Used and abused … Frankenstein’s Monster never has a good time, does he?
PictureWell, at least we haven’t got to go through all that reformatting, messed-up aspect ratio shenanigans like we did with Final Cut’s BD transfer of Brides of Dracula.
They have released The Evil of Frankenstein correctly at 1.85:1 and via AVC.
Now, even though this is not as beautiful a film as Brides, it looks pretty good in hi-def. With my mind focused on aspect ratios, I found myself paying a lot of unnecessary attention to eye-lines and head-centreings to make sure that they were aligned well. Of course they were! In comparison with the SD version on the great Hammer Horror Franchise Collection, the image had improved depth and spatiality and appeared to be more stable too. Although Freddie Francis didn’t perform the camera duties on this one, you can see that he was paying close attention to how DOP John Wilcox was performing. Frames are deliberately composed to reveal interesting set-ups with foreground, mid, and background activity. There are numerous examples of this, of course, but take a look at any of the laboratory scenes, or even the moment when the beggar girl is tending to the Monster up in the cave and Hans suddenly makes his way through the entrance in the far background. These are economical shots – no editing – but they have been composed meticulously. My favourite shot, as I mentioned, is when the Baron attempts to leave the chateau and is apprehended by a hidden copper. This is a brilliantly composed shot, with the speared body lying to the left, the camera angled upward and the Police Captain moving across the frame. Again, no cutting. Just smooth economy of set-up and direction.
The little wagon making its way around the mountain pass on the right of the image, with the matte-painted landscape falling away and covering the majority of the left, looked very good to me. The overall image of the countryside was lent a grander, more epic scope as a result. There is always a little spike in clarity during the title shot, once the camera moves from the skeletal, wintry trees of Black Wood to an actual set or location, and this is still quite noticeable here. But the depth of the woods, the mountains – some real rocks, some polystyrene – and the village is nicely advanced upon, making this edition more three-dimensional than its earlier counterparts on home video.
The print is in good nick, although some little lines and speckles could still have been removed. One or two process shots look terrible. We cut from a terrifically clear and detailed shot of Hans scrambling up a mountainside to the Baron on the track above, bathed very, very softly, almost bereft of any colour, and backed by a woefully indistinct matte-painting of the valley below. The back-projected shot of Cushing riding his stolen wagon hell-for-leather down the country lane of Black Wood is also quite comically bad – like a superimposed FX shot in a kid’s TV show from the seventies. But Evil is actually a very consistent print with an image that is clear, sharp and detailed.
Grain is still here, but it is virtually invisible if you compare it to the stuff that rubbed-up against the image in Brides, which was brittle and coarse and often quite distracting. It is much smoother here, much lighter, but I don’t think that we can blame any untoward noise reduction for this. The image still retains a lot of finite detail – hob-nails in the soles of boots, smudges on faces and clothes, weave in costumes etc - and there is definitely film texture on show. Faces and sets are well-delineated. Props have texture and a more vivid presentation – the gizmos in the lab, obviously, but also the interiors of the tavern, the police station and the Burgomaster’s bedroom - and the countryside is reasonably well defined. We can clearly see the ice melting when Frankie and Hans set up their monster-freeing bonfire in the cave. You might actually wish the image wasn’t so clear and clean with regards to the Monster, himself, though. God that makeup is simply awful. Just like you can plainly see the point at which Tom Savini’s zombie green/blue dead skin paint stops in Dawn of the Dead and the actors’ real skin begins, we have no difficulty whatsoever spotting the gaps in the moldy clay and rubber facial appliance that adorns poor Kiwi Kingston’s head. There is a clearly over an inch’s leeway between his real eyes and the edge of the mask, and once you’ve spotted this, you’ll never miss it again. The big, insectoid stitches that spiral off his bonce aren’t prey to the sort of haloing that could have made them even more ludicrous. In fact, although there is some on show, I actually cannot recall being bothered by any edge enhancement in this presentation.
Colours are good and nicely saturated, but this not as garish or as lurid as many other a Hammer production. It is fades in some spots, but this is down to the age and condition of the source. Skin tones are certainly all right. These people were wearing an awful lot of makeup, and we can certainly see some variance on different faces. Quite why Katy Wild had to have that cadaverous look is beyond me, I’m afraid. She just looks quite ill and anaemic. But then there is the Burgomaster, with his tanned and sweaty palette. Cushing, himself, looks quite grey … but then this is accurate to how he looked. But look at the heaving bosom of Caron Gardner – well, that skin-texture and tone looks perfectly natural to me! Blue sparks and raging fires have depth and vitality. Greys and whites are nicely presented – the Monster’s shape locked in the ice, for instance. The browns and earthy scrub of the mountains and the woods look just fine, as well. There is colour and variety in the village, with lots of different costumes and masks filling the image. Spot the Buffalo Bill knife-thrower! Like these rural Euros would have a clue who he was. The little splash of blood that we get – and for Hammer, it really doesn’t count – is nice and red. Midnight blues, seen during the stormy nights, are also pleasingly saturated. One does miss Jack Asher’s use of purples, greens and blues, though. But the film makes up for all this with those fizz-bang lab sequences.
I witnessed no banding and no aliasing. Contrast was more than decently appropriated, and black levels were often very good. I don’t think that any crushing was going on, and there are moments when the shadows are satisfyingly inky.
Evil of Frankensteingets a stitched-on thumbs-up from me. They didn’t destroy the compositions and, in a perverse irony, one of the worst and most thrown-together efforts from Hammer now looks better than one its most exquisitely and painterly on Blu.
SoundFinal Cut give The Evil of Frankenstein a 2-channel mono LPCM audio track.
This is a film with a fairly dynamic sound design. We have storms and lightning bolts, rumbling thunder and a plethora of electrical circuits and sparks going haywire down in the lab. There are instances of glass being shattered, bodies getting hefted into walls, French Windows being crashed-through and all manner of jars, bottles, shelves and apparatus getting hurled around. A couple of gunshots ring out, and there is the rampaging of horses’ hooves and a clattering wagon as Cushing’s dashing Baron plays medieval Mad Max down a country lane! Well, it all sounds pretty decent enough to me.
Don’t expect any directionality, nor much in the way of subtlety with this track. The original mix wasn’t fully catering for little things like bubbling liquids and eerie oscillations from the SF paraphernalia. It just wanted its Monster to grunt and thud about and routinely break things. When thunder rumbles and rain lashes the turret of the chateau, there is a suitable amount of cacophony, but this is understandably restrained in the grand scheme of the old sound design. The sound of distant rumbling in the heavens is actually quite well done, with some sense of distance awarded the effect. Don Banks’ score, which is sadly so forgettable, still gets plenty of opportunity to throw its weight about, but this is not as shrill, as chest-crushing or as heart-palpitating as it would have been had James Bernard composed it.
No issues with the dialogue. I didn’t notice any drops in volume, and speech was never compromised by effects in the overall mix. This is vintage material, though, so don’t expect scintillating clarity, depth and positioning. Cushing gets to spout off a couple of times, and the oily voice of Peter Woodthorpe sluices the gears of nefariousness. But this is all pretty much as you would expect from a Hammer film from 1964.
Not a bad track at all, but nothing that will particularly impress either. Consistent and vintage fare that hasn’t been messed-around with, or ruined by any lapse of concentration.
ExtrasAgain, no commentary, but there is a fine Making of The Evil of Frankenstein feature that brings in Hammer collector and historian Wayne Kinsey and a prop heart, actress Caron Gardner, assistant director Hugh Harlow and various others to discuss the production. Again, this is good stuff. I always love to hear about how these films came into being and about the personalities in front of and behind the cameras. This is another good example of how to combine fan-based appreciation with bonafide reminiscence. Gardner is clearly a good laugh, and she offers some fine anecdotes.
We also get a Stills Gallery and a Theatrical Trailer … and a wonderfully boobilicious Moment with Caron Gardner, who still looks ravishing and doesn’t she know it! Wish I could have interviewed her!
VerdictHaving expected to have absolutely slated the movie, it comes as a real relief to find that I actually enjoyed The Evil of Frankenstein quite a bit. I cannot dress up the fact that this still isn’t a particularly good film, and it is certainly one of Hammer’s least respected productions. But if you go into it with the understanding that it has been made as practically a direct homage to the later Universal series of Frankenstein pictures, then you should find much entertainment value in its fast-paced and comic-book momentum.
It sticks out like an electrode in the neck though as regards to the rest of the Hammer Frankenstein series, because it simply absconds with the continuity of the character and the various degrees of depravity that he succumbs to. The Monster simply isn’t frightening, but at least he isn’t Dave Prowse lumbering around in a nappy either – which, in Horror Of Frankenstein (thankfully sans Peter Cushing) is the absolute nadir of the franchise.
The video transfer is not another problematic one, and there is nowhere near the amount of material to complain about this time. Here, the aspect is correct and it certainly suits some very interesting visuals with accuracy. The extras are threadbare, but there is a good retro making-of and nice, lip-smacking Moment with a vintage scream queen who understands the appeal of, and quite likes her ample assets. And why not? As Barry Norman would, no doubt, say.
Evil was bookended by two far superior entries, but as a bit of comic-book light ‘n’ lurid relief from the more deeply thematic entries in the Baronial saga of body-stitching it passes the time with a surprising amount of fun.
I cannot understand how Final Cut arrived at the transfer for Brides, but they haven’t arbitrarily ruined this one, and even if Evil is not the greatest production that the studio mounted, at least more Hammer Films are finding their way on to Blu-ray. Which means that we can never rule out the possibility of even better versions coming along at some point. Unlike with Brides, it isn’t hard to actually recommend this release if you even if you have never been a fan of it. I know that I have been quite cruel towards it in the past, but I really found some affection for it this time. Personally, I have barely ever reached for the film in any format before … but I would certainly be happy to stick this version on again. So, once more, I have found my initial Hammer opinions to have evolved somewhat.
Stupid, but good fun. This is NOT Hammer at all … it is a Universal last-ditch panto with Hammer’s visual aplomb sparking life into it.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.