Horror of Frankenstein saw Ralph Bates take the role of the Baron in 1970. ANDREW GARVEY reviews the controversial Hammer…
TITLE: Horror of Frankenstein
YEAR RELEASED: 1970
DIRECTOR: Jimmy Sangster
CAST: Ralph Bates, Kate O’Mara, Veronica Carlson, David Prowse
Never able to resist the slightest chance to redo, revisit, remake or rehash an existing story, by the end of the 1960s Hammer had churned out five Frankenstein films of varying quality, all with Peter Cushing starring as the misguided genius.
So for the doctor’s inevitable sixth outing in a little over a decade, a new leading man, and a new approach were deemed necessary. Ralph Bates, who starts the film looking like the world’s oldest, most impudent schoolboy, takes his first Hammer starring role as a very roguish, gleefully pantomime Baron.
Bates’ Frankenstein, befitting the film’s light, tongue-in-cheek tone, is actually great fun. At least to begin with. True, he does unspeakably experimental things to an innocent tortoise named Gustav, has a creepily exploitative ‘relationship’ with his housekeeper Alys (a stunning Kate O’ Mara who provides a hefty percentage of the film’s bosom-count) and offs his inconvenient old man, but he has a certain style and a cruel wit that’s hard to dislike.
But by the time we hit the halfway point, Frankenstein’s cold nature and single-minded obsession with his work pushes him into a series of ever-so-slightly slapstick murders that wouldn’t be too out of place in a Three Stooges dust-up.
When his monster finally comes to life, it looks remarkably like that ugly, bald bloke from the Hills Have Eyes dressed in a few bandages and with some red lines (for scars, apparently) haphazardly drawn on his body in felt tip pen.
Yes, the makeup is awful, even for the period, and it’s never quite explained how the Doctor got hold of all those bits of different giants to cobble together a beast the size of David Prowse. An imposing figure, Prowse also donned a very different, very furry costume four years later in Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell and later strolled about in a galaxy far, far away under the Darth Vader get-up.
It’s also never quite clear what the Baron plans to do with his creation. Or exactly how such a large, lumbering monster is able to sneak up on its long, thoroughly unsuspecting string of victims. But it’s probably best not to think too deeply about this one.
Frankenstein has some cracking lines. On meeting the monster he cordially holds out a hand and a polite “how do you do?” as if they’re at a garden party. Later he blithely mocks an old acquaintance who now works as a policeman investigating the spate of recent murders – “there are rogues and vagabonds roaming the countryside. You’re not doing your job, Henry.”
Aside from a genuinely awful ending, he does a perfectly good job in putting together a fun film that doesn’t take itself, or the source material, too seriously. And gets away with it.
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