Release Date(s)1964 (May 19, 2020)
Studio(s)Hammer Films/Universal Pictures (Shout! Factory/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A-
The third in Hammer’s eventual 7-film Frankenstein series, The Evil of Frankenstein has divided fans since its release in 1964. It wasn’t well-received by critics or audiences, failing at the box office for Universal who had taken over the distribution reins and fully financed the production. It also saw the return of Peter Cushing in one of the roles that he would primarily be remembered for, that of Baron Frankenstein (the other two being Van Helsing in Hammer’s Dracula series and Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars).
Severing continuity with the previous film, The Evil of Frankenstein sees the ghoulish and obsessive doctor and his faithful assistant Hans (Sandor Eles) return to Frankenstein’s chateau in Karlstaad, which he abandoned years before after his first attempt at bringing a corpse back to life—subsequently escaping the authorities after its deadly rampage. They find the creature (Kiwi Kingston) frozen in ice and attempt to revive him with the help of a deaf mute beggar girl (Katy Wild). Though in good condition, the creature’s brain is unresponsive. They enlist the help of the local hypnotist Zoltan (Peter Woodthorpe) to draw out the creature’s consciousness, but Zoltan’s interests lie in the its ability to do his bidding, which draws the attention of the local police.
Freddie Francis, the award-winning cinematographer who was new to directing, helmed The Evil of Frankenstein, taking over for Terence Fisher, with Anthony Hinds and Peter Bryan taking over script duties from Jimmy Sangster. The result is a film that looks wonderful and is executed well, but has its share of issues. The biggest of these is the monster make-up. Since the film was shot on Universal’s dime, the production was allowed for the first time in Hammer’s history to use elements of the Universal Monsters version of Frankenstein’s Monster. It isn’t a direct copy since it not only flattens the monster’s head, but squares its forehead, and moves the electrodes from its neck to its temples. Alas, it’s not an effective make-up, particularly in bright lighting. Famed wrestler Kiwi Kingston may give the creature added bulk, but it lacks both pathos and fright value.
The second issue is that Baron Frankenstein is less of an evil character this time around. He’s more reactionary to the events happening around him, and often without him. Instead the focus shifts to Zoltan, who chooses to exploit the creature for riches and revenge against those who’ve wronged him, all without Frankenstein’s knowledge. It doesn’t help that the overall feel of the film is more mean-spirited than previous entries. At one point, Zoltan threatens a potential rape of the beggar girl, tossing her aside afterwards in favor of something “better.” Even side characters, like the Chief of Police, seem to have more of a biting edge to them than others like them in previous films.
The finest aspect of The Evil of Frankenstein is Peter Cushing, as one would expect. He delivers another fine performance as the Baron, even if he’s more put-upon than devilish. To be fair, there aren’t an enormous amount of stories to be told within the Frankenstein framework. Though many have tried, they tend to fall back on the same ideas, only occasionally adding something new to the mix. One could argue that The Evil of Frankenstein does just that, but whether it was the correct move on Hammer’s part is a matter of debate.
Scream Factory brings The Evil of Frankenstein to Blu-ray for a second time in the US in a Collector’s Edition package sporting a new 4K scan of the film’s interpositive element. It’s also presented in 1.85:1, whereas the previous Universal Blu-ray was cropped to 1.78:1. It’s organic in appearance with high levels of detail. Colors are cooler, meaning blues, greens, and reds are richer, while skin tones lean more towards red. Blacks are a tad crushed and the contrast is dialed slightly higher. About an hour into the film, the element starts to show more obvious wear, specifically along the right edge of the frame. It’s faint, but it’s there. Also faint throughout are thin lines and minor speckling. Otherwise, the overall presentation is stable and clean.
The audio is presented in English mono DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. The track shoots straight down the center, as one would expect, but offers a fine aural presentation of the film’s original soundtrack. Dialogue exchanges are clear though a tad muffled in places, but the score has plenty of life to it. Sound effects are the least impressive, occasionally thin and not all that impactful. The track is also remarkably clean. Other than a few choice moments, specifically in the latter half of the film, there’s next to no hiss or crackle, and no distortion or dropouts.
The following extras are also included:
- Audio Commentary with Constantine Nasr
- The Evil of Frankenstein – TV Version (HD – 1:37:47)
- The Making of The Evil of Frankenstein (HD – 28:30)
- The Men Who Made Hammer: Freddie Francis (HD – 29:40)
- Tales of Frankenstein (SD – 27:14)
- Caron Gardner Talks About Her Acting Career (HD – 2:24)
- The Evil of Frankenstein: Assistant Director William P. Cartlidge (HD – 8:05)
- The Evil of Frankenstein: Katy Wild – The Beggar Girl (HD – 11:19)
- Theatrical Trailer (SD – 2:24)
- Image Gallery (HD – 110 in all – 8:05)
Constantine Nasr’s audio commentary expertly goes through the film from top to bottom, covering the film’s cast and crew, hypothesizing about what might have been if Terence Fisher and Jimmy Sangster had been involved with it, analyzing both its finer and weaker points, and often referring to the film’s shooting script. It’s a quality commentary. The TV version of the film is taken from a faded and damaged 16mm print, which was apparently the best element that could be found. Much of the violence is truncated and or replaced while extra scenes have been shot to fill out the running time, including a flashback that explains the origin of the beggar girl’s affliction. Though it’s in poor shape, we should feel lucky that it survives at all. The Making of Frankenstein documents the making of the film. Narrated by actor Edward de Souza, it features interviews with Hammer historian Wayne Kinsey, actress Caron Gardner, assistant director Hugh Harlow, script supervisor Pauline Harlow, art director Don Mingaye, and an archival audio snippet with Peter Cushing. The Men Who Made Hammer takes a look at the career of Freddie Francis with author Tony Dalton. Tales of Frankenstein is an unsold pilot from 1958 for a TV series based around the experiments of Baron Frankenstein starring Anton Diffring (a script of which was the eventual basis for the film). Carol Gardner talks about her physical assets and how they helped her with her career. William P. Cartlidge talks about working with Freddie Francis, using heavy diving boots on the monster for effect, his thoughts on Peter Cushing, and how the effects at the end of the film were achieved. Katy Wild speaks about when she auditioned for the film, how she searched for the truth in her character, working with the cast—particularly Kiwi Kingston, and learning her craft. The animated image gallery contains 110 images of promotional shots, behind-the-scenes-photos, head shots, posters, lobby cards, press materials, and film programs.
Though I have my reservations about the film itself, the overall package for The Evil of Frankenstein presented by Scream Factory is one of their more satisfying Hammer releases. The A/V presentation is a marked improvement and the extras package carries everything over from previous releases and adds even more to it, making for a highly satisfactory Blu-ray release.
– Tim Salmons