A little worn and rambling like Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein, THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN is nonetheless better than its critical reputation suggests. This 1964 work is often cited as a slighter outing for Hammer Film Productions, especially in the context of the top-tier FRANKENSTEIN movies, but there’s a lot to like about it. The director is Freddie Francis and his command is less intriguing than that of Terence Fisher, but the John Elder screenplay has sure delights.
The tale begins with Baron Frankenstein (Cushing) and his assistant Hans (Sandor Elès) snatching a body. The scientist wants to use it as part of his experiments, but he’s interrupted by a meddlesome priest and there is, sadly, no one to rid him of the nuisance. Frankenstein continually has his work halted, so he heads to his old stomping grounds to raise funds. He finds his effects pilfered by the cops, plus he encounters a deaf girl (Katy Wild) and a hypnotist (Peter Woodthorpe). Meanwhile, his latest creation looms.
This film differs from its predecessor, THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN, in many ways. While the aforementioned was a direct sequel to THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN does away with much of the larger fable. The Baron is made bitter by the world around him and rightly so, as the ill-informed have demolished his version of progress at every turn. They use fire to kill, while Frankenstein is portrayed as a purveyor of life.
The collision of the religious and the scientific has always been the most compelling facet of the FRANKENSTEIN pictures and THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN holds the subject in special esteem. It even allows some cheeky moments, like when the monster staggers through the streets holding a cross. A man shouts “oh, my God” at the creature and the vision is clear, with Shelley’s Gothic survey of creation and rebirth brought full circle. Francis’ lack of cohesion and polish does sting a bit, but the fragments are assembled well enough to tell yet another fascinating tale.