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The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958)

Starring: Peter Cushing, Francis Matthews, Eunice Gayson, Michael Gwynn, John Welsh, Lionel Jeffries

Written By: Jimmy Sangster, Hurford Janes (add'tl dialogue) Directed By: Terence Fisher

The Short Version

A horror classic gets a worthy (and indeed better) first sequel.

Peter Cushing is a masterfully evil Dr. Frankenstein.

The monsters work well this time without heavy makeup.

This is just an excellent horror flick from start to finish.

Any serious horror fan needs to see/own The Revenge of Frankenstein.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

BIERKASE.

Beer.  Cheese.  If combining these two things to make a new creation is wrong, I don’t want to be right.


Pairs Well With...

HOFBRAU HEFEWEIZEN.

Hearty German beer that takes the edge off of a hard day of creating monsters in a laboratory.

“Perhaps a little cheese?  I can recommend it.”


When Hammer stepped onto the horror stage with The Curse of Frankenstein, they met with immediate and resounding success.  Realizing that the best way to firmly establish themselves as a true force to be reckoned with was to strike again while the iron was hot, they quickly followed up with The Revenge of Frankenstein.  Generally speaking, going for the fast follow up often leads to subpar results, but that is definitely not the case here.  Indeed, The Revenge of Frankenstein is one of the very few sequels of any genre that can be said to hold up every bit as well as the original… and in some very significant ways, better.

The goodness starts right away.  This film picks up exactly where the previous one left off (this isn’t a spoiler, since the first movie is a flashback sequence that gives away its own ending from the start): with Baron Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing, The Hound of the Baskervilles) being led to the guillotine to answer for his crimes of murder and monster making mayhem.  The method by which the screenplay for The Revenge of Frankenstein handles this little problem is both straightforward and entirely plausible, including the add-on fact that the townspeople believe the Baron to indeed be dead.  (No mean feat, that, for problems such as these are the downfall of many a horror sequel.)  But we in the audience know better, don’t we?

Flash forward three years.  A very familiar gent named Dr. Stein has become the most sought-after physician in the town of Carlsbruck, much to the chagrin of the local “Doctors’ Council” – a guild that Stein refuses to join.  And why should he?  Not only does he have the town’s most desirable patient list, but he also runs the local charity hospital.  He sees no need to share his success with blowhards wheo shunned him when he first arrived three years back; and besides, they’d only get in the way of his secret research project.

There is one young doctor by the names of Hans Kleve (Francis Matthews, Dracula: Prince of Darkness) who could prove useful, however, especially since he has guessed at the true identity of “Dr. Stein” and told him so.  But Kleve is not interested in blackmailing the fugitive Baron for money; instead, he wants to learn from the man he considers to be the world’s foremost scientist and physician.  As it so happens, Dr. Frankenstein could use a willing assistant just about now, for he is ready to complete his latest experiment.  Once more, he will bring new life to a body made from the sewn-together parts of many corpses, but this time, instead of giving it a dead brain that needs to be resurrected along with everything else, Frankenstein intends to use a brain that’s been freshly extracted from a still-living subject…

And it is with the monster that The Revenge of Frankenstein pulls off its first great coup of going one better than its predecessor.

One of the biggest problems with The Curse of Frankenstein was the makeup job for the creature: a pudding-like, gooey-looking mess that seemed ready to melt away from his face at any minute and which gave the creature an expression akin to a perpetually surprised street punk.  (There hadn’t even been an option to mold a prosthetic mask, because the makeup designed wasn’t finalized until the day before filming started.)  For this film, however, Dr. Frankenstein has come closer to perfecting his art: instead of being misshapen ghouls, his “monsters” now look like ordinary men with a few (and I do mean only a few) surgical scars, and even those fade with time, given the opportunity.  Not only did this surely save the makeup department a fair chunk of money and a lot of headaches, but it also makes good sense on its face, and opens up far more story possibilities, as well.  These are far more interesting and more satisfying monsters on every level that matters (the only downside I can see is for the marketing department), and a definite point in favor of the sequel.

The other great improvements made by The Revenge of Frankenstein over its predecessor happen by way of the Baron’s assistant, Hans.  Whereas the previous film’s assistant was a constant source of annoyance thanks to the character’s endless “what you’re doing is wrong” moralizing and a smarmy performance by the actor in question, here, both problems are solved.  Screenwriter Jimmy Sangster and his polishers have learned from the past, and replaced the monotonous moralizing with action and inquiry by a character who can best be described as “Frankenstein if he were a decent man,” played ably by an actor who can be in the same room with Peter Cushing and hold his own.  Any moralizing in this film is subtle (and indeed directed at the “good doctors” who turn up their noses at the poor), and it’s amazing how much the pace of a film can quicken when that happens. 

And thanks to Hammer’s most reliable director, Terence Fisher, the pacing is deceptively quick.  No, The Revenge of Frankenstein isn’t Formula One fast, but it never relents, either, and though plenty of time is taken to develop characters and set up important plot points, the film never, ever bogs down.  Fisher, as usual, proves himself to be a model of directorial efficiency.

Along the way, he and the rest of the production team provide lots of memorable visuals.  Perhaps the most remarkable comes in the form of Frankenstein’s demonstration of how a signal from the eyes travels to the brain to cause a hand to shy from fire – with the eyes, brain, and hand each being stored in a separate case of preservation fluid and connected by wires.  Even today, it’s a gruesome but fascinating scene, and one of Hammer’s best ever non-makeup effects.  The rest of the lab, of course, is built to the same high (and utterly plausible) standard seen in the first film, and the entire film is given Hammer’s usual excellent Gothic/German style and atmosphere.

And yet, when all is said and done, there can be no debate as to what really makes The Revenge of Frankenstein such an effective picture: its leading man, Peter Cushing, who stands as one of the great geniuses of classic horror.  Once again, he plays the Baron as an utterly ruthless intellectual whose belief is his own power and authority are absolute, and he owns every second that he’s on the screen for.  A mere flick of his eyes is enough to convey total menace, and whenever his distinctive voice delivers a line, the audience is utterly compelled to listen.  He was great before, but by showing himself capable of not just repeating but if anything refining that previously great performance into something even sharper, it is here where Peter Cushing proves himself to be the greatest of all the Frankensteins.

And then there’s the matter of the ending… which I will leave you to discover, but which I will tell you is one of the greatest that Hammer or any serial horror studio has ever come up with.

Bottom line, if you enjoy classic horror at all, you simply must see The Revenge of Frankenstein.  It is a superb sequel that even manages to surpass the effectiveness of the original, and Peter Cushing’s outstanding performance is one that is simply to good (or, perhaps, too evil) to miss.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, October, 2012


More From The Bar! | The Gorgon | The Satanic Rites of Dracula | Doctor X |



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