Month of Horror 2016: Genre Exploration – Frankenstein: The Revenge of Frankenstein

Editor’s Note: The links within all point back to the original sources.  Perhaps one day I will fix them but more than likely I will keep them as is to honor the past (and because it is so much easier).  Links to the AVC are likely off due to the Kinja switchover.

10/19/2016 – Frankenstein: The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)
Directed by Terence Fisher

Published in 1818, Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein is a massively influential book to both the science fiction and horror genres telling the story of a scientist who is able to reanimate a man through the power of the cutting edge technology of electricity. The stereotype of a mad scientist; that was Frankenstein that first developed it. It mixed ideas of science and religion and is a standout work among both the Romantic and Gothic movements, the latter defining much of early horror cinema. The first adaptation of Frankenstein to film was a 16-minute retelling from 1910 produced by Edison studios and it’s not very good to say the least. It was until the fourth adaptation (albeit the second extant version) that gave us the Frankenstein we know and love. Colin Clive has become the definitive portrayal of Dr. Frankenstein with Boris Karloff the definitive monster. I should probably get this out of the way though I’m sure most of you know this but “Frankenstein” refers to the doctor, not the monster as many uninformed/apathetic people and even some later stories featuring the monster seem to forget.

Each successive Frankenstein movie added something to the genre. Bride of Frankenstein improved over the already fantastic original and is one of the greatest horror sequels ever made (not to mention creating the character of The Monster’s Bride in a loose adaptation of the novel). Son of Frankenstein was a step down but introduced the stereotypical (and obnoxious) assistant Ygor to the canon, The Ghost of Frankenstein took another step down (where the series would basically remain) and introduced the monster walking with his arms outstretched even if it only made sense in context of this film, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (as noted earlier) was the first crossover title, House of Frankenstein brought Dracula in, House of Dracula brought things to a close and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein introduced comedy (aside from the camp of Bride of Frankenstein) to the series.

Nearly a decade went by until the characters were brought back in 1957 (with the great black and white gothic atmosphere replaced by color) both as a modern teen focused AIP title (I Was a Teenage Frankenstein though plenty of their films dealt with the mad scientist archetype) and more notably by Hammer studios as the start of their alternate takes on the Universal monsters and of Hammer horror in general (The Curse of Frankenstein). Hammer would go on to produce six more Frankenstein titles (with today’s title being the first sequel). Since then, the monster has been a stock character with such notable (well, ones I cared for anyway) titles as The Spirit of the BeehiveYoung Frankenstein (one of the best comedies ever made with a fairly reverent take/mishmash of the Universal titles), FrankenhookerMayFrankenweenie, and Frankenstein’s Army. As time goes on, they seem to play more off the half remembered stereotypes of the Universal films, but that doesn’t diminish the power of the originals any.

Following up from the great The Curse of Frankenstein which starred Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, The Revenge of Frankenstein returns Cushing who narrowly escapes execution (by having his followers execute a priest in his stead) for the events of the previous film. While the series is now in color, it does at least maintain the gothic setting of the originals albeit unable to replicate the look (under copyright by Universal) or the monster and far more controversial in content (at the time). It also largely redefined Cushing and Lee’s careers going forward as horror icons.

Dr. Frankenstein goes undercover as a “Dr. Stein” which just seems like he wanted to get caught SPOILERS especially when in a fit of creativity, he is going by “Dr. Frank” (sorry “Dr. Franck”) by the end. END OF SPOILERS He’s aided by a man who blackmails him into working for him as they seek to resume his efforts. I like that for once though, Frankenstein actually seems to maintain a practice while he does his experiments. It’s a nice change from the descent into complete obsession that characterizes every other film in the series, and helps actually explain where he gets the money to run all these fancy experiments. His monster here is far less of a monster, being a fairly regular looking guy with some stitches and containing mind of his hunchback assistant which is also a nice change of pace. He doesn’t kill out of anger or fear, only self-defense. There’s something about potential cannibalism but it’s as if the film forgets or if I look at it more charitably, thinks it is as ridiculous a concept as the good doctor. I’m less sold on the idea that SPOILERS physical deformities are apparently some mental disorder, END OF SPOILERS but two steps forward, one step back is still moving the series forward I guess.

The monster is hardly even the real threat and though he does SPOILERS record a kill, it is ultimately the doctor’s previous work that comes back to bite him in the ass with the townspeople killing him and not the monster. Heck, the monster dies on its own and condemns him to death in its final moments. Combined with the fact that Frankenstein is brought back to life by the very process he developed, it would be the ultimate karmic plot. Of course this is undone by the fact that he keeps his same basic appearance and is pretty much no worse for wear, our hero has learned nothing and has punished for none of his hubris or stubborn stupidity in refusing to run when his time is up. I feel like I should be happy the moral of a Frankensteinmovie isn’t “science is evil” for once, but it just feels narratively unsatisfying and a clear sequel hook. END OF SPOILERS Still the film is really well handled and a quality follow-up to Curse of Frankenstein. I’m not a huge Hammer fan, but these films represent the pinnacle of their work. For the record, I’ve seen the fourth and fifth movies (which serve as sequels to this one and that I didn’t care for and liked respectively) before and all but the sixth film, the remake/spoof The Horror of Frankenstein, starred Cushing in the title role.

Bonus Episode #30 – Kaiju: The X from Outer Space (1967)
Directed by Kazui Nihonmatsu

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It seems only fair we get to at least one classic era Japanese kaiju movie and shockingly one not from Daiei (Gamera) or Toho (practically everything else). This one if on the far opposite tone end and is cheesy as heck (even compared to the Godzilla films of the era) and incredibly ‘60s in feel. The film seems perfectly content to just get distracted by light romantic-comedy plots and a scene where woman who won’t even talk to her boyfriend directly to tell them they have to slow down or they’ll hit the freaking moon. Then again she seems to have a better chemistry with the picture of him.

Astronauts in a silly looking flying saucer (that constantly seems as if it is wobbling so much it is going to collapse) fly to Mars to investigate UFOs that have been reported. A hole gets punctured in the ship and it’s treated like an airplane (okay an airplane in a lazily done movie) with everything blowing about and one guy nearly being sucked out ass first. They are able to fix things without even covering the hole which I want to point out that they are flying through outer space with a hole in their ship. But these asteroids striking the ship are not merely astronauts, they are spores capable of turning into a giant monster in the span of a night as one is want to do.

This giant monster is quite possibly the dumbest looking kaiju design I’ve ever seen with the possible exception of the creature from The Giant Claw. It has the head of a chicken, freakishly oversized (in diameter) arms, and moves like something that shouldn’t quite exist. It’s as if its pathetic roars are yelling “KILL ME”. It can also turn itself into a floating glowing orb because of course it can. I know kaiju aren’t known for their scientific plausibility, but I’m 100% sure this movie was just screwing with me. SPOILERS The monster winds up being defeated by being covered in Guilalalium (looks an awful lot like soap to me) which shrinks it back down to a spore and honestly, I appreciated when the three Gamera films just skipped the middleman and basically called it magic. END OF SPOILERS

Guilala is also possibly the dumbest kaiju name, a petty thing but it just sounds laughable and I feel ashamed to even say it out loud. The film features goofy music straight out of a bad spy comedy. There’s an incredible car chase that may have been the funniest scene in the movie that ends with a car that explodes on its way down (not when it hits the bottom) a maybe 20-foot drop. The X from Outer Spaceis the fun kind of bad and it sure is bad. My only regret is not being able to make fun of it alongside others because really it just opens itself up to so much.

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