Saturday, May 12, 1973: The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) / Hyena of London (1964)

 

frank1Synopsis: Baron Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) is being led to the guillotine for the crimes chronicled in the previous movie, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957). But he manages to cheat the executioner with the help of an inside man, a dwarfed hunchback named Karl (Oscar Quitak). Frankenstein slips away to Carlsbruck, where he begins practicing medicine under the name Dr. Stein, at a hospital for the poor.

The local medical council is baffled by Dr. Stein: for three years he has quietly practiced medicine without seeking to join the council, and his standoffish attitude is seen as a snub. Dr. Hans Kleve (Francis Matthews), a member of the council, offers to visit Dr. Stein and find out a bit more about him. But as it turns out, Kleve has an entirely different agenda. He turns up at his lab and tells Dr. Frankenstein that he knows perfectly well who he is. But he doesn’t want to reveal his identity to the council, nor will he — if Dr. Frankenstein agrees to take him on as his assistant.

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Kleve is fascinated with Frankenstein’s research into bringing dead tissue back to life, and he wants to learn more. Frankenstein has little choice, but all the same is glad to have a partner in his endeavors. He shows Kleve a body that he has assembled in his laboratory, suspended in a transparent tank. The body has been assembled from parts garnered from ransacked graves and unnecessary amputations performed in his hospital. This, he tells Kleve, will be the body he means to animate.

But what about the brain? Kleve asks. Frankenstein replies that the brain was acquired first — in fact, it is Karl the hunchback whose brain they will use. Karl helped Frankenstein escape on the promise that the doctor would transfer Karl’s brain into a new, healthy body.

With Kleve’s help, Karl’s brain is placed in the new body. The new Karl (Michael Gwynn) is out of his senses at first, and he must be placed in restraints in order to avoid injuring himself. But before long his thoughts begin to clear and it is evident that he is the same intelligent, sensitive man he was before. The operation appears to be a success.

As Karl recovers, he asks Dr. Kleve what will happen to him now. Kleve replies that once the news of the successful brain transplant is announced, doctors from around the world will come to examine him as well as the old body he has discarded. Karl is horrified by this idea, as people have been gawking at him all his life.

Margaret, a servant in the hospital, learns of the strange man kept in the attic by himself and goes to visit him. At his request she loosens the straps that hold him to the bed. Karl is then able to walk about the ward on his own. Mistaken as an intruder by the janitor, Karl is attacked and struck on the head. When Kleve and Frankenstein arrive on the scene they find the janitor’s dead body and an open window through which Karl has escaped. Now loose on the town, Karl’s mental state disintegrates and he goes on a rampage….

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Comments: Penned by the talented Jimmy Sangster, who’d written the previous year’s  The Curse of Frankenstein, its sequel The Revenge of Frankenstein cleverly devises a way for the disgraced baron to escape his execution and start his monster-building practice somewhere else. Christopher Lee isn’t present for this one, but it hardly matters; Peter Cushing was the undisputed star of the first film and he’s equally delightful in this one. Freed from the first movie’s framing device and the lengthy Dr. Frankenstein origin story, this one moves fairly quickly to set up its premise and start the inevitable unraveling of the aloof Dr. Frankenstein’s plans.

Hammer gleefully pushed the envelope in those days, knowing that their battles with the censorship office would only boost ticket sales. The Revenge of Frankenstein was rather notorious when it was released, featuring enough blood and viscera to shock film critics of the day, who simply couldn’t imagine how much further horror film producers could go (answer: quite a lot). Some icky shots were cut for the original release (e.g, Karl’s brain being dropped into a liquid solution) but modern video releases include them all.

Overall, this is a good example of Hammer studio at the height of its influence and popularity. The quality control on these films is remarkable, with Terence Fischer, Jimmy Sangster and Peter Cushing all returning from the previous installment, with slick production values that far exceeded their budgets.

The casting for this movie is a little uneven. Instead of the luminous Hazel Court, we have Eunice Gayson, who had played Sylvia Trench in Dr. No. She is pretty but not nearly as effective as Court had been, as she has a smaller role.  Michael Gwynn’s Karl earns our sympathy as the monster — something the first film didn’t really try to do —  making his fall from grace all the more tragic. Interestingly, Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein remains the same character he was in the first movie. He is delightful company, aristocratic and single minded, and he doesn’t display the slightest bit of remorse after his first monster-making go-round. And while he’s undoubtedly a talented surgeon, the unique trait he brings to the table is a willingness to cross the moral boundaries that other scientists balk at.

Francis Matthews’s Kleve is an able stand-in for the assistant role played by Robert Urquhart in the first film – the difference being that Kleve isn’t tortured by the sort of doubt Paul had to deal with. That’s somewhat more believable for the viewer, but the arrangement carries somewhat less dramatic weight.

This was Michael Ripper’s first appearance in a Hammer horror film, playing one of two wise-cracking gravediggers — a favorite Sangster comic-relief device.

 

The Hyena of London

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Synopsis: In London of 1883, notorious serial killer Martin Bauer, aka The Hyena, is escorted to the gallows and hanged. His body is buried, but before long a night watchman discovers the grave dug up and the body gone.

Soon after, in the nearby town of Bradford, town drunkard John Reed gets kicked out of the local pub. His wife Margaret (Anita Todesco) who’s been looking all over town for him, drags him home. But along the way John slumps down in an open doorway and passes out. Margaret is approached by an unseen assailant on the street, and she is murdered.

The next morning John is charged with Margaret’s murder; he knows he passed out, but swears he would never do anything to harm her. Dr. Edward Dalton (Bernard Price) tells police Inspector O’Connor (Thomas Walton) and Quayle, the supercilious attache from Scotland Yard that the assailant strangled Margaret “with the strength of a maniac”.

To the police, it’s an open-and-shut case. Margaret must have been unhappy with John’s behavior. John, who was known to be aggressive when drunk, killed her during his blackout.

Down at the town fountain, young Muriel Dalton (Diana Martin) meets secretly with Henry (Tony Kendall). Muriel knows that her father, Dr. Dalton, would never approve of her marrying Henry, who is of low social standing.

Hearing a noise, the lovers go into  the woods to see if someone has been spying on them. They find no one but Muriel discovers the body of a corpse that had been half-buried under leaves; Dr. Dalton guesses the body had been there about two weeks.

As Muriel recovers from her shocking discovery, Dr. Dalton discovers his assistant Dr. Anthony Finney (Angelo Dessy) sneaking a drink of whiskey. Finney had lost his previous position due to his alcoholism, and had assured Dalton that he would not relapse. Dalton threatens to fire Finney if it happens again.

In a clearing near the manor Finney meets with his lover Elizabeth (Claude Dantes), who has come to visit him in Bradford and wonders when she can spend the night. But Finney is dismissive of her entreaties. Muriel rides by on her horse and Elizabeth is jealous of the way Finney looks at her; nevertheless he sends her back to London.

Meanwhile, John Reed commits suicide in his cell, Henry is captured trespassing on the grounds of the estate in order to meet with Muriel and becomes a suspect. When he escapes from police custody, the Hyena strikes again….

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Comments: If you don’t pay close attention while watching Hyena of London, you’re likely to miss a lot of what’s going on.

But that’s okay, because even if you do pay close attention while watching Hyena of London you’ll still miss a lot of what’s going on. It’s a maddeningly difficult murder mystery to follow because nearly everything you see is a red herring.

After the opening scene, which shows serial killer the Hyena being led to the gallows and the discovery of his ransacked grave, there’s very little going on. There is the occasional strangulation, done in the Hyena’s signature style, but these are few in number and we have a lot of downtime between them.

So in order to fill out the film’s running time we’re treated to a kind of Victorian version of Peyton Place, where we learn about the troubled relationships in each of the characters’ lives. This would be all right, I guess, if this weren’t supposed to be, ahem, a horror movie.

We don’t really care if Dr. Finney is leading Elizabeth astray by insinuating that he’ll eventually leave his wife for her, or if Muriel’s father will approve of her secret love with Henry, a good-looking guy with no prospects. Come on, people, we want ghouls, vampires, werewolves, murderers taking revenge from beyond the grave! Give us what we want!

The film does identify the real killer at the end of the movie, and trots out a zany science fiction / horror explanation for the events we’ve just witnessed, so I guess that’s something. But events are pretty rushed at the end as the screenwriters abruptly try to wrap things up; like the whole movie, the end is rather oddly structured, and seems to have been written by someone without any experience in plotting out a horror film before.

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One comment

  1. Two films that never made the rounds on Chiller Theater (THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN and FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL also went missing). German Krimi were more prominent on Cleveland stations (THE SQUEAKER, CREATURE WITH THE BLUE HAND), while about all we saw in Pittsburgh were THE STRANGLER OF BLACKMOOR CASTLE, THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM, and THE HAND OF POWER, admittedly 3 of the very best.

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