Director: Freddie Francis
Cast: Peter Cushing, Peter Woodthorpe, Sandor Elès, Katy Wild, Kiwi Kingston
Length: 84 min
Rating: BBFC: 12
Disks: 2 (1 BD, 1 DVD)
Label: Final Cut Entertainment
Aspect Ratio: 1.84:1
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Audio: English: LPCM 2.0 Mono
As a companion release to Hammer’s Brides of Dracula (1960) in HD, Final Cut Entertainment has also released Hammer’s The Evil of Frankenstein (1964) on blu-ray. I am pleased to report that the news is mostly excellent! Though this is not one of Hammer’s best Gothic horror efforts, it is loads of fun to watch and the film does an excellent job of maintaining Hammer’s uniquely Gothic atmosphere.
Almost no monster movie trope is left unturned as we are swept up in the medical adventures of Baron Frankenstein who returns to his homeland after many years in exile, only to discover that his original monster has been carefully preserved in an ice glacier, waiting for his creator to give him life again. This the Baron does, and the results are predictably cataclysmic, as the monster rampages through the local village under the orders of a mad hypnotist out for revenge. What more can one ask from a monster movie!
Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein sees a shift in characterization in this film. Gone is Terence Fisher’s cool, dandified sociopath of the first two films (Curse of Frankenstein  and Revenge of Frankenstein ), to be replaced by a Baron who is rough and ready, and rather more embittered, periodically repeating his favorite phrase, “Why can’t they leave me alone!” Cushing’s assumption of the role is as charismatic as ever, but neither Tony Hinds’s script nor Freddie Francis’s direction give the character any emotional depth beyond the obvious anger at the ignorant villagers who are endlessly ruining his work and driving him out of his lodgings.
As a director, Freddie Frances, the great British cinematographer, did not have Terence Fisher’s feel for Gothic horror. Nor was he able to direct his actors without making them feel robotic. From what I understand, he also didn’t care much for most horror fans and always tried to distance himself from his Hammer oeuvre. I once met him when he was in Boston soon after finishing shooting David Lynch’s The Straight Story (1999). I was introduced to him by my film professor specifically as a fan of his Hammer Horror work. Freddie stood up, smiled at me warmly and said, shaking my hand, “Well, it’s nice to meet you anyway.” Priceless!
After watching the less than stellar mastering and restoration of Final Cut Entertainment’s Brides of Dracula blu-ray, I was very pleasantly surprised by the visual quality of this release, which represents a substantial upgrade from any previous DVD version of Evil of Frankenstein. The 35mm print is mostly in excellent shape, with only a few white specs and other debris flashing by here and there. But this is immaterial, and anyone who appreciates the look of vintage film will not be bothered by it. More importantly, the image itself looks beautifully organic. It’s reasonably sharp, yet unlike the Brides of Dracula blu-ray, there is no sign of edge sharpening. Natural film grain is present, but again unlike Brides of Dracula, it is fine and unobtrusive. Colors are very natural and the contrast also looks pleasantly natural. This is probably the way the film would have looked projected at a theater from a 35mm film print.
The LPCM 2.0 mono track sounds excellent in every respect. Like the video, it has not been restored or scrubbed within an inch of its life, but is true to the source material. Dialog is perfectly clear and the music is full and vivid.
Final Cut Entertainment’s extras for The Evil of Frankenstein are very similar to their Brides of Dracula extras. There is the ubiquitous stills gallery, an original theatrical trailer, an interview with lovely actress Caron Gardner, and a 30 minute featurette on the making of the film, which includes lots of interviews, footage and behind-the-scenes stills. The only regret is that the opportunity wasn’t taken to record a comprehensive commentary track with Jonathan Rigby or Marcus Hearn, two of our best Hammer experts.
Fans of Hammer will have a great time with this release and should consider it a mandatory purchase, particularly in light of the excellent video/audio transfer. Those uninitiated to Hammer could still enjoy this, as long as they keep their expectations low, as this particular entry does not have the emotional depth of Hammer’s other Frankenstein films that were directed by Terence Fisher. Yet, The Evil of Frankenstein is a fun adventure/monster movie, well in the center of Hammer’s Gothic horror tradition. Recommended!
~ By Dima Ballin