Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Frankenstein on Film - Hammer

Frankenstein on Film - The Silents
Frankenstein on Film - Universal Part 1
Frankenstein on Film - Universal Part 2
Frankenstein on Film - Hammer

Well then. The Hammer Frankensteins are a completely different animal than the Universals were.

Universal films followed the monster, with a new doctor showing up for each sequel. Hammer went the opposite route, and followed the doc as he skulked around making and breaking various monsters. And really, the term "monster" is used pretty loosely at times--some of these, you'd pass on the street and not look at twice.

Anyway. Here's a quick look at each monster, along with its actor out of makeup.

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Let's see here. Curse's monster manages to incorporate most of Universal's tropes, while avoiding actually looking anything like their monster: He gets cobbled together from multiple corpses, ends up with a damaged brain, and shambles about killing people because he just can't help it. He eventually dies by falling into a vat of acid. Ouch. He did not deserve that.

This was Hammer's first go at Frankenstein's monster. Word is, they were nervous about potential lawsuits from Universal, so they traveled as far and as wide from Universal's look as they could get. And what they ended up with works quite well, for me. I think Christopher Lee did a nice bit of acting, using facial expression and body language to bring a nice sense of pathos into the character.

He's so dashing in that head shot, with his cigar and everything.

Hey.... A cigar!

Get it? Christopher Lee is holding a cigar, and he played the monster, and the monster has had some cigar history and....

Okay. Moving on.

The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)

Revenge's monster is kind of in-name-only. I mean, technically he's a monster, as Frankenstein rules go: His body was dead and now it's alive, due to Frankenstein's tinkering. And his brain was in another body before it got into this one. But there are differences. For one thing, this guy (Karl) volunteered to have his brain put in the new body. And the new body is pretty handsome, barring the scarring (the pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle) at the brain's entry point.

Unfortunately, that new body doesn't stay handsome for long. Poor Karl suffers a brain/body rejection and ends up in a world of hurt. Right before he dies. You know, I'm pretty sure it's never a good idea to get into bed with the doc, no matter how rosy an outcome he promises. Lots of movies prove this. Just saying.

Michael Gwynn played MonsterKarl without a lot of makeup, distorting his body and features to represent physical deterioration as the plot moves along. Nice job, I thought. You might also have seen him in Village of the Damned (1960), The Deadly Bees (1966), and Scars of Dracula (1970).

The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

What happened here?

I'll tell you what happened. By this time Hammer had become fairly chummy with Universal, who gave them the nod to go ahead and do something a little closer to the Jack Pierce makeup design. And this is what Hammer came up with. I don't know exactly what they used to create the look, but when I see the image above, "paper mache" and "dried mashed potatoes" spring to mind. (That's just me.)

The monster was played by a relatively unknown wrestler from New Zealand--Ernie "Kiwi" Kingston. He was 6' 5" but had never worked as an actor, so I'm guessing the big draw for using him here was height and physique.

Anyway. In this movie, he's supposed to be the original monster from Curse, who didn't REALLY dissolve in a big vat of acid, but was shot instead, and then fell off of a cliff and was frozen in a glacier. (Confused much, anyone?) And he pretty much spends this movie shuffling around and killing on demand.

Feels like Hammer was trying to go back 20 years and do a shoddy recreation of one of the the more tepid 40s franken-films. Meh.

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

Okay. Radical departure, here. No cobbled together corpses. No brain transplants. No shambling, mute, imbecilic engines of destruction. Woman's "monster" is a young lady who recently committed suicide. She did this because her lover had almost-as-recently been framed for murder and unjustly executed. (Of course the execution was unjust, if he was framed. Captain Obvious.)

Now generally, things like suicides and executions lead to a pretty evident and finalized state. But generally, Doc Frankenstein doesn't happen to be practicing nearby. And what is he working on these days? Why, trapping souls after physical death, of course!

So, poor Christina (that's her name) ends up getting physically revived before her soul has left her body, then has her lover's soul forced into her body as well. Wow. Crowded. So this leads her, under the lover's influence, to seduce and kill the three guys who had originally framed him. Once that's done, his soul floats away and leaves her to herself, wherein she promptly commits suicide again. Huh.

This was really a pretty unusual take on the whole Frankenstein myth, interesting and well done, I think. Christine was played by Susan Denberg, who is apparently known more for her body than her acting: When I searched for a head shot to go along with her monster portrait, I got mostly "body" shots--guess she did a fair amount of nude modeling. At any rate, there's not much difference between her in and out of makeup, due to her character's general lack of monster-y-ness.

Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969)

Another fairly unmonster-y monster, here. This is basically a guy (Frederick) who is insane, which the doc wants to cure through brain surgery. Trouble is, he ends up having a heart attack before doc can do it, so doc procures (read as "murders someone to get") a new body for Fred's brain to reside in.

Well, when Fred wakes up, all cured of his insanity and stuff, and finds himself stuck in someone else's body, he's pissed. First thing he does is try to reconcile with his wife, who of course doesn't recognize him and warns him off with much screaming, etc. So then he sits down and has a think about things and decides he's truly screwed. Can't go back to his wife. Can't return to his profession. He's alive but without his life. So he decides to kill the doc in retaliation, but dies himself in process. Of course.

What would actually happen if one of Frankenstein's creations survived and went on to live a happy and productive life? Would the universe implode? That would be cool. The happy life, not the implosion.

Destroyed's monster was played by Freddie Jones, a pretty recognizable character actor who's been doing films and television since the early 60s. Other than the sewn-on skull, unshaven face and general look of desperation, his monster shot and head shot are fairly indistinguishable. Truth be known, I couldn't find a head shot for him, so I just grabbed a random character shot from another, more normal-looking, role he'd played.

The Horror of Frankenstein (1970)

Horror takes us back to the more familiar scarred, cobbled together, brain damaged monster people naturally think of when they hear the word "Frankenstein." Hammer kinda-sorta did the square top/Jack Pierce thing, here. I think it looks better than the sad attempt made in Evil, at any rate.

This particular movie was really a reboot--Hammer retelling their original Frankenstein story, and was fairly forgettable. The monster spent most of his screen time stomping off to kill whoever the Baron told him to, and generally just looking menacing.

The actor's head shot here is actually Dave Prowse on-set during filming, a good five or six years before his role as Darth Vader in Star Wars. Dave was 6' 6" and a champion bodybuilder, so Hammer obviously wanted him for his body. But he did already have a few (really) minor acting credits under his belt, before he did this film.

One of these acting credits was, trivia drum roll please, a quick bit as Frankenstein's monster in 1967s Casino Royale.

Weird, right? I'll bet he had this photo in hand when he inquired about the Hammer job. I would.

Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell (1973)

Hell was the last Frankenstein movie Hammer did. This monster design was certainly the most inhuman, bestial looking they'd ever come up with. Weirdly, in spite of the monster's obviously inhuman appearance, he was presented in the story as a normal, average guy. Named Schneider.

Well. He was presented as a big, hairy, insane, murderous guy named Schneider, but you get my drift: Nobody in the movie was saying "Hey, there's a horrifying, missing link, ape man thing--he's already quite monster-y--let's make him even more so!" They were just like "Oh, there's Herr Schneider, the convicted mass murderer in his cell over there. Let's use his body to make a monster with," like they might just as easily have chosen some spindly little bald guy. Weird to me.

Turns out Herr Schneider's monster was played (wait for it...) by Dave Prowse, who by this time was probably being called "Frank" by all his friends. Hammer knew when they had a good thing, and a 6' 6" bodybuilder is definitely a good thing when you're making monster movies.

I included a different head shot for Dave here, just for fun. It was taken several years after he made this movie, obviously.

And there we have it. The Hammer Frankenstein monsters.