“It is my wish to disprove the old theories concerning the evolution of life and the origin of the life force and to restate, simply, in terms of biophysical chemistry, as chemical action and reaction controlled by the external impulses.” – Baron Frankenstein, Evil of Frankenstein
Evil of Frankenstein is an interesting fish. It’s not the best of the Hammer Frankensteins. It has some weird pacing issues making for a slow start and a somewhat rushed conclusion, and also the goofiest looking Monster of the Hammer era. It’s interesting in a lot of ways, though, most noticeably one of the most sympathetic portrayals of Frankenstein that I’ve come across.
A recently dead body is stolen and taken to the lab of Frankenstein (Peter Cushing), who sets to work making the heart beat again. A priest (James Maxwell) in search of the missing body, invades the lab, and wrecks Frankenstein’s experiment. Frankenstein fights the priest off, then flees with his assistant, Hans (Sandor Eles). Fleeing to his home town of Karlstadt, Frankenstein means to reclaim his property, so that he can sell it for money to continue his experiments.
Frankenstein arrives in town during a carnival, and the locals are too distracted to recognise him. Returning to his chateau, he finds the place in disrepair. In the cobwebbed remains of his lab, he finds that he’s been hanged in effigy. He tells Hans about the creation of his creature. Interestingly, his story is completely different from the one told in Curse of Frankenstein. In this telling, Frankenstein worked alone, creating a being and keeping it on ice until an appropriate storm developed. The reanimation scene is far more elaborate than Curse, but the Monster (Kiwi Kingston) looks… well, kind of awful.
Frankenstein studies his Monster and cares for it. While he sleeps, the Monster breaks out of the chateau and kills some sheep, before being hunted down by the villagers. Frankenstein comes to his creation’s rescue too late, and is wounded by the hunters. He fights with a local policeman, while the Monster is pursued over a cliff. Frankenstein explains that he was charged with ‘assaulting a police officer and working against God,’ and driven from the village. Since then, he has worked to make money to pursue his experiments, but has had no success.
Frankenstein and Hans attend the carnival in masks, and run across the burgomaster and police chief (David Hutcheson and Duncan Lamont) who ran him out of town. At first amused to see his old adversary, Frankenstein becomes furious when he realises that the burgomaster is wearing a ring stolen from Frankenstein’s home. His shouting attracts the police, and Frankenstein and Hans flee, passing through the tent of Professor Zoltan (Peter Woodthorpe), a sideshow hypnotist. Zoltan’s act is closed down by the police.
Frankenstein bursts in on the burgomaster, finding his hose full of Frankenstein property. The police chief tries to arrest him, but he escapes, thanks to the comical non-interference of the burgomaster’s wife (Caron Gardner). Frankenstein and Hans escape over the mountains, but they are approached by a mute beggar girl (Katy Wild) who has been seen on the edge of village life. She leads them to the Monster – not dead, but imprisoned in a block of ice. They melt it free, cart it back to Frankenstein’s chateau and reanimate the hell out of it. Alas, while the Monster lives, it is inert, unable to move. Frankenstein has repaired the creature’s brain, but what of its mind?
So he goes to see a mental expert – Zoltan! Though he’s a drunken loudmouth, Zoltan turns out to be a very skilled hypnotist. At Frankenstein’s request, Zoltan attempts to reactivate the Monster’s brain. It works and the Monster goes berserk, before being sedated.
Zoltan suggests that Frankenstein could make a lot of money showing off his Monster, but Frankenstein flatly refuses. (Interestingly, in Revenge of Frankenstein, Frankenstein did plan to show off his creation, which was the issue that drove the creature to escape). Zoltan forces Frankenstein into a business partnership, then gets drunk. In his inebriated bitterness, he decides to play Caligari and makes the Monster go off and steal gold from the village. The raid is a success, but the Monster is seen.
The Monster is hypnotised again by the drunken Zoltan, this time to go and kill the burgomaster and chief of police. The mute girl witnesses Zoltan’s treachery. Zoltan threatens her, but relents when he remembers that she can’t tell on him. The Monster kills the burgomaster then breaks the neck of a bored policeman who is amusing himself by trying on the chief’s uniform. Zoltan awakes from a drunken slumber, confronted by the Monster, blood on its hands. Suddenly remorseful, he tries to hide his crime, but is confronted by Frankenstein. Frankenstein beats up Zoltan and drives him from the chateau.
Frankenstein realises they need to flee. Zoltan, looking in through a grating into Frankenstein’s lab, controls the Monster again. The mute girl tries to warn Frankenstein, but too late; his creation comes after him with an iron bar. Frankenstein drives the Monster off with fire. The Monster, fearful and enraged, kills Zoltan.
The Monster lumbers off, Hans in pursuit. Frankenstein tries to follow, but is arrested by the police. Hans finds the Monster in a cave, tended by the mute girl. They leave the cave, the Monster carrying the girl when he falls. Frankenstein watches helpless from his prison cell as the police assemble a mob of villagers to hunt the Monster. Fortunately, the police are pretty incompetent, and they’ve left Frankenstein’s bottle of chloroform in his jacket pocket. He knocks out a guard and escapes on a stolen horse.
Hans leads the Monster back to the chateau. The Monster is in agony, clutching its head in anguish and moaning. The mute girl gives it a bottle of liquor, to help with its pain. The Monster begins working his way through Frankenstein’s booze, getting fighting drunk and hurling lab equipment around. Frankenstein confronts the Monster, but the Monster mistakes Frankenstein’s chloroform for booze and tries to drink it. Appalled by the taste, it smashes up a bunch of chemical containers, which are set on fire by the sparks from the electrical equipment. Frankenstein tries to rescue the Monster but is unable, and both are trapped in the burning lab as the chateau explodes.
“They beat him after all,” Hans says.
Evil of Frankenstein shows Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein at his least evil. He displays his requisite coldness in the opening sequence, but after that he’s strangely sympathetic. Cushing plays the character more as put-upon genius than hubristic sociopath this time. He’s shown to be motivated not by malice but by genuine scientific curiosity. His enemies are not innocent paupers like in Revenge, but fanatical priests and corrupt government officials. “Anything they don’t understand, anything that doesn’t conform to their stupid little pattern, they destroy!” the Baron complains.
Most unusually, he seems to have some level of genuine care for his creation, risking himself to save it in the flashback, beating the man who mistreated it, and finally sacrificing himself in a doomed effort to save it. He is also rather more of a gentleman this time out, neither the callous seducer of Curse and Revenge nor the out-and-out rapist he becomes in Frankenstein Mus Be Destroyed. This is not to say the film itself is particularly feminist. There are two female character, they never meet and neither has any spoken lines. Evil of Frankenstein seems determined to fail the Bechdel Test in several ways at once.
In Evil, Frankenstein is transformed a sort of Romanticist hero, an outcast whose attempt to foster progress is held back by ignorance and corruption. He joins with a student, a well-meaning but naïve teenager and a self-important entertainer, and yet their grand creation is corrupted into substance abuse and pointless acts of nihilism, bringing his dreams of a better tomorrow to a shuddering halt.
Yes, this film was made in the 1960s. Why do you ask?
So far, the Hammer films have shown two versions of Frankenstein’s creation of his original monster, both very different, and both narrated by Frankenstein himself. In Curse, Frankenstein’s own testimony shows him to be a callous, murderous monster, while in his story in Evil he claims to have been genuinely concerned for his creature, and guilty of no crime beyond making the Monster. In the next film, Frankenstein Created Woman, Frankenstein is less benevolent than here, but neither is he especially malicious, and in the film after that, in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, he is at his most malevolent yet.
From the outside in, the reasoning is clear the first two movies were directed by Terrence Fisher and written by Jimmy Sangster, while Evil is written by Arthur Hines and directed by Freddy Francis. What’s more, it was made nearly a decade after the first two films. All in all, it’s easiest to simply assume that Evil is set in a different continuity to the others, just as the later Horror of Frankenstein seems to be. But let’s assume otherwise. Is there some way we can reconcile Evil with Curse and Revenge?
Interestingly, Evil doesn’t mention Frankenstein’s first name. Yes, this man is Baron Frankenstein, but is he Baron Victor von Frankenstein? What if he’s another member of the prodigious Frankenstein family? It explains Frankenstein’s different demeanor, but I guess no better than the separate continuity theory does.
Mary Shelley’s original novel is ambivalent about whether Frankenstein is a villain or a thwarted visionary, and the first two Universal Frankensteins reflect that ambivalence. The Hammer series usually comes down pretty heavy on ‘villain’. In recasting the Baron as a tragic counter-cultural hero, Evil of Frankenstein is the main exception to this rule–which makes its title more than a little ironic.