Archive for the Frankenstein Category


Posted in Frankenstein, Ishiro Honda, Japanese Films, Mad Doctors and Scientists, Nazis, Science Fiction-Fantasy, Toho Studios on October 6, 2011 by Bill Courtney


1966/Director: Ishirô Honda/ Writers: Reuben Bercovitch (story),
Takeshi Kimura
Cast: Nick Adams, Tadao Takashim, Kumi Mizuno, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Koji Furuhata
Frankenstein Conquers the World is one of the oddest entries into the history  of the Frankenstein library of often already odd films. It crawls out of Toho Studios and is directed by the great Ishiro Honda. It stars American actor Nick Adams (the Johnny Yuma TV show) in one of his three films with Toho. He plays scientist James Bowen who is hot on the trail of the Frankenstein Monster (though it is referred to throughout the film as Frankentstein) with the help of his lovely assistant Sueko Togami (Kumi Mizuni) and fellow scientist Dr. Kenichiro Kawaji (who is determined to obtain one of Frankenstein’s members or organs for future research).
The action originates in Nazi Germany towards the end of WWII when a mad scientist’s laboratory is raided by Nazi guards and the heart of Frankenstein (the monster) is taken then transported to Imperial Japan by submarine. Exactly why the Nazi’s would give away this potential asset to their conquests is never explained, but the heart winds up in the safest of places in Japan to carry out secret research, the city of Hiroshima. Fifteen after Hiroshima is baked to a crisp a strange kid begins to appear around the city and eats some of the local small animals. The boy is captured and for some odd reason is said to possess Caucasian features, no doubt to tie the beast in with the European creator and monster, but actor Koji Furahata does not look in any way Caucasian. Soon the lad has grown to gigantic proportions and escapes his holding cell leaving one of his severed but animated hands behind. In no time he is being blamed for the destruction of local villages and inns, but that is actually the handy work of subterranean monster Baragon (the alternate title is Frankenstein vs Baragon). Needless to say a duel is inevitable between the titans and as usual it is full of giant monster doing judo flips and spewing fire.
The photography and miniatures are excellent -if you are easy going on those matters- as they usually are in Honda’s films, though the super-imposed scenes are lacking in quality. Nick Adams seems a little dim witted to be a geneticist but it makes the movie even more fun. Scenes that the American distributor wanted included with Frankenstein fighting another duel with a giant octopus were deleted from the final version, but reappeared later as an alternate ending. The monster is one of the oddest on film (and there have been plenty of odd Frankenstein based monsters) and in many ways the creature stays in line with the legend: flat head, mistaken crimes, good heart and intentions that are misread and fascination with a beautiful woman. Baragon later reappeared in Destroy All Monsters and Frankenstein reappears in War of the Gargantuas. Maybe not for non-Toho fans, but a must for big monster (Kaiji) and detailed miniature lovers. 



Posted in British Horror, Christopher Lee, Frankenstein, Hammer, Hazel Court, Jimmy Sangster, Peter Cushing, Terence Fisher on September 16, 2011 by Bill Courtney
1957/ Director: Terence Fisher/ Writers: Jimmy Sangster , Mary Shelley (novel)

Cast: Peter Cushing, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart, Christopher Lee, Melvyn Hayes, Valerie Gaunt, Paul Hardtmuth
The Curse of Frankenstein is truly a history making movie. Prior to Curse Hammer had had some success as a film studio and with the Quartermass films and X The Unknown found a niche in the horror genre. Curse was their first color film, and what a first it was. The scenes are lush and vibrant as well as chilling and nightmarish. Under the direction of the brilliant Terence Fisher the movie single handedly revives the Gothic horror film. While it was a return to the classic, atmospheric horror themes established in the 30’s by Universal studios, but Hammer would certainly tell the stories with their own style. Hammer screenwriter Jimmy Sangster would turn the focus of the story on the character of Victor Frankenstein rather than the monster. The obsessed doctor and his hideous creation are played by Hammer first timers Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Lee got the role basically because of his 6’4′ height, a feature that almost prevented him from landing the role he would make legendary, that of Count Dracula. However it is Cushing that shines as the driven and insane Dr. Victor Frankenstein. He does frequent himself with hunchbacks as he robs graves but he aligns himself with his brilliant tutor. In later Hammer Frankenstein films the Igor type hunchback is eschewed for career driven young men who fall under Frankenstein’s evil charm. Cushing is dashingly handsome and his face conveys the doctor’s charisma and madness. He is a sociopath really who will let no one stand in the way of his ambitions.

The story essentially follows the classic Frankenstein tale, that of a man whose supreme creation turns into a monster that sets out to destroy its creator. The film has a wrap around narration and opens up with a priest arriving at the jail house where a broken and disheveled Victor await the guillotine. He does seek absolution but just wants someone to believe his incredible story, and that it was a ‘monster’ that murdered his jealous house maid. We are taken back in time to when an already rich and arrogant young Victor Frankenstein meets his brilliant new tutor Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) and the two form a deep connection as time passes. However Victor’s passion run darker and more sinister than Paul’s as he desires to test their live reviving techniques on humans and not just small animals. Paul, though strong willed, is susceptible to Victor’s vision and passion and he is soon cutting corpses from the gallows to use in experiments. As in all Frankenstein stories the sublime nature of Frankenstein’s creation is not its physical form, hewed together from collected body parts, but it is to be the thing’s magnificent mind.

While all of Paul’s and Victor’s experiments are going on the house Victor’s cousin Elizabeth (the lovely Hazel Court) has come to stay following the death of her mother. She and her mother have long been cared for financially by Victor and now the two are to be paired in an arranged marriage. But the ambitious Victor has been dallying with the house keeper Justine (Valerie Gaunt) and whispering sweet nothings in her ear¡­ sweet nothings that while rear their ugly heads and spell Justine’s doom eventually. Paul grows fond of Elizabeth and pleads with her to leave and while she senses his sincerity she is intend on wedding Victor. And Victor in the meantime had solved the problem of how to get a brilliant brain into his patchwork ubermensch, he will simply invite the gifted Professor Bernstein up for dinner and chat, then push him over the banister and kill him in a truly amazing scene that does not look like a dummy was used. Paul is over wrought with disgust at Victor and a conflict ensues in the crypt and the brain is damaged, but Victor continues his experiment to success. But his success nearly kills him. After pleading with Paul for assistance in operating the apparatus he returns to his laboratory to find the creature has been brought back to life in his absence. There is a fantastic scene where Lee quickly unbandages his face and reveals the hideous features of Victor’s dark labors. This scene totally scared the daylights out of as a ten year old staying up and watching this late at night all alone. Hammer was careful not to provoke powerful Universal studios with the monster’s makeup and what they did was a creature that looks bloodless and grotesque, with clumps of mangled flesh hanging from its neck rather than neat stitching scars. Lee’s monster has little time on screen in comparison to Karloff’s, and the time spent is in anguish and despair. The creature looks disgusting and shows its homicidal rage instantly upon seeing its creator. The thing escapes and rather than befriending an old blind man kills him. Paul shoots it in the face and in a rather gory scene for the time.

Victor will not give up and digs the beast up and in the last parts of the film it kills the scorned Justine and is discovered by a desperate to understand Elizabeth. While there is moral ambiguity with Cushing’s Frankenstein, a feature not to found in his Van Helsing or other Vampire hunters, he tries to save Elizabeth in the end from the beast he has to destroy. He comes to his senses far too late and in the end he is deserted at the guillotine by Paul and Elizabeth. Could Paul have saved him by verifying the existence of a monster? Or would he have only implicated himself? Did he take it on himself to be Victor’s judge for his horrible crimes? Did Paul fall in love with Elizabeth and see this as a solution to more than one problem?
The film ends with this questions and as we know the story continues in more fine Hammer Frankenstein films. I have the next three in the series and I will get them in due time. Before closing I want to comment on two more things. One is on Terrence Fisher’s marvelous use of interior shots. He does this well in all his films (The Brides of Dracula for another example) and his use of cluttered rooms and exotic interior camera angles is a quality I have long loved in his work. In fact his exterior shots are often bland unless his is using studio sets. The other thing I found noteworthy of this true classic was the score by James Bernard, who scored some of Hammer’s best soundtracks. But this one is simply thrilling and you cannot help but feel Victor’s anguish and fear all the more because of this score.


Posted in Frankenstein, Mad Doctors and Scientists, Matinee, Mexican Films, Santo, Wrestlers and Boxers on September 13, 2011 by Bill Courtney
A mad female scientist needs Santo’s blood for a youth serum; 
and she has Frankenstein’s reliable old monster to help her get it.




Posted in American Horror, Camp-Cheese, Frankenstein, Science Fiction-Fantasy on September 13, 2011 by Bill Courtney

1965/ Director: Robert Gaffney/ Writers: R.H.W. Dillard, George Garrett

Cast: Marilyn Hanold,  James Karen, Lou Cutell, Nancy Marshall, David Kerman, Robert Reilly, Bruce Glover

Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster takes place on sunny Puerto Rico instead of Japan and is a fine example of a great bad movie that is worth watching more than once. It is really not a terribly made film in some respects. The film editing is not bad and there is a good music score (one song by the Distant Cousins may have been the inspiration for the riff from one of my favorite Thrill Kill Kult songs, Babylon Drifter) and the space ship interiors are far from the worst on record.

The story is about secret, cyborg astronaut Frank Saunders (Robert Riley) whose rocket is shot out of the sky by space aliens who think it is an attacking missile. When the aliens discover that Frank has survived the attack they g down to Earth themselves to finish off the potential witness that may jeopardize their mission; acquiring a breeding stock of nubile young earth girls, most in bikinis. Frank (as in Frankenstein) is also searched for by human scientists Adam Steele (played by James Karen, most famous for his roles in Return of the Living Dead, and even recently as the CEO in The Pursuit of Happyness) and cry baby Karen Grant (Nancy Marshall). Of course during the crash of his spaceship poor Frank has half his face burnt off and his circuitry all screwed up, so sometimes he over reacts and kills people with his bare hands or machetes. Eventually frank winds up trying to rescue the earth girls from the aliens with Dr Steele and there meets the “space monster” Mull and they have a less than epic battle that destroys the space ship and nasty aliens.

The performances of Marylin Hanold and Lou Cutell as the alien princess and her henchman offer up some of the best moments in the film. Lou Cutell’s nodding and sleazy grins are nearly as classic as his poorly done bald wig make up. Actor Bruce Glover (Crispin Glover’s father and one of the gay hitmen in Diamonds are Forever who kept try to bump off 007) appears briefly as an alien. The movie was voted as one of the 100 worst of all time (what more of a recommendation do you need) though, as I said, is hardly a total flop in all technical departments. You may have a fun time watching all the stock military footage and checking out the swinging gogo pool parties, until they are crashed by ray gun totting aliens who wear space suits that look very much like NASA training gear. It is really a good example of how a chessy camp classic can earn a persistent cult following, and for good reason. It is my definition of a “feel good” movie. It was fun to watch the unintended laughs and guffaws and one of those films that can be enjoyed alone for “research” or a movie party flick.


Posted in Frankenstein, Michael Sarrazin, TV on August 21, 2011 by Bill Courtney
1973/Director: Jack Smight/Writers: Don Bachardy, Christopher Isherwood
Cast: Michael Sarrazin, James Mason, Leonard Whiting, David McCallum, Jane Seymour, Nicola Pagett, Agnes Moorehead, John Gielgud, Tom Baker
I was lucky enough to actually see this fine film when it first aired on NBC as a two part movie back in 1973. I had not been able to see it again until only recently when I got a hold of the restored and full length, about three hours or more I guess, Universal Presents Frankenstein: The True Story DVD version. I read that there was an edited VHS version that was based more on the shortened European version of the film but never saw it. Now while the title claims it to be the “true version” I understand that a few liberties were made with the original Mary Shelley story, which I have never read, and we will touch on at least one of those later in the review. I guess to get the final word one may have to go visit the Frankensteinia blog, which I did earlier when doing some research for this post but I actually did not find a n article there on this most excellent Frankentstein film and hope one appears soon. If there is a post there I apologize in advance and if not beg that one be made someday. The same year that Frankenstein: The True Story came out another made for TV film was released that was written and produced by Dan Curtis that starred Robert Foxworth as Dr. Victor Frankenstein and Bo Svenson. I also saw that version though I would need to see it again to refresh my memory on the story but it too made some claims to being mostly true to the original story. I am not a Frankenstein movie scholar (I am no sort of movie scholar to be quite frank) but I know that 1974 saw the last of the Hammer Frankenstein films the fairly decent Terence Fisher film Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell which I reviewed here some time ago. Throughout the sixties Hammer had taken the Frankenstein story and did several new things with it and whether those were always great is debatable but it did pump life back into the legend as it also did with Dracula. There is, in my opinion, visual influence on this film version by director Jack Smight from Hammer and even veteran Hammer make up artist Roy Ashton did the effective make up for the monster. After all the fantastic stories and interpretations by Hammer it seemed time to reign the monster back in and recreate him yet once again.

For a TV movie the film is well shot and photographed. While an American project the movie was shot at Pinewood Studio in England and for the most part cinematographer Arthur Ibbetson keeps the project from looking too much like a television production. The cast is noteworthy for a television production and a couple fleeting appearances are made by big British names like John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. No doubt the scene stealer of the picture is James Mason as Dr. Polidori who is a sort of variation on the character of Dr. Pretorius from James Whale’s 1935 classic Bride of Frankenstein. Here is one of the bits of liberty taken with the “true story’ since in the original novel (again which I never read but researched a little for this post) there is no Dr. Polidori. In fact John William Polidori was doctor/writer friend of Shelley’s who helped to inspire her to write the novel as part of a friendly competition initiated by Lord Byron at his villa by Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Polidori would produce the story Vampyre which predates Dracula as vampire literature. And from the challenge Mary Shelley, of course, produced Frankenstein. But Mason is simply great as the brilliant but slightly mad (madder than Victor Frankenstein in any case) former colleague in darkness of Dr. Henry Clerval who is played by David McCallum. Also appearing in the film is Jane Seymour as first peasant girl Agatha and then as the twisted Prima, “the bride’. Victor is played with sensitivity by Leonard Whiting. After more than a decade of Peter Cushing’s portrayal of a sociopathic Dr. Frankenstein Whiting’s performance is a little refreshing to be honest. Or it was when I was a kid watching all of this stuff on TV. I had seen most of the Hammer films several times on TV before this appeared. And while Mason hammed it up perfectly as Polidori the real star of the film is Michael Sarrazin as the monster. His transition from a angel faced and kind hearted creation into a decaying and mentally imbalanced monster was one of the best monsters ever in my opinion. I would go so far as to say maybe it was the best for me.

It was a suddenly fresh, and closer to Shelley’s idea, interpretation of the monster that I had not yet seen done by Universal or Hammer. A creature that, after its creation, is in fact something that would make it creator truly proud. So proud in fact that the creator takes it out to operas even. One problem with the James Whale and Hammer creatures is that they were created as misshapen monsters to begin with. Things that would only generate fear and loathing. Take even the creature played by Christopher Lee in the wonderful Hammer film The Curse of Frankenstein. The things face is ruined and hideous from the start and one has to wonder about Frankenstein’s state of mind to consider its creation something that would challenge the power of God to be the sole creator of life in the Universe. The creature becomes something that Frankenstein hides away in a dungeon. Sarrazin’s creature is something that gives Frankenstein joy and whom he sees as a near mirror of himself. Nothing something he wants to hide away but something he wants to share with the world. This makes the story all the more tragic when things begin to go wrong with the creature.

What goes wrong is simple tissue rejection that Victor is unaware of and that Dr. Clerval knew of from earlier experiments but died before being able to let Victor know about. Victor continued with the experiments and put Clerval’s brain into their creation. As the creature begins to rot before Victor’s eyes Victor’s fatherly passion turns towards into vain disgust and repulsion and finally drives to creature to try and kill itself. But the creature cannot die so easily. The story is in many ways is familiar here to anyone who has seen various interpretations of the film. The creature befriends a blind man but is driven away by people who are repulsed by his face. He unintentionally kills a local peasant girl who he has fallen in love with and returns to Victor’s castle for help but instead finds Dr. Polidori. Polidori is soon back in Victor’s life with the monster in tow and blackmailing him for assistance with promises of staying out of his life if hew complies. Promises he breaks as he returns with the now resurrected Agatha as Prima. The monster shows up at a ball, a coming out party for Prima, and rips her head off in front of the terrified crowd and in the process ruins Victor’s palns for a normal life with his new wife Elizabeth (Nicola Paget).

The film ends with the creature stowing away on a ship with Frankenstein, Polidori and Elizabeth that is heading for America in an attempt to escape the impending investigations and problems after the appearance of the monster at the ball. There are great scenes of the monster tormenting Polidori and his deformed hands (caused by a chemical accident in his life giving process that does not employ electricity) and hoisting him up the mast of the ship as lighting, Polidori’s fear, erupts in a storm at sea. The monster kills Elizabeth after she insults him over and over and the ship winds up in the frozen Artic where a torments creator and his creation face each other for the last time. The film develops, I feel, one of the best relationships between monster and creator ever put to film. Neither is totally good or evil and Frankenstein himself is portrayed as more emotionally tormented than a man driven insane by blind ambition. While there is that aspect to Victor’s character there is also genuine remorse and sympathy. The monster wrecks vengeance on Victor but in the end still regards him as his creator/father and therefore of someone deserving of respect. The film looks great and while it is long it is never tedious or dreary. I had to watch it in the two parts in was intended to be watched in (stopping when the creature attempts suicide) and forgot how much I liked Michael Sarrazin. Jane Seymour is both wonderful and wicked as Agatha/Prima and Whiting is fine as a tortured Victor Frankenstein. The film moved the Frankenstein concept out of the days the Universal monster with bolts in his neck and the Hammer period of an unlikable Dr. Frankenstein into our times. Kenneth Branagh directed and starred in a good version of the story in 1994 with Robert De Niro as the monster and I feel he was very influenced in some way by this version more than any that came before it. Frankenstein: The True Story is an exceptional film version of the Frankenstein legend as far as my experience with the film’s history goes.