Starring: Peter Cushing, Eunice Gayson, Francis Matthews, Michael Gwynn
Screenplay: Jimmy Sangster
Director: Terence Fisher
“What do you know about the animals of the jungle?”
“Oh, you’d be surprised.”
Just one fun exchange from this rather sprawling Frankenstein film. Cushing plays the infamous Baron Victor Von Frankenstein, who we see escaping death in the gallows for creating his murderous monster by having a priest beheaded and buried in his place. He calls himself Dr. Stein and starts a successful practice in Carlsbruck, so successful that the other doctors conspire to dig up dirt on him for his taking their patients. From appearances, many of these patients are attractive women with minor ailments, taken in by Frankenstein’s charm. Cushing doesn’t get many roles where he’s dashing and sexually potent, and seems to be enjoying himself.
Stein works with his trusted assistant, the hunchback, Karl, as well as Dr. Kleve, who knows Frankenstein’s true identity and blackmails him into the position. They want to transplant a living brain into a healthy body, one that isn’t crude and stitched-together. Karl volunteers, especially because he has fallen for medical assistant Margaret. With a healthy, not hunched, body, he might win her heart.
The transplant is a success, but Karl flees his locked room after Kleve tells him he’ll be a medical sensation (he’s a shy one). Karl burns his preserved hunchback body and strangles a drunk janitor who discovers him. He then gets Margaret to hide him, but develops some problems with his arm and leg. In fact, he starts turning into his old deformed self, and it drives him mad. He strangles a local girl, then crashes a party Stein’s attending, pleading for help from “Frankenstein.” This adds fuel to the doctors’ suspicions, and they exhume Frankenstein’s grave, finding the body of the priest. Stein denies being Frankenstein, but angry patients riot and beat him to death. Kleve rescues the body and has the brain transplanted into a body his mentor had waiting, one that resembles Frankenstein’s. In an epilogue, we see a “Dr. Franck” seeing patients in a new practice.
This is one of the loopier and most nonsensical of Sangster’s Hammer scripts, as one can probably tell by some of the unscientific plot points above. But that’s part of the fun, and in fact, when it slows down to try to give Karl his pathetic love subplot, it becomes tedious, even if a sympathetic monster is more in line with the Mary Shelley novel. Part of this might be that neither Gwynn as Karl or Francis Gayson as Kleve are as charismatic as Cushing.
As with many Frankenstein films, the name of the creator is confused with his creation, so in reality it’s more like Revenge of Karl, although I suppose for Frankenstein, living well (and in a new body) is the best revenge.