Having scored a major success with Curse of Frankenstein, Hammer Studios began to realise the financial potential of horror movies. They chose to specialise in gothic horror and brought back most of Curse of Frankenstein's team, including Peter Cushing, screenwriter Sangster and director Fisher, to produce a sequel. It was filmed in 1958 back-to-back with Hammer's equally successful Dracula (starring Christopher Lee as the evil Count, also directed by Terence Fisher) and the movies shared many sets, e.g the castle exteriors and the crypt.
Revenge of Frankenstein begins where Curse of Frankenstein ends: the Baron (Peter Cushing) is dragged to the guillotine and - so it seems - beheaded. But we soon learn that Frankenstein is not dead. When two drunkards open the Baron's grave the headless body of a preacher is revealed. Then Frankenstein himself appears scaring one of the drunkards to death.
Three years later, Frankenstein, who now calls himself "Dr. Stein", is the head of a hospital for poor people in Carlsbruck. A young doctor, Hans Kleve, approaches Frankenstein telling him that he knows his true identity because he saw him at Professor Bernstein's funeral. Frankenstein introduces Kleve to his experiments and accepts him as his new assistant. Frankenstein's second assistant is the crippled dwarf Carl, who helped to save the Baron from the guillotine. Carl agrees to donate his brain to be transplanted into a new body because he hopes that this operation will rid him of his deformed body. The experiment is successful and the "new" Carl is locked up in a room in the hospital attic. A merciful nurse, Margret Conrad, learns of the new patient and frees him. Carl sneaks into the lab and burns his old body. There he is discovered by the janitor who tries to stop him. During the struggle Carl gets hit and his freshly translanted brain suffers serious damages. Going insane, the enraged Monster kills the janitor and later murders a little girl. On a party, the Monster, who is now rapidly degenerating and whose leg and arm have become crippled again, breaks through a window, approaches the Baron shouting, "Frankenstein, help me!" and dies. Frankenstein, whose identity is now revealed, returns to the hospital, where he is nearly beaten to death by the outraged patients. Kleve arrives just in time to save the dying Baron. He takes Frankenstein to the lab and transplants the deceased Baron's brain into an artificial body, an exact copy of Frankenstein's old body. The film ends in London, where Frankenstein now works under the pseudonym of Dr. Franck.
The plot of Revenge of Frankenstein does not have much in common with Mary Shelley's novel. Jimmy Sangster's script is a continuation of Hammer's first Frankenstein film, and again concentrates on the person of Baron Victor Frankenstein. His negative features were toned down in comparison to the film's predecessor. Sometimes he even seems to be benevolent, when he works in a hospital for poor people and creates a new body for his miserable assistant Karl. But after a while it becomes clear that he has not changed much since Curse of Frankenstein. When Frankenstein discovers a beautiful tattoo on a patient's arm he simply amputates the limb in order to attach it to a duplicate of his own body. And the reason why he transplants the brain of his crippled assistant Karl into a new, flawless body is not to free him from his handicap but rather to show him on congresses and at universities as the perfect result of his scientific work. Frankenstein is still an egotistic person, a perfect example of the "mad scientist" whose sole obsession is his work.
A very interesting aspect of the script is the film's ending, where creator and Monster practically blend into one person. When Frankenstein's assistant Kleve surgically transplants the brain of the deceased Baron into a duplicate of his body, Frankenstein himself becomes the artificial creature. Before this operation Frankenstein could be regarded the film's real monster only because of his evil character features. But now he also possesses the physical features of a Frankenstein monster since his own body is made from dead body parts. Just as the name "Frankenstein" had become synonymous for both the creator and the creature in the public mind, Revenge of Frankenstein blends those two characters into one person.
In comparison to the first film in Hammer's series the Monster's character was changed considerably. It is now more human than in Curse of Frankenstein and obviously suffers when the Baron locks it up in the attic. In fact, the Monster is a human being - Frankenstein's assistant Carl - fully equipped with emotions and feelings. He is even capable of falling in love with the beautiful nurse Margret and originally has no bad intentions whatsoever. Carl only becomes evil when his brain is damaged during a fight with the janitor. This tragic aspect brings this film's Monster much closer to Shelley's Monster, which only became evil because it was attacked and rejected by society for its hideous physical appearance. Rather than being a victim of society the Monster in Revenge of Frankenstein is primarily a victim of the evil Baron Frankenstein, who exploits Carl for his experiments and never treats him as a human being. Frankenstein considers him his property and sees him more as a thing than a human being.
Frankenstein's young assistant Kleve is the character that comes closest to Mary Shelley's concept of Victor Frankenstein. Although he participates in the Baron's experiments he never acts selfishly. His interest is knowledge and he studies for the good of mankind. But he also seems to be a bit naive, when he recognises Frankenstein's egotistic motives and his evil character. To him Frankenstein is a kind of father whose experiments he refuses to question. Even when he learns that a monkey with a brain transplant has became carnivorous after the operation and ate its female mate, Kleve does not confront his mentor. In the end Kleve himself becomes the true Frankenstein figure of this film when he finishes his mentor's work by transplanting the Baron's brain into an artificial body and thereby turning Baron Frankenstein into an artificial Monster. But Kleve is also what Kempe was in the first film. His character gives the young audience a chance to identify with someone else rather than the 40-something old Victor Frankenstein.
Revenge of Frankenstein and all the following sequels are continuations of the new Frankenstein myth Hammer had established in their first film. Victor Frankenstein is reduced to the evil mad scientist, who resembles Dr. Pretorius in James Whale's Bride of Frankenstein. He is ruthless and the film's true monster/villain. His creations all turn out to be evil killers because somehow their brains are damaged, a motif also found in James Whale's films. The true Frankenstein, the guilt-ridden, knowledge-hungry scientist, is a young assistant, who (often) involuntarily becomes part of Frankenstein's crimes. In the sequels these basic set-ups were always slightly modified and embedded in more or less grotesque plotlines, which however make fine examples of British gothic horror films and helped to establish Hammer Studios as the major European horror film producers.
Images: MARCUS BROOKS
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