Category: movies & TV


When last we left the baron at the end of The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), he was headed for the guillotine in Switzerland. As The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) opens, he’s still on his way, so it’s a pretty direct sequel. More or less. Let’s talk continuity, shall we? Let’s do.

Curse opened with some text stating that the story took place “more than a hundred years ago.” So we can do the math: 1957-100=1857. But Revenge’s opening text tells us the baron was condemned to death in 1860. So . . . that’s in the ballpark, though it seems like it should be 1857 at the latest. But that’s not the pickiest nit to pick here. There’s a whole lot of retconning going on.

revengeRevenge’s intro also explains that the doctor was “condemned to death for the brutal murders committed by the monster he had created” and “the whole continent” was relieved at the end of “his life of infamy.” But that’s not at all what happened in Curse! Frankenstein and his assistant Krempe worked in obscurity for years, and only the two of them really knew of the Creature. Frankenstein himself was considered guilty for the murder of his maid by his own hands, because no one believed him that a Creature had existed.

Furthermore, only the maid was mentioned, a single murder. Although Curse did imply that the Creature killed a blind man and the man’s grandson, whatever the Creature did with them wasn’t shown on screen . . . and they were never mentioned again. So, at worst, the story could have spread of a baron who killed his maid and then tried to get off by claiming he’d made a monster who’d done the deed. Not exactly the kind of event which would make a whole continent breathe a sigh of relief if you ask me. Unless it’s a small continent populated entirely by maids who work for barons.

But I digress. Because the big retcon is still to come. Although at the end of Curse the pompous baron was reduced to a blithering mess begging for his life, we find out in Revenge that that was all an act, because Frankenstein—even though unable to convince the authorities of his miraculous surgical skills—had convinced one of his jailers, Karl. Karl suffered from various physical deformities, and in turn for the doctor’s promise of getting him a new body, Karl colluded with the executioner to take the head of the priest attending the execution in the baron’s stead (it’s unclear why no one seems to have noticed a priest went missing at an execution). Now on to more spoilers.

Flash forward three years. Dr. Victor Frankenstein has moved to Carlsbruck, Germany, and taken up practice as Dr. Victor Stein. In a move far more clever than his transparent pseudonym, he works at a hospital for the poor, giving him a source for all the body parts he needs. The dashing doctor also attracts a large number of women to his regular practice, drawing the ire of their former doctors. When they confront him, one of the locals, Dr. Hans Kleve, recognizes him. Since, according to this film, everyone knows about Frankenstein and the Creature, Kleve wants to learn all Frankenstein can teach him and signs on as the baron’s assistant.

Together they put the finishing touches on Karl’s new body; unlike the hideous reanimated corpse of the first film, the doctor has outdone himself, building a tall, handsome vessel for Karl. The brain transplant is a success, but Karl isn’t patient enough to remain in bed as long as the doctors recommend. He tries out his new body too soon, unsettles his brain, and goes wonky in the melon. Unpleasantness occurs, and Karl spills the beans on Frankenstein’s identity. When Frankenstein’s poor patients find out, they give him a serious beat down. Kleve arrives while he still lives, but his body is too damaged. Kleve harvests his brain just before the authorities arrive, and he tells them he tried to save the doctor but was too late. They are convinced of Frankenstein’s death, having seen the body with their own eyes. Luckily, however, Frankenstein has also crafted a duplicate body for himself; Kleve finishes the transplant after the authorities have left.

Flash forward to London and the practice of one Dr. Franck; yes, the evil doctor hasn’t learned anything about convincing pseudonyms, but this time he wears a moustache and a monocle, so I’m sure no one will ever recognize him. The credits roll as the audience imagines what sort of high jinks the doctor is going to get up to now.

Revenge works quite well as a sequel—even though the retconning requires the audience to put some extra effort into the suspension of disbelief—by avoiding being just another story about the doctor reanimating a creature. The twist of making a healthy body as a cozy new home for a living brain is a nice twist. But there’s no mistaking the doctor for a humanitarian; when he sees an arm he wants on one of his poor patients, he lies to the man about needing to amputate. Another great angle is the sympathetic character of Karl—at least if you try to overlook that he killed a priest. Michael Gwynn’s performance as Karl in his new body is touching. He struggles to adjust, but as things go wrong, he starts carrying his body like his previous, deformed one, and his descent into madness is sad and disturbing. The unreserved ruthlessness of Frankenstein along with various body parts sloshing around in jars and tanks help continue the enjoyably twisted tone of the original. Three decades later, films like, say, Re-Animator (1985), owe a debt to these Hammer Films although, of course, with the gore and depravity turned up to 11.

One could even make the argument that Revenge is a better film than Curse. While Curse, enjoyable as it is, might be characterized as a so-so adaptation of Shelley, once past the original story the Hammer peeps were freed to do whatever they wanted, and they took the story in an interesting direction. It would have been nice to follow the further adventures of Franck and Kleve in London, but, as we shall see next time, the series was about to take a detour in 1964’s The Evil of Frankenstein.

Advertisements

It’s time for me to rewatch—actually, in most cases, watch for the first time—the series of Frankenstein movies produced by Hammer Films from the late fifties through the mid-seventies. There are six films starring Peter Cushing as Baron Victor Frankenstein:

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)

The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

The first two tie together more or less, then the third is basically a reboot with the continuity picking up again after that, after a fashion. I’ll address continuity or lack thereof in the individual posts. I’ll be watching the Cushing films in order, then 1970’s definitely out-of-continuity The Horror of Frankenstein, with Ralph Bates stepping in as Frankenstein. And I’ll be writing snarky spoiler-filled comments, so let’s get to it.

curseoffrankenstein_us30x40First up, The Curse of Frankenstein, in which Christopher Lee (Dracula to Cushing’s Van Helsing in the Hammer Dracula series) plays the unfortunate creature stitched together by Frankenstein and his increasingly reluctant tutor/assistant, Paul Krempe. Yes, you read that right, Krempe starts as a tutor (hired by the young Frankenstein himself !) and then just stays with the baron until he becomes his worried sidekick.

But let’s back up to young Frankenstein, so to speak. We meet him early in the film after his mother dies, and we immediately see that, for the most part, the teenage baron (his father died years earlier) is a self-centered, unlikeable jerk weasel. He doesn’t grow out of it.

The adult Victor brings his cousin Elizabeth to his estate to become his bride, apparently only for appearances, because he exhibits no real affection for her and spends very little time with her, as that would cut into his experiments as well as the time he needs for boinking the maid.

As Frankenstein ruthlessly gathers the necessary parts for his Creature, Krempe increasingly spends all his time 1) telling Frankenstein to stop, without doing much of anything to actually stop him, and B) telling Elizabeth she should leave, without telling her why. For her part, Elizabeth is always cutting Frankenstein slack, even though he continues to treat her abominably (that final word choice may have been influenced by Peter Cushing having been in the lesser-known Hammer Film The Abominable Snowman [1957]).

The maid has more spine than Krempe and Elizabeth put together, threatening to expose Frankenstein for all his shenanigans (including knocking her up), and then she actively looks for evidence in the laboratory. Unfortunately for her, this allows Frankenstein to lock her in a room with the Creature. Problem solved for the Baron . . . or so it seems.

But, wait, the Creature! Lee doesn’t appear until fifty minutes into the eighty-three minute film—what with earlier experiments and then finding the necessary parts and sticking them together and all—and once he’s finally unwrapped, he has frightfully little to do. As in the Boris Karloff version of the story (and unlike the original novel) Frankenstein’s creation doesn’t speak, and after various mishaps reduce his brain to chip dip, he’s little more than a half-trainable animal that, one imagines, would make a lot of messes on the carpet if he survived long enough for Frankenstein to try to housebreak.

But high jinks ensue, and the Creature ends up dead and dissolved in acid, which pins the maid’s murder—justly so—on Frankenstein. Krempe has apparently gotten up the courage to lie to the police so that Frankenstein is the only person claiming there was a reanimated monster at his estate. As the movie ends, the baron is being led to the guillotine and the audience has no reason to feel sorry for him as he begs for his life.

All that said, you may think I dislike the movie, but, no, I’m quite fond of it. Although the baron is twisted and evil and the other main characters generally simpering and ineffectual, there is something about the unreserved glee the film takes in its Grand Guignol plot that still entertains. Although tame by today’s standards, the amount of  blood and body parts—in vivid color, no less!—were shocking in its day, and the performance of Peter Cushing still infuses much of the film with a disturbing creepiness. And one could argue that the aristrocratic baron prefigures characters like, say, Patrick Bateman of American Psycho: rich, privileged, self-involved, and devoid of genuine human feelings.

It’s a solid and gruesome start to the series. Next time, The Revenge of Frankenstein.

[Years ago I watched a bunch of Hammer’s Dracula movies and blogged some thoughts on them. You can find the first post here on my old Live Journal site, then just click the “hammer time” tag at the bottom to find the rest; read from the bottom up.]

It’s con season, as noted over on the Generations Geek blog. I will be at CONvergence over the Fourth of July weekend and at Shore Leave the weekend of July 15. Cons are a weird experience for me. Although I’ve been a sci-fi geek essentially my entire life, cons were not a big deal for me for decades. I think part of that is because I grew up in northern Minnesota, far from any conventions. Combine that with my neuroses around crowds and strangers and places I haven’t been before—imagine that, a neurotic writer!—and you can see why I wasn’t rushing out to cons even after I moved to the Twin Cities, where there are many wonderful cons. But then I started being a writer guest at Shore Leave, thanks to Star Trek fiction. For years, Shore Leave was the only con I regularly attended, halfway across the country, even though there were lots of cons in my own backyard. Finally, a few years ago, I started going to CONvergence as a writer guest, and I’ve grown quite fond of it. But cons are still roller coasters for me, full of ego boosts, awkward social interactions, reunions with old friends, and crowd-induced claustrophobia. So if you ever meet me at a con and I look a bit skittish, like a dog during a thunderstorm, give me a moment, my mood will soon swing back the other way!

Still not really talking about what I’m not talking about: Star Trek fan films. Trek fandom has been biting its own tail for months about this, and with the fan film guidelines CBS and Paramount have recently released, it’s gotten worse. I’m not going to rehash the whole story here. If you’re a fan you already know it; if you’re not, well, neither of us has the time or energy to go over the history. But I’m in the middle on this. I’ve watched and enjoyed fan films. I’ve considered writing for them, but never did. But, as a writer, I’m also big on intellectual property. And I’ve written official Star Trek fiction, published by Simon & Schuster—which, according to the guidelines, disqualifies me from working on a fan film. I don’t take that personally, but I was never really invested in the idea in the first place. Which brings me back to why I haven’t been talking about this. I know people on both sides of the issue, people who totally support the studio’s point of view and people who are deeply invested in fan films either as viewers or creators. Online debates have been intense, and there have been people on both sides who have—I like to give the benefit of the doubt and assume in the heat of the moment—veered off into regrettable personal attacks. The whole situation saddens me. It’s the fiftieth anniversary year of the franchise we all love, and instead of wholehearted celebration, there is instead an atmosphere of taking sides. No matter how many justifiable fingers can be pointed in either direction, the end result is disheartening.

It’s a good thing I’ve got that degree in how to be a freelancer in the new world of publishing. Oh, wait, that never happened. I really don’t think anyone in the industry really knows what they’re doing. Not in a bad way, like, “That guy is driving the wrong way on a one-way street,” but more like, “Uh . . . is this the detour? Is this even a road? Why have all the street signs been painted over?” So you’ve got a lot of people—writers and editors from beginners to pros alike—just trying to keep moving forward, but the rules keep changing, and the game board, instead of being a proper map, is just a white board anyone can erase and redraw with the full conviction that people on the internet seem to have about anything. All I want to do is write my little stories, get them out there for people to read, and somehow make a fair amount of money to pay the bills. That was hard enough in olden days when publishing was a relatively straightforward business that followed the same traditions it always had. Nowadays, on the frontier of e-books and print on demand, when big publishers are buying up self-publishing businesses like farm teams, it’s hard to know what to think. So I just keep on writing my little stories, and I try to get some printed traditionally and self-publish others, and I’ll see where it takes me. Check out my author page on Amazon, where you can see them all. (In theory. It’s kind of buggy. Because it’s not like a little site like Amazon has the resources to . . . oh, wait.)

M*A*S*H Re-View

The kid (aka Ella, my fourteen-year-old) has been on a M*A*S*H kick lately. She discovered the show last year on a DTV broadcast station while staying at my mom’s place in the country and then was very pleased to find it running on TVLand on our cable system. She’s about the age I was midway through the show’s original run.

She’s loving the show, and I’ve been enjoying seeing it again after all these years. I was a dedicated viewer when it was first run. I went as geekily far as to get a martini glass to drink from while watching; since I was a kid, I drank soda from the glass. Did I mention I was geeky?

We came across the DVDs on sale at B&N this week, so we picked up season one and have been watching them in order. Starting right at the beginning has been incredibly interesting. I’d completely forgotten that the character of Spearchucker Jones had carried over from the film; they let the character go after eleven episodes. I’d also forgotten about the character of nurse Margie Cutler, played by the future Mrs. Kotter, Marcia Strassman, who appeared in six episodes.

But what’s really amazed me is the character of Radar. First-season Radar is much like the character in the film (the only main character to be played by the same actor), and noticably different from the character he became. First-season Radar accepts a drink from Hawkeye in the Swamp; in later years, Radar would get drunk drinking too many Grape Nehis. First-season Radar appears in a faux documentary in just his boxers, striking poses; in later years such “nudidity” would have been unthinkable. 

I’m loving this Radar, and it’s unfortunate that they decided to play up the naive country boy angle as the series continued. That put actor Gary Burghoff in the awkward position of a man approaching forty trying to act like a gosh-gee-whiz teenager; later on when they did let him show his age, it was almost too late, and seemed forced. No wonder Burghoff grew weary of his role.

For now, however, I’m basking in the nostalgia as well as the fun of watching Ella watch the show. It’s always nice when the kid likes something I like.