Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) and his student, Hans (Sandor Elès) return to the village of Karlstaad, where they discover the baron’s original monster (Kiwi Kingston) frozen inside a glacier. In his bid to revive the monster, Frankenstein recruits malicious mesmerist Professor Zoltan (Peter Woodthorpe). Unfortunately, Zoltan seizes total control of the monster’s psyche and uses it for his own murderous ends.
This was the third film in Hammer’s Frankenstein series and the first not directed by Terence Fisher. Cinematographer-turned-director Freddie Francis takes the reins here and, as expected, produces some striking images. The monster encased in ice and Frankenstein’s lab - all flashing electrodes and bubbling, rainbow-coloured test tubes - linger longer in the memory than the wayward plot. Francis is a plodding storyteller, although the screenplay by producer Anthony Hinds (under his usual pseudonym: John Elder) doesn’t help matters with its make it up as we go approach. It takes fifty minutes before Frankenstein rediscovers his monster. Things only really get going once Peter Woodthorpe’s glowering hypnotist enters the story. Even then, Francis and Hinds don’t make as much of the clash between steely, rational Frankenstein and snivelling, reckless Professor Zoltan as Terence Fisher and Jimmy Sangster might have.
Hammer fans will still cherish the sheer fun of scenes where the monster bashes victims to a pulp or Frankenstein fends him off with a burning torch. Despite the title, Frankenstein is at his most sympathetic here, well served by Peter Cushing’s haunted, world-weary performance. “They always destroy everything! Why can’t they leave me alone!” he sighs, exasperated in one surprisingly affecting scene. With Karlstaad populated by dolts, hypocrites and corrupt local officials, the grave-robbing scientist emerges as the most moral character in the movie. Cushing cuts an athletic dash, whether leaping from a balcony to evade the police or kicking Zoltan’s sorry ass. Most of the supporting cast fail to match him, either overacting wildly, or fading into the background. Sandor Elès is as wooden here as he was in Countess Dracula (1970). However, Freddie Francis must have appreciated Katy Wild’s low-key, sincere turn as a mute beggar-girl, since he cast her again in Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965) and The Deadly Bees (1967). When The Evil of Frankenstein premiered on American television in 1968 (it never played theatrically in the States), new scenes were inserted where the monster encounters Wild’s character as a child.
This time round the monster was played by New Zealand wrestler, Kiwi Kingston, and since this film was co-produced with Universal, Hammer were allowed to imitate the classic Boris Karloff/Jack Pierce monster look. Kingston’s stocky, ashen-faced zombie, who grunts and falls down a lot, wasn’t well liked by horror fans at the time. Nowadays he seems like the halfway point between Christopher Lee’s stitch-faced homicidal maniac from Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and David Prowse’s hulking ape in Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1973); less memorable than either but he gets the job done. The monster makeup isn’t up to Jack Pierce standards, but he does have creepy eyes (“I won’t tell you where I got them, but I assure you they’re perfect!” quips Frankenstein). Plus, you get to see the monster drunk.
A much respected cinematographer for decades, British Francis made his way up from camera operator on films like The Small Back Room, Outcast of the Islands and Beat the Devil to fully fledged cinematographer on such films as Room at the Top, Sons and Lovers (for which he won his first Oscar), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and The Innocents (a masterpiece of his art).