1965)

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Title: The Skull

Distributor: Amicus Productions (Paramount Pictures – U.S.)

Writer: Milton Subotsky (screenplay), Robert Bloch (short story)

Director: Freddie Francis

Producers: Max Rosenberg, Milton Subotsky

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennett, Peter Woodthorpe

Released: August 1965

MPAA: NR

 

 

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The Amicus Films Production company gets very little press outside of the horror community, and that should not be! The company was only around (making films) for about fifteen years, but it made an impact nonetheless. With perennial stars of the horror genre, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in a few of the films, they knew that had bankable “stars” to get some people into the theaters. Throw in  stalwarts like Michael Gough, and Peter Woodthorpe, and you have a solid cast that delivers.

This film was one that dove into the “cult” fascination of the time, but not too heavily. Certain things were shown/talked about, and others mildly insinuated. Either way, you’ll be excited to see the cast, and the crazy scenes with Cushing. He really is over-the-top in this one, and any fan of the genre or the cast must watch it! let’s get on with the show!

 

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The film begins with a couple of guys robbing a grave. A young man then returns to his apartment with something wrapped in a cloth. He enters his bathroom only to find a beautiful woman bathing. She’s apparently a love interest, but he tells her to get out. She can’t understand why, but he doesn’t care, and tells her to hit the road. She gets out of the tub, and asks why, but he tells her that he must be alone tonight. We then see him boil something, and when he pulls it out of the pot, we see a skull. Suddenly, a fog envelops the room, and when the woman returns to see if he’s changed his mind, she screams in horror. We then cut to the credits.

The next thing we see, is an auctioneer (Michael Gough – image above), pounding his gavel. Two men then get into a bidding war over four stone statues of evil. The first, Christopher Maitland (Peter Cushing), and the other, Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee), go back and forth until Phillips doubles Maitland’s bid, and it ends. Afterward, they discuss the bidding war, and Matthews cannot recall why he bid so high. He seems to have been hypnotized by the statues, and couldn’t control himself.

 

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The next evening, another man, Anthony Marco (Patrick Wymark), heads over to the home of Maitland, to sell him something. He has a book from the infamous Marquis de Sade, and it’s actually bound in human skin! Mr. Maitland is so intrigued, that he buys the book for £200. Marco tells him that he’ll be back tomorrow with something even more wild. Upon his return the following evening, he brings a skull, and tells him that it is the skull of the Marquis De Sade himself! Maitland doesn’t believe him at first, but then he tells him a story (one that connects to the pre-credits scene, and shows the murder of the girl), and then after dropping the price a bit, Maitland agrees to think about purchasing it. Marco gives him his address, and tells him to come over the following evening.

 

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Maitland then goes to his friend’s house, and Matthews Phillips and he have a pool game, while discussing the skull. Matthews tells Maitland that the skull is genuine, and that it was stolen from him, days earlier. Maitland encourages Matthews to come with him later when he goes to see Marco, but Matthews refuses, and tells him that he’s glad it’s gone. He states that the skull is evil, and that occultists use its powers to some sadistic means. He begs Maitland to not buy it, but you can see he’s still very interested in it.

 

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Over at Marco’s place, he rushes in to get ready for Maitland’s visit, but finds that the skull isn’t where he left it. He searches the closet vigorously, but to no avail. Suddenly, he turns around, and comes face to face with the skull! Holding it, is the building manager, Bert Travers (Peter Woodthorpe – image above), and he questions Marco about his “artifacts” that are strewn about the room. Marco tells him that nothing is of any value, and Travers leaves the room. Meanwhile, Maitland is reading his skin-bound book, that he purchased only days ago. He then gets a knock at the door, and when he answers it, two men, dressed as police officers tell him he’s under arrest, and must come down to the station.

 

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On the way to the police station, Maitland notices that they aren’t stopping there, but some other undisclosed location. He’s lead into a room, with a judge sitting at a bench, with a gavel and everything else. The two men that brought him in have a revolver, and load a bullet into it. They also load their own pistols, and point them at his head. The judge motions for him to play some Russian roulette (image above). three successful attempts, Maitland is allowed to leave the room under escort. He’s placed in a hallway that closes on both sides, and a gas begins to fill the room. Maitland passes out after seeing the skull moving towards him through the gas, and ends up in the apartment building of Marco, the shady antiquities dealer (not knowing where he is though). He goes home, and finds the address of Marco, and sees that it was where he was after the crazy roulette/gas chamber scenario. He tells his wife (Jill Bennett) what happened, and he thinks it was a nightmare.

 

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Later that night, Maitland sneaks out, and heads over to Marco’s place. The door is open, so he proceeds inside, looking for the skull. He finds it in the closet, but as he attempts to leave, he’s knocked over by the dead body of Marco. He hides the skull in the hallway closet, then calls the police.  Bert is then brought in by the police, but doesn’t have a clue about what’s going on. They ask if there are any pets in the building, such as a large dog, but Travers tells them that they aren’t allowed. The next night, Maitland is over at Matthews house again, playing pool. He once again begs Maitland to disavow anything to do with the skull, and then gives him a crucifix to protect him against evils. Maitland then returns to get the skull from the closet, but is confronted by Travers. Maitland tries to push by him, but he wont let him pass, and threatens to call the police. Maitland then shoves Travers, and the railing breaks, and Travers plummets to his death.

 

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I’ll stop here, but rest assured, this doesn’t end happily for Maitland, and those that surround him!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

Of all the Amicus films I’ve seen, this one holds the most water. The story is good, you have four really strong players in this film (six if you count the few moments Michael Gough is on-screen in the beginning), and some good special effects. The sets are very good too, well, except for the Russian roulette scene where everything looks vanilla. Now, that may have been the choice to not give Cushing’s character anything to go off of if he went to the police, but that’s kind of doubtful. Although Lee isn’t in more than a few scenes, he does add his normal macabre atmosphere even though he’s the voice of reason in this film. You get what you expect from a pro like Cushing. His character delivers a believable performance, and mixes well with Lee, Woodthorpe, Wymark, and his on-screen wife, Bennett (who died tragically from suicide in 1990).

The musical score is good, but not anything super exciting. It does add some intensity to the last chapter, and for that, we have Elisabeth Lutyens to thank. The film does give you that Hammer film feel, but it is set in modern times, not the previous century (or earlier) that Hammer typically used. The film holds up well for one that was released fifty years ago (wow, 50 years!), and I can’t see it losing any of its charm in another fifty years. Get out and see this one, you wont be disappointed!

Click here for the trailer!

 

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