Friday, 3 July 2015

Ranking Hammer's Frankenstein Films

Last time I celebrated Hammer Films’ tremendous output by ranking their Dracula films. Today, I continue ranking some of their movies as I take a look at their Frankenstein series.

Hammer released six Frankenstein films starting in 1957 and running through 1974. Unlike their Dracula series, there was something of a consistent quality to all of their films so it is a bit more difficult to rank them. Therefore, the following list will be a bit more subjective. Also, it’s worth mentioning that I have not seen 1970’s The Horror of Frankenstein so I have not included it in this list. That film was more-or-less a darkly comedic remake of The Curse of Frankenstein and did not fit into the Canon which Hammer created, so, frankly, it’s omission from the following list shouldn’t be missed. So, without further ado, let’s dive right in.

6. The Evil of Frankenstein (1964) – An oddly uninteresting Hammer entry, its dullness made all the more surprising due to the fact that it was made in the studio’s heyday. Aside from the usual sumptuous use of color which marked nearly all of Hammer’s films, there is very little which sets the movie apart. It seems to take its style and storyline from the Universal horrors of old – which wouldn’t be a bad thing if it weren’t for the cartoony execution of the story What’s more the Monster, clearly modeled off of the Boris Karloff original, is pretty childish-looking. Is there anything to recommend in the film? Peter Cushing is as usual excellent, Peter Woodthorpe chews the scenery in the most entertaining way possible, and the score by Don Banks is top notch.

5. Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell is a movie which tried too hard to keep up with the times. In production as The Exorcist was released worldwide, the film tried to amp up the level of violence and gore on screen, but added very little to the story. Despite its weaknesses, the movie does have a genuinely downbeat and Gothic mood which is elevated with its asylum setting. The Monster, played by David Prowse, is sufficiently scary-looking and Peter Cushing turns in a fine performance playing Baron Frankenstein for the last time. By this point Frankenstein has lost all his wits and has little respect for the life and death of others. It’s no masterpiece, but an often overlooked and worthy installment in Hammer’s series.

4. The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) – This one holds the distinction of being Hammer’s first Gothic horror, and for that reason it plays out as something of a prototypical film. It is by today’s standards a little stagey and can get long in places, but it is moody and a nice-looking film. Cushing’s first outing as Baron Frankenstein is one of his best and few actors have matched Christopher Lee’s outing as Frankenstein’s creation. The Curse of Frankenstein is hardly the best of Hammer’s films, but it’s certainly one of the most important.

3. The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) – There aren’t many sequels which can surpass the film which preceded it, but Revenge of Frankenstein may hold that distinction. Peter Cushing, already comfortable in the role of Baron Frankenstein, is in even better form here, and he is supported by some equally fine talent, especially Francis Matthews as the Baron’s new assistant, and Michael Gwyn as the Creature. Revenge of Frankenstein is a dark and brooding film, much more so than the first, and there are implications of vivisection and cannibalism which make the film one of Hammer’s darkest and finest.

2. Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969) – This film finds Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein at his nastiest. Employing crude implements, blackmail, and murder the Baron is out to perform brain transplants. Cushing’s turn as Frankenstein plays up all of the Baron’s irremediable qualities, and yet we the audience cannot help but rally behind him as a character. The movie is without doubt one of Hammer’s best executed horror shows, directed by Terence Fisher with great aplomb. Cushing is supported by excellent talent from Simon Ward and Veronica Carlson as well as Freddie Jones who is without doubt the most pitiable of all the Monsters in the Frankenstein series.

1. Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) – A contender for Hammer’s saddest film, Frankenstein Created Woman is also one of their most unconventional. It’s a film which manages to combine (of all things) metaphysics and revenge into one glorious package. It’s a film which was praised by Martin Scorsese as one of his favorite movies, and it’s easy to see why he loved it so much. Peter Cushing never looked as impressive as he does in this film and has excellent screen chemistry with Thorley Walters who portrays the Baron’s assistant. Susan Denberg must also be commended for her fine performance as the subject of the Baron’s experiments. Frankenstein Created Woman is a moving and incredibly compelling watch. 

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