Young Victor (Ralph Bates) is surly, arrogant, charming and unconventionally attractive. It doesn't harm any that he lives in a castle in the heart of the German countryside. The ladies at the medical school he attends seem to love him - unlike his hapless tutor, who despairs at his pupil's obnoxiousness.
He needn't worry, however: Victor's father, the aging Baron (George Belbin), is soon to meet with a nasty accident while out in the nearby woods on a shooting trip, thus enabling Victor to take over the estate and finally realise his dream of attending medical university in Vienna.
While there, Victor manages to alienate more tutors, make a gullible friend in Wilhelm (Graham James) and bed the Dean's daughter. The latter act results in an unscheduled pregnancy, which prompts Victor to take a sabbatical from his studies and return home to the castle he inherited. He takes Wilhelm along for the ride.
Not long after the pair has arrived in Germany, they prevent a hold-up, saving pretty Elizabeth (Veronica Carlson) from highwaymen. Wilhelm is too busy falling in love with the gorgeous blonde, a former college pal of Victor's, to notice his strange friend removing the head of one of the dead highwaymen and place it in his bag.
Victor soon reveals to Wilhelm, however, that his intentions are to accelerate his obsessive studies into anatomy now that he has access to his late father's old laboratories. Wilhelm is unconvinced, but admittedly intrigued when Victor shows him a severed arm which he's managed to briefly reanimate - and then steals a tortoise for the sole purpose of killing it and resurrecting it through his specially created generator. Wilhelm, reluctantly, stays on board with the experiments.
That is, until Victor enlists the aid of a local grave-robber (Dennis Price) and harbours plans of creating a human creature from stitched-together body parts ...
Borrowing plot details from its Mary Shelley source, THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN is however a product of its time (1970). It's a bawdy romp, at times more akin to a cheeky (albeit slightly more tempered) CARRY ON feature than a Hammer horror. Indeed, the horrific elements certainly come secondary to the sly, tongue-in-cheek humour, coy sexual innuendo and admittedly witty script from director Jimmy Sangster and co-writer Jeremy Burnham.
Everyone appears to be in on the joke: Bates wears a near-grin the whole time, successfully coming across as an arrogant young genius that we can't help but warm to; Carlson and fellow love interest Kate O'Mara push their heaving bosoms up to the forefront, accepting that they here as little more than titillation; Price is a cartoonish villain. Only James and David Prowse as the monster (when it finally turns up - which is a definite anti-climax) attempt to ground the film by playing things a little more straight.
Rather anaemic in content for a later Hammer entry, as well as being low on flesh, THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN also peters out pretty badly once Victor achieves his main goal in life. It's as if Sangster and Burnham really didn't know where to go from there onwards. The finale is a huge let-down, which perhaps read as being a great gag on paper. On film, it simply leaves the audience feeling cheated.
Production values are typically strong, set design, art decor and costumes are all satisfyingly stylish. The cast exhibit charm to spare and it's these facets, along with the frequent wittiness of the script (which contains some interesting nods towards sexual mores of the time, as well as nudge-nudge-wink-wink to fans of the FRANKENSTEIN films), that keep the film from ever being a chore.
Studiocanal are releasing THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN as a double-play blu-ray and DVD combo pack. We were sent a copy of the latter disc for review purposes.
The transfer here is an extremely clean yet faithful-looking one, with accurate 16x9 framing and warm, true colours evident throughout. Nice and bright imagery seems nevertheless untampered with, while a healthy light sheen of grain retains that authentic filmic feel. Detail is fine, even during the pleasingly stable darker sequences.
English mono audio is likewise clean, clear and consistent for the duration of playback. Optional English subtitles are provided for the hard-of-hearing: these offer a reliable transcript of the tongue-in-cheek screenplay.
The disc opens to an animated main menu page. From there, a static scene selection menu allows access to the film by way of the usual 12 chapters.
A sole bonus feature appears in the form of the new 17-minute featurette "Gallows Humour: Inside The Horror of Frankenstein". This contains valid, entertaining onscreen contributions from Hammer experts Kevin Lyons, John J Johnston, Jonathan Rigby and Alan Barnes. This collective are adept are pointing out the wit and subtleties of the production, as well as addressing its failings with refreshing honesty. Even better, we get a new interview with Carlson (who has mixed feelings on the film). Interspersed with pertinent clips and stills throughout, this is a superbly edited and highly watchable companion piece to the main feature.
Not one of Hammer's best films, then, but still well worthy of your attention due to its cast and inherent charm. And it looks great on DVD - I can only imagine how nice the HD presentation is likely to be.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Studiocanal|