Hot off the tails of Hammer’s iconic release of Dracula aka Horror of Dracula, the British Film production company would look to follow up on the success of their other Gothic feature, The Curse of Frankenstein. That film as noted at the time had the titular Baron played by Peter Cushing (returning once more here) heading for the guillotine. His resurrection would be a simple enough with Frankenstein paying off his executioner and escaping to form an alternate identity as Dr. Victor Stein set up his own successful practice in Carlsbruck. His alias is soon uncovered however by fellow doctor and admirer of Frankenstein’s work, Hans Kleve (Francis Matthews). Hans teams up with Frankenstein, eager to learn his methods and the two set work in picking up where he last left off, with the creation of life.
As part of these scientific methods, Frankenstein is accompanied by a hunchback, Karl (Oscar Quitak) who volunteers his brain in the promise of a new body (Michael Gwynne). It wouldn’t be a Hammer film without its share of drama and conflict which comes at the hand of Karl being beaten by a janitor damaging his brain and transforming his personality into a cannibalistic, decaying frame. From here, Frankenstein’s demise is on the cards and the town will awaken to his dark deeds.
Despite having a rushed script, the final cut would do well for Hammer, pulling in enough income at the box office and would be commended for a well handled screenplay ably supported by Jack Asher’s cinematography along with Terence Fisher’s directing. This is Cushing’s film though and his poise and acidic portrayal is one that lifts The Revenge of Frankenstein marking a successful franchise return and arguably one that is seen by some as better than its predecessor.
For me, The Curse of Frankenstein would mark the official change of the guard in horror films from Universal to Hammer. Not only did it revamp the now stagnant monster franchise, but propelled a new identity in the Gothic scene thanks to the vision of its director Terence Fisher; its two leads Peter Cushing in stoic form as the titular Baron Frankenstein and the heavily made up Sir Christopher Lee as the creature; but also the X factor charged with and championed by the films’ producers, setting a tone that would be replicated for another couple of decades to come. It also would have in its company writer Jimmy Sangster and composer James Bernard, who would both be part of Hammer’s signature. Above all else though, it would be Hammer’s first colour creature feature; one that would highlight all the blood, gore, and extravagant costumes with a vibrancy not seen on the big screen before.
Cushing and Lee would also prove to be a formidable duo before the camera for Hammer, for another 7 times with varying degrees of success. Lee would have to endure two to three hours in the makeup chair as Phil Leakey crafted the final, repulsive look from mortician’s wax, cotton wool, and rubber. The look deliberately steered away from Universal’ previous incarnation due to legal rights, allowing Hammer to present a unique spin on Mary Shelley’s classic tale.
The narrative is told in flashbacks as Baron Frankenstein awaits a trip to the gallows, but never wavers from his pursuit of achieving and creating life beyond the grave. What is starkly different from its predecessor is the cold and meticulous manner that Frankenstein’s actions are driven to in order to attain his goal. It is this characterisation and Cushing’s portrayal that offers a darkly disturbing version and one that is explored further throughout the various instalments that follow, most notably Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed which Cushing and fellow star Veronica Carlson believed crossed the boundaries of good taste.
The British press would initially turn up their noses to Hammer’s adaptation, with a general feel that it was purely for sadists. Both the British and American public would lap it up, which may or may not say something about our society. Regardless, it was enough of a reaction that was considered huge for its time that it would cement the foundations for Hammer Films and pave the way for their success to follow. It would also spawn a cult following and be an inspiration for many filmmakers to come.
Despite some reluctance from the stars, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello’s light was starting to wane in the public eye, and along with their contract through Universal were tied to another outing; one that would preserve their initial encounter with the Production house’ monsters into the National Film Registry for its historical significance. That film would be…
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
Here would mark a turning point for Universal, who had made a great deal of success through the 1930s for their Gothic line of Universal films. This notable change would occur at a time when the inkwell was running dry, and the Production house would be looking for alternate ways to capitalise on their winning formula by subverting the genre from horror to comedy. This transposition would not be treated in kind, especially from Lon Chaney Jr, who would proclaim “Abbott and Costello ruined the horror films: they made buffoons out of the monsters…” His words would hold deeper meaning for the future of Universal’s horror genre, which by the end of the 50s would be all but non-existent. Despite this and during the time of its release, the film would go on to be one of the most successful of the Frankenstein franchise.
In Meet Frankenstein, the comedy duo would be pitted against The Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr), Dracula (Bela Lugosi – who would actually speak favourably of the depiction of his most known character), and The Monster (Glenn Strange) to keep alive the buzz generated from their monster universe. It even boasts a cameo from The Invisible Man in the film’s climax, voiced by Vincent Price.
A lot of the movie revolves around pantomime tricks and scares but brought to life by the comic timing of Costello who falls prey to the “cry wolf” syndrome, despite his cries being genuine, combined with Abbott’s straight man routine. Despite my ambivalence towards the movie, as in heart I echoed Chaney Jr’s sentiments, the film would still holds a strong position. The looks to camera breaking the fourth wall was a joy to watch, and the formula would generate s further four movies for Abbott and Costello in the Universal Monsters universe. The first of these would be…
Abbott and Costello Meet The Killer, Boris Karloff (1949)
Rounding out the 40s, Boris Karloff was the only notable star absent from the previous movie, although he was paid to promote it, and was also reluctant to watch it. Karloff was hired only five days before shooting began, the role originally a female called Madame Switzer, and would play that of a swami with mysterious intent. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, a whodunnit where Costello’s bellboy Freddie becomes the prime suspect in a murder. And when the body count starts to pile up, he can’t seem to get rid of the corpses to clear his name. This would lead to a hilarious scene where Costello and Abbott (supporting him to prove his innocence as detective Casey) play a game of cards with some of the cadavers.
Lenore Aubert is also brought in to support, as the femme fatale Angela Gordon. This continues a theme from Meet Frankenstein where the female costar attempts to seduce Costello, much to Abbott’s chagrin.
Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man (1951)
Having dangled the imperceptible carrot in Meet Frankenstein it was inevitable that Abbott and Costello would come face to face with the Invisible Man. This time our anti-hero is played by Athur Franz as Tommy Nelson, a boxer who is framed for the murder of his manager after refusing to throw a fight. Out to prove his innocence, Tommy steals the invisible formula from scientist Dr. Gray (Gavin Muir) who warns him of the dangers of the serum and the effects that brought about the ruin of Jack Griffin.
Abbott and Costello enter the scene as private detectives by Tommy during the investigation and become embroiled in the mystery leading Costello’s Lou Francis to go undercover as an underdog in the boxing scene aided by the invisible Tommy to help him win the fights.
Sandwiched between this feature and the next Universal confrontation would be Abbott and Costello Go To Mars, another indication of Universal’s departure from the horror scene and into the world of science fiction, which would be in tune with the popular zeitgeist of the time.
Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953)
Abbott and Costello’s fourth outing in the Universal Monster scene drawing inspiration from the Robert Louis Stevenson novel and are cast as American detectives in Edwardian London following the pursuit of some murders that have taken place, allegedly by Dr. Jekyll, played by Boris Karloff. The Hyde counterpart would be portrayed by stuntman Eddie Parker.
Interestingly, there would be no transformation scenes, instead depicting both Jekyll and Hyde individually, and fuelling the idea that there is no good at all in Dr. Jekyll, who yearns for the misdeeds performed by his alter-ego.
The film itself would also show the cracks beginning to form in Universal’s marriage with the comic duo, with signs that the humour was running dry, resorting to slapstick performances. There would however, be one more feature before Abbott and Costello would bow out of the comedy / horror scene…
Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy (1955)
28 movies into their working partnership for Universal-International, Abbott and Costello would play against the last of the production house monster’s, the mummified Klaris (Eddie Parker). The comedy duo find themselves in the midst of an archaeological feud between Semu (Richard Deacon) and Madame Rontru (Marie Windsor) for the treasures of Princess Ara and control over Klaris.
Abbott and Costello would continue their usual comedy schtick but here it sits well as they bumble around Cairo. It is somewhat fitting that they could lay their comedy horror routine to rest amongst the Egyptian tombs. Their routine by this time is becoming stale and trying. They would eventually part ways in 1957 albeit amicably.
For one it boasts one of the more infamous settings in Gothic literature, the stormy night that Lord Byron challenged his guests to come up with a story to scare and chill the soul. This challenge brought his physician, John William Polidori to come up with his novel, The Vampyre, but more importantly it bore witness to the birth of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
With that kind of source material cast on the banks of Lake Geneva and set during the romantic victorian period you’d think it would be ripe with potential.
Sadly though it feels more like a blurred dream as director Nora Unkel strives to create her vision in a living nightmare.
The tone seems completely off and out of key, which is a shame.
If I can take any positives out of the film is that it centres on Mary Shelley’s plight as the mistress to the great poet Percy Shelley and the status that she is subjected to because of her position in society. Unkel expertly wrangles out the male chauvinistic attitude that was portrayed at the time and in some cases is still prevalent today. I found it interesting and indeed a bold choice to cast Percy Shelley in a dark light, where he was the perfect image of sentimentality. The brutal truth exposed, but could have been capitalised further and in order to capture the stuff of nightmare, could have sharpened the tools of doom and disaster.
It is during the aforementioned time that Mary stays with her partner, Shelley, her sister Claire, Lord Byron, and Polidori ata the Byron house where all manner of sinister things occur that she begins to hallucinate, drawing her fictionalised novel into reality.
These illusions albeit shocking for the time that it was set, feels too trapped in the romantic side of the Victoria Era and although it does draw forth the dramatic component of the free-living lifestyle that that led, it doesn’t tap into the darker side that the period became known for and sparked numerous classic pieces of literature as a result.
A Nightmare Wakes has the perfect setting and source material to pull from, but rather than rise to the occasion, it shuffles slowly along to an incredibly boring conclusion.
Some thirteen years after the release of Dracula back in 1931, Universal now had a decent backlog of Universal Monsters in their midst. After the relative success of Frankenstein vs The Wolf Man, which pitted two of their creatures head to head in its climax, it was a logical step to combine as many as possible into the one film.
In order for this trick to be pulled off successfully however, requires some clever plot devices to wrangle each intricate characteristic into a believable situation. Curt Siodmak was called upon to carry out this difficult task, which seems a logical choice as he had overseen a lot of the Universal horror movies during the time. His decision was to introduce a new character in Dr. Gustav Niemann, a mad scientist played by Boris Karloff in what would be his last role in the Universal horror franchise. Accompanying him from a prison break is hunchback (another trope), Daniel (J. Carrol Naish), who is willing to carry out Niemann’s demands with the promise of a new body.
Niemann though only has revenge in mind for the three people who wronged him and sent him to prison.
This story is really told in two parts; the first part being the revenge on Burgemeister Hussman, which Niemann does by initially killing Professor Lampini and taking on his identity as a travelling showman and his Chamber of Horrors. The show in question just so happens to contain the skeletal remains of Count Dracula with the stake still impaled. Legend has it that if the stake were to be removed, Dracula would once again walk the earth. Naturally this happens, but Niemann convinces the Count (John Carradine) to carry out his task of ridding him of his nemesis with the promise of protection. Once the Count offs Hussman though, the group land in a spot of bother and Niemann quickly reneges on his agreement and ditches Dracula’s coffin, forcing him to submit to the sunlight and ultimately be destroyed. Dracula’s demise seems all too easy and as such renders him slightly useless in the movie and far from menacing.
The latter half of the movie focuses on the resurrection of Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange) and The Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.) who were last seen washed away with the flood that submerged the ruins of Frankenstein’s castle. It turns out that they had been frozen in ice, and Niemann thaws them both, once again hoping to use them to his advantage.
The film is aided by the return of Chaney Jr and the troubled Larry Talbot who continuously serves as the heart of the franchise. Here, a love triangle is formed as he finds himself falling for a gypsy girl Ilonka (Elena Verdugo – who was a descendant of the Verdugo family that founded Los Angeles), rescued by Daniel and Niemann. The former has also fallen for Ilonka’s charms and is then driven by jealousy when his love is not reciprocated, and also by anger from Niemann’s failure not to live up to his promise.
The climax is nicely tied up with a collision of personalities all vying for different means, and when that clash comes it can only lead to the demise of all, be it silver bullet, thrown from the roof, or driven into the swamp quicksand from angry villagers wielding flaming torches.
On face value, Siodmak ticks all the boxes of what can be expected from each of the characters but ultimately, there is nothing new to offer at hand, and because of this the film falls short on satisfaction. It is still a solid production, entertains, but never does enough to lift itself above the standards of its predecessors.
It was great to see Karloff (he definitely owns this movie and deserves to wield the lead antagonist mantle) and Lon Chaney Jr share screen time together, but the chance to have the creatures provide any form of menace are squandered.
Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man marks a significant moment for Universal Pictures as it was the first instance that the production company introduced an ensemble of monsters in a single feature. This film would initiate the birth of the classic horror universe and would pit two of its iconic creatures, Frankenstein’s monster and The Wolf Man against one another.
Clearly aware that Universal had a hot property on their hands and the chance to ride on their previous successes, a strong cast would be required and they didn’t fail to deliver. Reprising his role of Larry Talbot would be Lon Chaney Jr., and accompanying him would be Maria Ouspenskaya (The Wolf Man) as the gypsy woman Maleva, Lionel Atwill (The Atomic Monster) as the Mayor, Ilona Massey (Invisible Agent) as Baroness Elsa Frankenstein, Patric Knowles (The Strange Case of Dr. Rx) as Dr. Mannering, and Dwight Frye (Dracula) as Rudi in his last credited role in feature film.
Interestingly Bela Lugosi was cast as Frankenstein’s Monster, a role he was initially cast to play in Universal’s 1931 feature but turned it down. Here at the age of 60, Lugosi would try to inject some of the character’s previous personality as imbued from Ygor’s brain swap from The Ghost of Frankenstein. These characteristics included a paralysis of his arm, blindness, and the ability to talk. The latter however was cut from the final film as people found the notion of The Monster speaking in a deep Hungarian accent too humorous. Lugosi’s suppressed efforts didn’t end there as scenes were cut, especially any reference to the Monster’s blindness as it was deemed too confusing. The result saw Lugosi’s actual screen time reduced significantly and the feature feels more like a sequel to The Wolf Man than it does as a continuation in the Frankenstein saga.
The positive outcome to this is that Larry Talbot’s story and plight is one worth telling, reawakened when grave robbers remove the wolfbane from his coffin during a full moon. (These moments of reanimation would become more far-fetched throughout the Classic Monsters universe but somehow part of its charm too). Here, Talbot is doomed to walk the earth in his hairy transformation whenever the moon is full until he can end his life. When Talbot learns of Frankenstein’s experiments, he believes this may be the answer to his prayers.
So, the first half of the feature plays out Talbot’s resurrection, turmoil, and recovery at Dr Mannering’s hospital, while the latter half sees him travel to the village of Vasaria, where he would encounter Frankenstein’s descendant Elsa.
The heart of the film is ultimately what connects us to the narrative, but unfortunately the final showdown between the two iconic monsters was something of a let down and an opportunity was squandered when they clashed at the ruins of Frankenstein’s castle.
Despite this weak ending the film does still entertain, but this is primarily down to its strong cast and able screenwriting from Curt Siodmak.
Frankenstein’s monster and The Wolf Man would not reanimate again until 1944’s House of Frankenstein in something of a support role.
There’s a warm familiarity about Universal’s fourth Frankenstein instalment. Where other classic monster films have struggled to continue their respective story arcs, the Mary Shelley inspired creature horror manages to breathe new life into the story this far.
Serving as a companion piece to its predecessor, Son of Frankenstein, the story follows the devious Ygor (Bela Lugosi reprising his role) who managed to survive alongside the creature and tries to exert his power once again.
Despite Karloff’s absence as the walking husk, Lon Chaney Jr steps into the big shoes and dons the bolts effectively. In particular the running theme with the creatures’ connection with a young village girl, Cloestine, a symbol of innocence and purity. In James Whale’s original Frankenstein, this is snuffed out, so the threat hangs in the air despite it coming from a genuine place of curiosity and the need to be like her.
Joining the main players is another strong ensemble with Cedric Hardwicke as Frankenstein’s descendant, Lionel Atwill as the misguided assistant Dr. Bohmer, Ralph Bellamy as the steadfast representative of the law Erik Ernst, and Evelyn Ankers as Elsa Frankenstein (whose name is a delightful nod to The Bride of Frankenstein’s Elsa Lancaster).
The drive in this film is a mixture of writing the wrongs and striving to better oneself. The creature longs to be accepted, Frankenstein sees the opportunity to clear his family name through a brain transplant using a suitable host: not a criminal mind, and Dr. Bohmer driven by the need to be recognised in his profession.
This is Lugosi’s show though and he relishes expanding on the character of Ygor wanting initially to strive away from his deformity but throughout the film transforming this gaze to one of power.
The screenplay written by W. Scott Darling weaves in some weaves in some typical tropes that is instantly recognisable from the franchise such as the lynch mob wielding torches that bookends the film and even places the shocking theme of gassing into the mix, a subject that would have had strong reactions at the time. This combined with the direction of Erie C. Kenton delivers another strong entry into the franchise and Universal Horror.
Set among the forest of buildings that is New York, director Larry Fessenden retells one of horrors best written tales ever written by not only shifting the setting and the time period but the focus of the subject. One is reminded of the quote “An intelligent man knows Frankenstein wasn’t the monster. A wise man knows that Frankenstein was the monster?”.
Amidst a dusty warehouse apartment with a shonky makeshift lab we find Alex is struggling to bring his creation to life together with his partner, Polidori, (famous for writing “The Vampyr” in 1816 as part of a contest including Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley).
The strong motif of PTSD plays throughout the film complimented by the cinematic angles and camera movements, as much of the film is achieved using POV shots, which made a far more honest portrayal of the beast, the monster … Adam. Though this film was shot on a budget, this is not at all apparent besides some tight shots during a roof top fight scene but it does not detract from this brilliantly eerie film.
Donald F. Glut takes on both writing and directing duties to oversee an adaptation of his collection of short stories, which serves as a ‘love song’ to Mary Shelley’s creation. It’s hard to believe that Shelley’s novel celebrated its bicentenary last year, and Glut certainly knows his subject, pouring into every crevice of his source material to pay homage to and draw out four stories.
Our first story, “My Creation, My Beloved” set in Bavaria, 1887, is probably the most faithful with a Frankenstein descendant, who is a cross between the scientist and deformed assistant, Igor, continues in his ancestors obsession for resurrection and beauty, only to be thwarted in his own lustful pursuit. Excellent performance here from Buddy Daniels Freedman as Dr Gregore Frankenstein.
The second tale, “Crawler from the Grave” feels like the most fun, and finds ourselves in Switzerland, 1910 and sees John Blyth Barrymore (Full Moon High) as Vincent, another Frankenstein descendant who is hunted down by a disembodied hand from the grave.
Our third story, “Madhouse of Death” felt the weakest of the quartet of tales in my humble opinion, but this could very well be down to taste. Set in Los Angeles, 1948, the story also serves as a salute to the golden era of Hollywood and the film noir detective films with Sam Malone et al, and for that I commend its approach. Essentially we see a detective take on more than he gambled when he uncovers an old house full of crazies and home to a gorilla.
The last tale ends strongly, and in many ways one after my own heart, as those who know me can attest, as it is the most closely associated with the Hammer Horror films that I grew up with as a kid. With “Dr. Karnstein’s Creation” set in Transylvania, 1957, we’re presented with a clever fusion between Frankenstein and the most infamous creature of the night, Dracula complete with torch wielding locals hellbent on turning the tables on the mad doctor who resides in the castle. Another fine performances in this section, notably from Jim Tavaré.
You can tell that the creators are a lover of their subject and embellish Mary Shelley’s story for a modern generation whilst still staying faithful to its origins. Director/writer Glut carves up four fantastic stories that reawaken the macabre moments that made Frankenstein a household name in horror and celebrates 200 years, highlighting the reasons why this ageless tale will never die.
We’ve barely a decade of horror under their Universal belts, the powerhouse production company was struggling once more to pull in the numbers at the box office. So it’s with some sense of irony that the movies that started it all in Dracula and Frankenstein would be screened as a double feature and reignite the craze all over again. The stunt would be so successful that Universal Pictures would look to producing another instalment of their beloved monster franchise with Son of Frankenstein, in what would be the third of the series.
In Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, Universal had created two classic features, thanks to the direction of James Whale, where some have argued that the latter outweighed its predecessor. Whatever your views on the matter, it would be a touch act to follow and into the directors shoes steps Rowland V. Lee (The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers) to try and accomplish this task.
The result is one that is worthy of the
Frankenstein name, despite it bordering on silliness and camp on occasion. (A
sign of the direction that Universal would fall into down the track.)
With grand plans to shoot the film in
colour using Technicolor only to be disbanded due to artistic and budgetary
reasons, Son of Frankenstein would be
presented to the audience in black and white and reunite the horror icons, Bela
Lugosi and Boris Karloff. In this instance, the latter donning the Monster mask
for the last time in a feature film. The two would once again prove to be a
winning formula with Lugosi playing the deformed Ygor and practically stealing
the show with his performance. In an interesting turn of events, it is Ygor who
is the dominant presence and has The Monster at his beckoning call, as he
commands the creature to kill those that have proved him ill in the past.
Leading the cast as the son of Frankenstein
is Basil Rathbone (The Adventures of
Robin Hood) who cuts a fine figure of a man trying to right his fathers’
wrongs and changing the perceived conception of his family name. It would have
been interesting had Peter Lorre had played the role as he had been cast, but
had to withdraw due to illness. It’s a shame because I’m a huge fan of Lorre
and would loved to see him cast against Lugosi and Karloff, but as I said,
Rathbone more than proves his worth.
A worthy nod should also be assigned
towards Lionel Atwill (Mark of the
Vampire) as Inspector Krogh, a character whose past encounter saw his arm
torn off his limb as a child when he came into contact with The Monster. It’s a
stoic performance and Atwill shines in an already crowded cast of
It’s a fitting end to this chapter in the
Universal Horror history. Son of Frankenstein manages to
harness all the right ingredients to make it a worthy companion to its predecessors,
whilst falling on the right side of drama and terror for its time.
Lugosi and Karloff are in their element and would ride out on a high. Around the corner a new king to the throne would lay in wait in Lon Chaney Jr… but that’s another tale.