Saturday, October 19, 1974 (Midnight): The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) / Horror Island (1941)

Synopsis: 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.

frank2

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….

frank3

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.

Horror Island

Synopsis: Bill Martin (Dick Foran) is a happy-go-lucky entrepreneur with a losing streak a mile long. To date all of his money-making schemes have gone bust, and he is months behind on the rent on his crummy office down on the waterfront. He and his sidekick Stuff Oliver (Fuzzy Knight) are approached by a peg-legged sailor called “The Captain” (Leo Carrillo) who is in possession of half a treasure map. The Captain says that the treasure is located in a castle located on an island that Martin has recently inherited, and that if they join forces they might be able to claim the treasure.

Bill is visited by his scheming brother, who offers to buy the island from him for $20,000. This sudden interest only makes Bill suspicious that something of value is hidden there. They visit an expert in ancient maps, who assures them that the map is a forgery. Nevertheless, Martin sees this as another money-making opportunity: he takes out a newspaper ad promising an exciting treasure hunt that participants can buy their way into for $50.

After a standard-issue meet-cute with a wealthy young Wendy Creighton (Peggy Moran) Martin, Stuff, Wendy and the half-dozen tourists he’s assembled head out to the island. But someone clearly doesn’t want them to make the trip: a package delivered to the crew explodes after it’s accidentally dropped off the side of the boat, the compass has been tinkered with and the ship goes far off course before the sabotage is discovered.

On the island, the group settles in for the night at the old castle, and Stuff tries to give them their money’s worth by delivering ghostly laughter into a PA system they’ve set up. But a creeping entity called the Phantom has also gained access to the microphone, imploring the visitors to “Leave the castle!”

Soon the treasure seekers start being murdered one by one — and a mysterious body count appears scrawled on the wall in chalk. Who is the mysterious Phantom, and how can he be stopped?

Comments: The best thing you can say about Horror Island is that is was directed by The Wolf Man helmer George Waggner. The worst thing you can say about it is that it was produced by Ben Pivar, the guy responsible for such dreck as The Brute Man and She-Wolf of London. This movie is every bit as cheap as it looks: in fact, the production schedule was so rushed that the time elapsed between the first day of shooting and the theatrical release was less than a month.

The plot is so half-baked that to chronicle all its inconsistencies and idiocies would take longer than the movie’s entire running time. But the most egregious plot holes reach out and sock you between the eyes. Bill Martin is presented to us as a failed entrepreneur who is behind on his rent and constantly dodging his creditors, yet he happens to own an island with a castle on it? None of Martin’s past business ventures (rhumba lessons, a Depression-era male escort service) attempt to make use of this resource, and when we finally reach the island, the castle (well, it looks like a medieval castle on the outside, Universal’s familiar mansion set on the inside) seems ready to receive visitors, with fresh linens and a stocked larder. Aside from a minimal amount of dust and cobwebs it’s in pretty good shape, and the place certainly seems worth a lot more than the $20,000 (slightly more than $250,000 in today’s money) that Bill was offered for it.

The treasure-map device is threadbare and dreary, the motivations of the treasure-seekers are perfunctory and the supporting characters are so hurriedly sketched that we care nothing about them; in fact we’ve barely met them before they start getting murdered. As to the standard romantic subplot between Bill Martin and Wendy Creighton, it hardly exists at all — which is a relief, because the less time we spend on it, the better.

But as thinly-written as their parts are, the lead actors are at least familiar: Dick Foran and Peggy Moran had previously appeared together in The Mummy’s Hand, and both actors are likable enough, though no one will confuse them with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon.

The movie is perhaps best known today for an astonishing onscreen gaffe: a member of the lighting crew is clearly visible onscreen right around the 26-minute mark:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.