Review Date: October 26, 2002
Released by: Columbia Tri-Star
Release date: 2/19/2002
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
In 1910, Thomas Edison filmed the first version of Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein. Since then, the mad doctor and his creation of life from assembled dead bodies have become horror's most filmed characters, second to only perhaps Bram Stoker's Count Dracula. In the 1950s, Hammer Films began a series of Frankenstein films with Peter Cushing as the crazed creator, and horror fans have patiently waited for those movies to be released on DVD. Well, some of them have finally arrived thanks to Columbia Tri-Star Video. Let's connect the electrodes and revive the second Hammer Frankenstein entry, Revenge of Frankenstein.
Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) is condemned to death for his monstrous experiments in The Curse of Frankenstein. After he is beheaded at the guillotine, a duo of grave robbers exhume the body, only to find that it's not Frankenstein after all, but rather a priest! One of the robbers is smart enough to vacate the scene, but the other decides to pilfer the coffin anyway. Baron Frankenstein then shows up and gives the poor lowlife a fatal heart attack.
Now it's three years later, and the scene shifts to Carlsbruck Germany. Why everyone has heavy British accents is a bit of a mystery though. Anyway, it seems the local doctors are up in arms about a new colleague, Dr. Stein. He arrived three years ago (hint!), has stolen most of everyone's patients, and refuses to join their medical group. One of the doctors, Hans Kleve (Francis Matthews) knows a little more something about Dr. Stein, namely that he is the infamous Baron Frankenstein.
Kleve offers to become Stein's intern, and learns of the Baron's latest experiments; He is studying the functions of the brain, presumably to build a less violent creation this time around. The subject is Karl, the partially paralyzed assistant who somehow rescued Frankenstein from the guillotine three years ago. In exchange for saving the Baron's life, Stein will import Karl's brain into a re-animated body, hopefully ending his paralysis.
The surgery seems to go well, but Stein insists that a proper recovery is essential or the creature will develop murderous tastes. You can see this coming from a mile away. Kleve tells the new Karl (Michael Gwynn) that he will be studied and analyzed by doctors from around the world. Not exactly wanting to be poked and prodded and put on display like that, Karl makes his escape, fighting a janitor on his way out. This deviation from Stein's recovery schedule slowly turns Karl into the monster we've been expecting, and he also plans to "out" Frankenstein and his new identity. Dr. Stein's real name will be revealed, and the unpopular surgeon will soon be facing yet another angry mob of villagers.
I'm relatively new to the world of Hammer Frankensteins, but I have to say I'm enjoying them immensely. In fact, as a series, I prefer them to the classic Universal Frankenstein films (with the notable exceptions of the James Whale-directed Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein.)
There are two reasons the Hammer Frankenstein series is so enjoyable. For one, the Hammer films show the development of Frankenstein's research. Once he has conquered death by assembling a living body from corpses, he would likely use that knowledge for other means, and not just try to continually re-animate the same monster over and over again. In Revenge of Frankenstein, the "monster" is not the gruesome creation we've seen in so many Frankenstein films. Instead, this monster is just Frankenstein's assistant, in search of a normal life, and hoping the doctor can provide him one.
Secondly, and much more important, the Hammer series focuses much more on the doctor himself rather than the monster. Of course, having the incomparable Peter Cushing play the Baron (he made six Frankenstein films for Hammer) makes that an easy choice. Universal's focus on the monster is probably the reason that when people hear "Frankenstein", they think of the monster and not the doctor who actually carries that name. When Shelley wrote the story, she meant to show the evil of attempting to play God, and thus the doctor WAS the monster to her. This is a point made much clearer in the Hammer series of films, especially by the last few movies.
Revenge of Frankenstein is a fun little film, and also a nice departure from the typical Frankenstein movies we were so accustomed to from Universal. As mentioned above, the "monster" is not the gruesome assemblage of corpses we're used to. Once Karl is brought to life, he's just a typical man, without the scars and stitches and bolts made so popular in other versions. This makes sense actually, as you think Frankenstein would perfect his corpse-assembling abilities over time. Again, another reason why the Hammer movies work so well. And finally, all the trademarks we've come to expect from Hammer films in general are here also. Marvelous (if a bit hammy) acting from Peter Cushing, great costumes, lavish sets, and yes, generous helpings of cleavage.
This is definitely a movie to check out, and a really good addition to any horror collection. While I have love and respect for classic horror, I have to admit I find a lot of it excessively dull and talky. But Revenge of Frankenstein is enjoyable and fast-paced, and rarely suffers from the cheesiness you get with many films made prior to the 1960s. Highly recommended.
Revenge of Frankenstein is presented with a nice anamorphic transfer. The disc packaging claims an aspect ratio of 1.66:1, but it looks closer to 1.78:1. 1.66:1 is a common European ratio, so this is probably cropped a little bit to accommodate American standards, but nothing seemed really cramped on top or bottom of the screen. And while this is a great looking disc (especially since the only way I'd seen it before was on the AMC channel), it's far from perfect. Pops and scratches are quite prevalent, the color is a bit faded, and the image seems to "flicker" in several scenes. I'm not sure if it could have been cleaned up any better than this though, so I can't really complain.
Sound presentation is Dolby Digital Mono, and adequate for the age of the film. It's definitely an improvement over any other versions of the film, as the horrible distortion has been cleaned up quite well. First time I saw the film, I could not make out a word the two graverobbers were saying. It's quite audible here though. Not a spectacular sound mix, but as long as I could hear all the dialogue, it's all I ask for in films this old.
Once again, Columbia went pretty light on the extras, but in this case it's definitely quality over quantity. There is a nice trailer for the old cult classic Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, and also one for the Sting/Jennifer Beals movie The Bride. But the trailer for Revenge of Frankenstein is included too, and it's a must-see. It's old-style, where Peter Cushing himself introduces the movie as selected scenes are shown. There are even a few flashback scenes to Christopher Lee in Curse of Frankenstein. Classic stuff. They don't make 'em like that anymore. You also get a handful of stills from the film, but it's the trailer that's most memorable.
Hammer fans already know all about this one, and probably got it the day it came out. But for casual fans who have never seen a Hammer Frankenstein (like myself not too long ago), I highly suggest you give this series a try. This disc, along with the first film in the series, Curse of Frankenstein, is a perfect introduction to Hammer's take on the Mary Shelley classic. The image quality may not be as pristine as one could hope for, but it's good enough. If you're wondering about adding some classics to make your horror collection a little deeper, look no further than Revenge of Frankenstein.
Movie - A-
Image Quality - B-
Sound - B
Supplements - A
- Running Time - 1 hour 30 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- Dolby Digital Mono
- English and French Subtitles
- Theatrical Trailer
- Stills Gallery
- Columbia Previews