Terence Fisher’s THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN picks up exactly where 1957’s THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN left off and explores the figure of Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) in further detail, permitting insight into the mind of the proverbial “mad” scientist. The 1958 picture is a true sequel, but it is less grotesque and less erotic than its forerunner. It is akin to the lab experiments that Frankenstein values so, with Jimmy Sangster’s screenplay conjuring plenty of scientific pathos from its protagonist.
THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN opens with Cushing’s Frankenstein preparing to be executed after the events of THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. He somehow escapes sure death and is off, resurfacing years later in the village of Carlsbruck. He is working as a reputable but aliased physician and serving the poor, but the medical council wants him as a member. His refusal to join the establishment draws the curiosity of Dr. Kleve (Francis Matthews), who joins Frankenstein in his work. The good doctor is back at it, attempting to transplant a living brain into a new body. Naturally, something goes wrong.
THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN is compelling because it is about intentions. Baron Frankenstein seeks “revenge” against the wrongs he believes were visited upon him, but retribution takes the form of redemption. He seeks purification through his work and he is very nearly a principled man. His service of the poor is offset by his unrestricted curiosity and his unrestricted curiosity takes him into some dark spaces. But it is nevertheless tempting to suggest him as a kind of hero, one with good purposes overall.
And consider the upper crust, with their disdain for the needy and their insistence on pushing their organization. Medicine, in their world, is not something to be misused and they don’t understand Frankenstein’s course. It is possible that his motivations are not entirely pure, but he does seem to have learned from his ethical errors in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and there is progression in his character. He wants to help dear Karl (Oscar Quitak/Michael Gwynn) overcome the prison of his mortal coil. That real horror, an accidental phantasm, lies beyond that door is honestly rather unfair.