Monday, July 4, 2011
The Horror of Frankenstein
Ahh, just as I was about to go to bed, having finished and (briefly) written up Humanoids From the Deep, I spotted that ITV4 were running Hammer's The Horror of Frankenstein. In HD.
Well, how on earth could I refuse? Horror of Frankenstein is a fabulously tongue-in-cheek offering from Hammer in their latter days. As something like the sixth in their Frankenstein films, it's much heavier on the camp action, the smiling buxom women and the smutty jokes than it is on the suspense (Sample line: "I really need to go home and complete my anatomy homework. Will you help me, Maggie?" "Oooh yes, shall I take my clothes off now or later?") but sometimes a bit of cinematic trash is more than welcome. Hell, did I say sometimes? Cinematic trash is always welcome!
Young Victor Frankenstein is played by Hammer regular Ralph Bates (Taste the Blood of Dracula, Lust for a Vampire etc.), preparing to spend a summer away from school doing all the things that normal college kids do: scientific experiments, pursuing the secret of life, re-animating dead flesh, kid-stuff like that. Bates' leering aristocratic arrogance is so wonderfully repulsive that he becomes utterly captivating. He's certainly no Peter Cushing nor Christopher Lee but, to my mind, Bates carved out his own minor Hammer legacy: a sneering, slimy legacy, but a legacy nonetheless.
As a whole, there's no denying that this is on the lower end of Hammer's output. Several of the mid-film scenes really do drag and, other than Ralph Bates, little of the actors have much to recommend them (although I don't think any of the women were cast for their acting abilities...). Despite this, the fun moments are as fun as they mean to be and even the dull moments are lightheartedly dull (everyone knows that earnestly dull is far, far worse!).
The monster, when he finally appears, is satisfyingly monstrous, although anyone familiar with the book (or any half-faithful film) will be disappointed at the monster's instinctive brutality: we all know the monster is supposed to be a sadly misunderstood mistake of nature. Instead, this film plays out as a kind of cross between Karloff's Frankenstein - as imagined by someone who's never seen the film - and Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein - albeit without much in the way of jokes.
This might all seem a fairly negative dismissal of what is, essentially a very enjoyable film; I don't mean it to be. The Horror of Frankenstein is a fairly flawed but entirely watchable blend of diluted horror folklore and camp period drama. It's hardly memorable but it is great fun.
Note: The HD transfer is, though better than the standard definition print, none-too-astonishing. I'm no expert - not by a long stretch - but I've certainly seen much crisper HD versions of old films. Whilst I obviously can't complain too hard (it was, after all, on TV for free) this is someway short of HD worth paying for.