Penniless, Baron Frankenstein, accompanied by his eager assistant Hans, arrives at his family castle near the town of Karlstaad, vowing to continue his experiments in the creation of life. Fortuitously finding the creature he was previously working on, he brings it back to a semblance of life but requires the services of a mesmerist, Zoltan, to successfully animate it. The greedy and vengeful Zoltan secretly sends the monster into town to steal gold and 'punish' the burgomaster and the chief of police, which acts lead to a violent confrontation between the baron and the townspeople.
Directed by: Freddie Francis
. Starring: Peter Cushing
, Peter Woodthorpe
, Duncan Lamont
, Sandor Elès
, Katy Wild
, David Hutcheson
, James Maxwell
, Howard Goorney
, Anthony Blackshaw
, David Conville
, Caron Gardner
, Kiwi Kingston
, Tony Arpino
. Music by: Don Banks
As a fan of Hammer horror, this film highly needs some praise. I'm compelled to speak up for it against a lot of criticism it takes -- sometimes on valid ground, it's not perfect. The makeup does show flaws for example. Problem is, overall significance of these issues is often overstated, to the exclusion of a myriad of more impressive, even superb aspects. There are a lot of things for the better that haven't been adequately noted, with all the criticisms taking up most reviews. I'll take a shot at that here.
Disclosure: the Frankenstein films with Cushing are among my favorites from the halls of Hammer. I find EVIL stands out as a solid one, with the first two, and FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED.
One complaint I don't credit is that EVIL's story doesn't follow the previous (two) films; though I don't disagree with the fact. EVIL has an interesting surface veneer as if of 'sequel' (perhaps to appease expectations of distributors or audiences?). But it's much better understood as a stand-alone film. The second Cushing Frankenstein film (REVENGE) tightly follows the first (CURSE)as a sequel. Perhaps for some, that puts expectations on EVIL that it has to fit the mold, satisfy that presumption, or there's something wrong. Unfair basis for criticism, I submit.
As the film begins, prior expectations it's a sequel seem sound. Even though it doesn't begin with Cushing incognito as "Dr. Frank" (the way REVENGE ended). But we quickly gather there have been previous circumstances and events; suggesting (deviously) story continuity with CURSE and REVENGE, like a sequel.
But when Cushing's flashback comes and the past is recounted, we learn it's not as we saw in the first two films at all. Instead we get a whole, new alternative origin story!
True, we can rationalize, maybe Dr. Frankenstein is misrepresenting what went on, willfully or not (maybe his mind's snapped). But the film doesn't bear that out. Nothing that follows validates it. For example, when we meet the Monster, he is indeed exactly what we saw in the flashback, apparently accurate (and not what CURSE portrayed).
(Apparently there were business considerations governing a lot of this. Hammer wanted to use a traditional-like monster design in their first film but it was distributed by Warner Bros 7 Arts one of Universal's rivals. So Universal wouldn't allow their design to be used. But EVIL was distributed by Universal, so... carte blanche)
Trying to keep EVIL in the 'regular sequel' mold, a forced misinterpretation, is the only thing informing complaints it doesn't follow the first two films. We start putting 2 and 2 together while watching, as we realize this. Other subtle points now make sense. For example it's still Peter Cushing and Dr. Frankenstein, but -- this is a different Baron. He still comes on strong, but doesn't have quite the cold-blooded disposition we saw previously. He's still single minded and not too scrupulous, but he's a different character. Ironically, EVIL gives us Cushing's least 'evil' version of Doc Frankenstein. To provide for human villainy in the film, we have Zoltan the hypnotist instead (for scale: he's not a rapist although a little sexual harassment is not out of the question).
Speaking of Zoltan: with the exception of Dr. Frankenstein's assistant (who receives little development or character interest), EVIL gives us one of the most vivid and vibrant cast of supporting players and roles. Zoltan is superbly conceived and executed. But a real stand out is the mute waif who instinctually bonds with the Monster. Her character and performance go down in the Hammer hall of fame. Eros and pathos in one.
And for crying out loud, a special award is due Kiwi Kingston in the role of the monster. And whoever had the insight to cast him. The idea of having a 'big time wrestler' play the Monster was a monumental stroke of brilliance in EVIL, unique among Frankenstein films. These guys professionally specialize in knowing how to make it look like they're really putting a hurt on someone. And when this version of the Frankenstein monster tears into his victims, it is delightfully brutal and very effective. No other movie in this series has monster attack scenes like this. This is original and stylish stuff.
Back to business considerations, and their input to these Hammer Frankensteins, especially Universal's ownership of the classic Frankenstein monster design. Among the most outstandingly enjoyable aspects of this unique offering from Hammer's Frankenstein dungeon is its clear inspiration from, and tribute to, the classic Universal Frankenstein films. Kiwi Kingston's makeup has been criticized as sloppy, but its design is clearly a labor of loving embellishment upon the original theme. Story motifs in EVIL harken back as well. For example, the monster being found frozen in a block of ice (shades of FRANKENSTEIN MEETS WOLFMAN). Or all this to do in the village about the "burgomeister,' and the carnival sideshow setting (kind of evokes Prof Lampini's business in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN). The entire feel is homage to the vintage classic, bringing fresh treatment to the story cycle. Quite a difference from the first two films where Hammer was being careful, apparently, not to trespass on some of that (lest Universal take action).
Story and script are well written, opening with a scary body snatching scene. Pretty good production values on the whole per Hammer standards. EVIL features memorable musical score, nice monochrome-looking lab set, and good photography, like a night shot with the monster carrying a big cross it has just raided from the church (scaring heck out of a drunk who thinks it's after him). I like how the relationship between Baron and hypnotist devolves, Dr. Frankenstein has gotten himself into a situation. Flaws in this film pale in significance against its virtues. 'Bout time someone said some of this stuff about this very entertaining enjoyable film.
Review by bakers4 from the Internet Movie Database.