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"For years I had heard very critical summaries of this 1970 version of the classic story of Frankenstein and the monster he creates out of stolen human body parts. Hammer Studios, long famous for their revivals of classic Universal Horror stories had their first big success with their 1956 version of the old Mary Shelley novel "Frankenstein", which they titled "The Curse of Frankenstein". Starring Peter Cushing as Baron Frankenstein and Christopher Lee as the Monster, this film provided the basis for a semi regular series over more than a decade of stories continuing Baron Frankenstein's experiments in creating human life. Peter Cushing went on to play the role 6 times and became forever associated with the role of the mad scientist experimenting with the very essence of life. For this version filmed in 1970 however Hammer decided to go back to the roots of the Frankenstein story and they cast up and coming actor Ralph Bates in the role of Victor Frankenstein. Much criticism was leveled at this casting decision as Peter Cushing had of course put his indelible stamp on the character over many years. In fact however it made sense as "Horror of Frankenstein", goes back to the Baron's school days before he began his experiments. Peter Cushing, for all his great expertise in playing the role was simply too old in 1970 to play the earlier scenes in this particular version. To my surprise after reading of the critcial panning this film received on release I found it to be a very handsomely mounted and entertaining version of this often filmed story far from the disaster that I was led to believe. Ralph Bates makes a highly suitable Frankenstein in my belief and portrays the Baron as a much darker individual than audiences perhaps were accustomed to seeing in earlier versions. Bates' Baron has few redeeming character traits and hides his evil nature under a debonair facade that makes for an interesting interpretation of the character.
This version of the story takes us back to Frankestein's youth where even at a young age the young nobleman's self confidence and arrogance allows him to outsmart his teachers and in the case of one (Geoffrey Lumsden), he succeeds in convincing him that he is ill thus avoiding a punishment. Returning home to Castle Frankenstein believing he can learn more with his own research Vicot comes into conflict with his dissolute father the Baron (George Belbin), who keeps him on a tight rein financially. Victor decides to take matters into his own hands to get his inheritance ahead of time and arranges for one of th eBaron's hunting rifles to back fire thus clearing the way for Victor to become Baron Frankenstein and begin enjoying all th epleasures of th eposition which include the attractive servant Alys (Kate O'Mara), who had also shared his father's bed. Victor sets up an elaborate lab in the Castle and with the help of his friend Wilhelm (Graham Jones), he begins some rathe runusual experiements on life starting first with a turtle and then graduating to experimenting on creating a human. Wilhelm is revolted by Victor's collecting of human body parts courtesy of the local grave robber (Dennis Price), and when he threatens to expose Victor he is murderd by his former friend who uses his hands in the creation of his creature. Childhood friend Elizabeth Heiss (Veronica Carlson), who still is in love with Victor comes back into his life however Victor decides that Elizabeth's father has the sort of brain he needs for his experiments and continues his killing spree by first poisoning him and when the graverobber has delivered the "item", to Victor he also suffers a horrible fate when Victor dumps him in a tank of acid. The creature is now complete and during an electrical storm Victor manages to bring it to life however it is not the placid creature expected but a murderous monster. Doing Victor's bidding for him the creature first kills Alys and the grave robbers wife who are suspecting that Victor is responsible for the earlier murders breaks but then breaks loose and goes on a rampage. Attacking Elizabeth back at the Castle Victor hides the monster in the empty acid tank but when the police along with some of the terrified villagers arrive one of the little girls accidently pulls the rope that fills the tank with acid thus destroying forever Victor's man made monster.
Viewers expecting a classic version of the Frankenstein story such as was seen in the Boris Karloff trilogy back in the 1930's are liable to be disappointed with "Horror of Frankenstein", however there is much to admire in this updated story. Hammer Studios always had a way of creating good looking productions out of small budgets and while this film does at times reveal some short cuts they are not ones that detract from the story. Ralph Bates, stepping into the shoes of the legendary Peter Cushing certainly had his work cut out for him here however he does a more than capable job in his one outing in this famous role. His Victor Frankenstein is all charm and good looks on the surface which hides a very corrupt and sinister character underneath that cares for neither family or friends. Ralph Bates was an extremely talented actor who was being groomed at this time for greater things with Hammer Productions just as their prolific output of horror efforts was slowing down. His combination of good looks, and talent for playing characters that were both good and bad made him a natural for these type of horror stories. The supporting actors surrounding Bates in this effort couldn't be faulted and represent a fine school of performers that were typical of these late Hammer era productions. Actress Veronica Carlson had already appeared in one of the earlier Peter Cushing Frankenstein efforts for Hammer, "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed!", when she came on board here playing the role of Elizabeth Heiss, Baron Frankenstein's childhood friend who still carries a flame for him. Kate O'Mara really shines in the role of the seductive servant Alys who gets more than she bargains for when she tries to play Victor Frankenstein at his own game for which she pays dearly. Being a story about creating a human being out of used body parts obviously means that grave robbers would naturally feature prominently in the story. Here Dennis Price as the hard drinking grave robber of this story who supplies Victor with the corpses he needs for his "work", delivers an at times amusing perfomance and his scenes with his wife (Joan Rice), have a certain amount of macabre humour to them. Their best scene togethe ris when they are disturbing the fresh graves in the cemetary and the gentleman gets his poor wife to do the actual digging while he discusses the fortune they will make from a reported tragedy at sea that finds bodies being washed ashore along the coast! Jon Finch as Victor's childhood friend Lt. Becker who leads the investigation into the deaths and Bernard Archard as Elizabeth's father who becomes Victor's prey when a fresh brain is needed also score well in their respective parts. Much debate has always arisen over David Prowse as the Monster. Certainly his creature could never compete in appearance or personality with Boris Karloff's classic interpretation of the character however with each screening of "Horror of Frankenstein", I feel he makes an acceptable creature in his own right if you dont try and compare him to Karloff. Certainly his scenes where he is trying to break loose from his chains or is wandering around the countryside striking terror into the locals or tearing apart a bird to eat raw have their own horrific qualities. Visually "Horror of Frankenstein", could afford to be more explicit than many of the earlier versions given the year it was made. This is best illustrated in the gruesome scenes when Victor is assembling the creature from sawn off body parts and when he wipes his face with blood covered hands during the "operation", which gives this film a far more raw quality than in previous Hammer efforts. Period detail in all respects is certainly a strong point of "Horror of Frankenstein", with the attractive Victorian atmosphere well represented in costume and sets. Frankenstein's lab where he conducts his experiments is one that we have come to expect from Hammer Productions filled as it is with bubbling containers, test tubes and assorted wires, in short the classic mad scientist's lab in vivid colour.
While it certainly is not the best Hammer version of the frankenstein story "Horror of Frankenstein", is also not the shoddy effort so often dismissed by the critics. Ralph Bates creates a quite different and interesting Baron Frankenstein here that really does hold your interest. Often criticised for being slow moving in particular in the first half of the film I feel that is necessary in letting us know a bit more about Frankenstein's character and what is motivating him to conduct such experiments that have him resorting to murder to achieve his aims. "Horror of Frankenstein", is an interesting slant on the classic story and any fans of classic horror characters and Hammer Productions interpretation of them in general will want to include this version in their collection. Enjoy! "
Birthe Jrgensen | Odense, Denmark | 08/08/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I guess this movie really should've had only 3 stars, but I give it 4 because after all the bad things I'd heard about it, it's a pleasant surprise. O.k., it may not be scary, but no one watches early 70's Hammer to be frightened, anyway. -Same sets, same atmosphere, etc. This movie is more of a comedy. The cast is the good thing about this film. Bates, in his largest role for Hammer, is wonderful. He's brilliantly arrogant as Frankenstein; clearly enjoying the part. it also features a pre-"Frenzy" Jon Finch. The baron isn't caught in the end, revealing that Hammer wanted to make more Frankensteins with Bates, but since the film flopped this plan was unfortunately dropped. It would've been interesting to see; it couldn't possibly have turned out worse than much of the studio's later stuff. (P.S.-only downer: this tape is in the damn EP mode.)"
An underrated gem
Vito Skywalker | Hawaii United States | 05/22/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Hammer Studios tried something different in 1970 with its Frankenstein franchise. Instead of making another sequel with Peter Cushing, it decided on producing an entirely new revisioning. The result is a superb, horrific, and sometimes intentionally funny film that is populated by many characters with unredeeming qualities.
Ralph Bates' ruthless Dr. Victor Frankenstein is unarguably the most evil characterization of the baron ever to grace a film. If you get in his way, he'll kill you withyout ever batting an eye. The monster, played by David Prowse, isn't introduced until more than one-hour into the film. While the monster is a terrifying, mindless murderer, the baron is the true villain here.
Bates performance dominates the film. While it's extremely difficult to root for the guy, you can't help but be interested in what he'll do next in order to achieve his goal. For whatever reason, this film seems to get panned as one of the failures of the Hammer horror pantheon. I strongly disagree with the negative reviews. This is one of the best Frankenstein films ever made. The film is never boring, and it's always scary because you dread what the baron will do next to forward his plans.
I was a child when I saw this film on television in the 1970s. It's not for kids. As for the DVD, it's presented in a pristine anamorphic widescreen and looks great on a high definition television. Good job, Anchor Bay."
Hairy Dog Joke
Kenneth Sohl | Tennessee | 01/04/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Some people just can't get this film. First, don't even try to compare it to the Cushing films, this one obviously wasn't intended to be anything like them. Second, it isn't some comedy meant to be filled with laughs, it is a subtle parody. The cast is perfect for the way the characters were intended to be portrayed, and the ending is quite clever, a purposefully anti-climactic finish that puts the dot at the end of this clever hairy dog joke of a film. I detract one star because, though I was surprised at the uniqueness of the film, it isn't one I'd watch repeatedly like the Cushing films."
Lets Be Frank
Stanley Runk | Camp North Pines | 10/02/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The Horror of Frankenstein is Hammer screenwriter Jimmy Sangster's stab at directing. This one's got the Hammer crowd divided coz it's a bit different than the classic Hammer films. It was made in what many consider to be the decline of Hammer in the 70s. About this time Hammer was looking to reinvent itself and usually upped the sex and violence. Horror of Frankenstein basically goes back to the plotline of Curse of Frankenstein, and you get the idea that it was supposed to launch a new franchise with the character. It's part of the Frankenstein series, yet it exists totally outside it. I guess you could look at it as the Never Say Never Again of Hammer Frankenstein films. It shows the Baron as a young student, through his years at school and the creation of his first monster. He lives with his housekeeper/sex slave, his assistant and his cook. One of his old classmates, a hot blond(Veronica Carlson), is handing herself to him on a silver platter, but he couldn't care less. As we all know, Frankenstein is obsessed with reanimation, and he devotes most of his time to that. Naturally this includes hiring a body snatcher for spare parts and occasionally killing someone. The monster appears over half way through the film and of course goes on a rampage. It all comes together in an ending that you may not expect. The biggest issue here is the lack of Peter Cushing. He is and always will be the greatest man to play the baron, but Ralph Bates isn't too bad. He's certainly an arrogant little S.O.B. The monster is played by none other than Darth Vader himself, David Prowse. The monster here is just a dumb killing machine. Normally the monster is portrayed as being kinda sympathetic, but here he's just as cold, homicidal and lifeless as his creator. Alot of shots are taken at this film's attempts at humor. This is a bit over exaggerated. There are a few quips here and there, but this movie isn't going for full blown comedy by any means, nor is it played tongue in cheek. It's rather dark actually, it just so happens the baron says some funny things once in awhile. While it's easy to just dismiss the movie coz of it's reputation and lack of Cushing, that's not exactly fair. Any Hammer fan should at least give it a shot. That doesn't guarantee you'll like it, but you may find that it's not as bad as people have led you to believe all these years. Besides, Cushing came back anyway!"