The Test of Time: The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they remain must see? So…the point of this column is to determine how a film holds up for a modern horror audience, to see if it stands the Test of Time.

Director: Terence Fisher
Starring: Peter Cushing, Francis Matthews, and Michael Gwynn

With the approaching greatest holiday in horror, a plethora of films exist to review. Somehow, when it comes to Halloween flicks to revisit, I tend to dive into the classic bin. Movies created 50+ years ago have that certain look and style that seem to capture the Halloween spirit best.

Specifically, I have a soft spot for England’s Hammer Studios, the company that reinvented the classic Universal monsters into a gothic world, giving us a couple of actors like Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Together, they remain one of horror’s greatest duos. In 1957, they made THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. While Lee doesn’t come back for the sequel, many consider it one of the best horror follow-ups ever made. But does it hold up against the Test of Time?

Under the examination: THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN.

Another day, another dead guy for this doc.

THE STORY: THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN directly follows THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN’s ending, showing the monster killed and Cushing’s Frankenstein led to the gallows. Somehow, Dr. Frankenstein manages to escape certain death (some poor priest got his head lopped off instead) and has now moved to continue his work as Dr. Stein (he’s not very creative with aliases). He puts on a good show caring for the unwashed poor (seriously, they keep talking about how no one uses soap) until young ambitious Dr. Kleve uncovers his true identity and wants to join forces. Frankenstein doesn’t want to create a new monster but does want to give Karl, his hunchbacked assistant, a new body by performing the old brain switcheroo. After a successful surgery, Karl will be a new man as long as he chills in bed (strapped down) and doesn’t get his brain damaged. Of course, that doesn’t happen. Will he turn into a monster or be a-ok?

Karl has a very bad day.

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: The one advantage that DRACULA has over the FRANKENSTEIN franchise is that DRACULA can continue without the main character. We just need vampires. With FRANKENSTEIN, things aren’t so easy. We need the good doctor, and we need his creation. Without those elements, well, it isn’t FRANKENSTEIN. Sure, we could spin it off and have the son of Frankenstein or his father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate, but it wouldn’t be the same.

That’s what makes THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN one of the best sequels not only of the franchise but of all time. Why? It has balls. It ditches the prototypical monster and ends up a character study. While the doctor remains a bit of an asshole, the film’s heart comes from his assistant Karl, played to perfection at the start by Oscar Quitak who brings a softness, a sense of pain and suffering to the hunchback. Instead of just Frankenstein’s right-hand man, he’s played with intelligence only to be betrayed by a broken body. He cannot turn down the doctor’s offer of giving him a taller, more handsome, and humpless new body (Michael Gwynn).

The best part of THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN comes from not seeing the transformation of Karl coming. Of course, I knew Dr. Frankenstein, wait, Dr. Stein would create a new body, but I didn’t expect the emotional journey. Even better, director Terence Fisher and writer Jimmy Sangster give Karl true motivation for escape. After being locked away for his own protection, Dr. Kleve innocently reveals Frankenstein’s plans for Karl: put him on display for the world to see right next to his old broken body. For his entire life Karl has been mocked, stared at. With a new body, he would be damned if he became a freak once again. That’s good writing.

If only we could all window shop for a new body.

WHAT BLOWS NOW: From the modern audience’s perspective, I’m sure some folks will find disappointment in the lack of murder, mayhem, and death. If my memory still functions, the monster only murders two poor souls, and one of those occurs off screen. Hell, the monster doesn’t even appear until the third act. However, to me, that build up, that character development is what elevates the film above the standard genre release.

Floating eyeball scene. What's not to love?

THE VERDICT: THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN might be damn near 60 years old, yet it proves that sequels and remakes don’t have to be brainless, thoughtless exercises. While it might lack in gore, it’s a thoughtful horror movie that makes viewers give a f*ck not only about Dr. Frankenstein, but his monster too…in a completely different way.



Cushing was a pimp.



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