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Anchor Bay presents
Horror of Frankenstein (1970)

"Bit of a barney getting it out. Tricky thing, a brain."
- The Body Snatcher (Dennis Price)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: August 24, 2001

Stars: Ralph Bates, Kate O'Mara, Veronica Carlson
Other Stars: Dennis Price, Jon Finch, David Prowse, Graham James
Director: Jimmy Sangster

Manufacturer: Grace & Wild Interactive Development
MPAA Rating: R for (horror-related gore, sexual situations)
Run Time: 01h:35m:11s
Release Date: August 07, 2001
UPC: 013131164992
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B-B-B+ A+

DVD Review

Hammer Films were really put on the international film map by the success of their 1957 picture, Curse of Frankenstein. As the Frankenstein series began to run out of steam in the late 1960s, Hammer tried to recapture lightning in a bottle with an updated remake of their big hit. They did this with a younger Dr. Frankenstein, putting Peter Cushing out to pasture. Simultaneously, a greater emphasis was placed on black humour. Although the result is interesting, it's ultimately pretty disappointing.

Ralph Bates, whom Hammer valiantly tried to turn into the next Cushing or Christopher Lee, stars as Victor Frankenstein. As always, he is interested in the secrets of life and death, and collects body parts for his experiments through less than lawful means. The love interests are his housekeeper, Alys (Kate O'Mara), and the woman who loves him, Elizabeth (Veronica Carlson). Assisted by squeamish friend Wilhelm Kassner (Graham James), Victor crafts a living man, murdering Elizabeth's father to procure a healthy brain. The monster (David Prowse, best known as Darth Vader) has a foul temper, however, and a murderous streak. Frankenstein puts this to good use by having the monster eliminate his enemies one by one. Meanwhile, the death of Elizabeth's father has left her a pauper and she runs to the shelter of Victor, but she doesn't quite count on the reception that she receives.

A more vicious and sociopathic Frankenstein than one usually sees in these films, Ralph Bates portrays the title character as a completely unlikeable and vile creature. This no doubt helped contribute to the box office disappointment of this relaunch of the series. Whereas Cushing played Frankenstein as a single-mindedly determined man who doesn't let things like laws get in his way, Bates' version seems to almost revel in bloodshed and cruelty. This treatment makes audience identification nearly impossible.

The supporting cast is very good, other than Graham James, who is nondescript at best. O'Mara makes a good saucy wench, and Carlson is drop dead gorgeous and charming to boot. Especially outstanding are Dennis Price as a resurrection artist who supplies Frankenstein with his raw materials, and Joan Rice as his eagerly complicit wife. They are both funny and likeable, which is a rather odd turnaround for a pair of grave-robbers. Yet it works quite well in context.

This being a Hammer film, there's plenty of cleavage and outrageous decolletage, not to mention improbable, gravity-defying bosoms. The gore is surprisingly limited; indeed, it's hardly as bloody as the 1957 version, making the R rating quite dubious indeed. As usual for Hammer productions, the set design is first-rate and the photography is attractive though not flashy. The comedy element is not outrageously funny, but it does have its moments. One of the most notable is the scene where Victor graciously introduces himself to his creation, only to be knocked silly by Prowse's sweeping backhand. The film has an oddly unsatisfying conclusion that seems to plainly leave the way open for a sequel that never came.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Although the transfer is mostly very attractive, with warm and pleasing colors and deep blacks, there are a few problems. Tracking shots and those with rapid movement have a highly digital appearance to them that is distracting and somewhat annoying. Considering the amount of extra material on this disc, an RSDL presentation would have helped immeasurably, for the bit rate is rather on the low side.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The original mono, presented as 2.0, is clear and free from hiss and noise. Dialogue and music are undistorted. The thunderstorm sequences feature plenty of bass for a mono track. Quite satisfactory, if unspectacular.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director/writer/producer Jimmy Sangster and Hammer Films historian Marcus Hearn
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Poster and still gallery
  2. Veronica Carlson art and photo galleries
Extras Review: Even though this is a minor entry in the Hammer canon, Anchor Bay provides plenty of extras in support of the feature. The commentary by jack-of-all-trades Jimmy Sangster (who also wrote Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula and The Mummy to launch Hammer's horror empire) is somewhat disappointing. His memory isn't the best, and he is repeatedly corrected on various points by Martin Hearns, who is interviewing Sangster as well as providing additional factual data. A more careful job of editing the commentary might have made this more presentable, although there are already substantial silent gaps. When Sangster warms to the topic, however, he has a good many engaging anecdotes to relate. The use of a very knowledgeable interviewer helps make this commentary much better than it might have been otherwise, and much preferable to some of the other commentaries Anchor Bay has produced, such as for the Ilsa series.

Veronica Carlson, who was in two other Hammer horrors, is an enthusiastic contributor to the extras. A recent 14m:39s interview with her for this disc is a highlight, and it's at least as informative as Sangster's entire commentary. There is also a gallery of her paintings as well as a large selection of cheesecake photos of her. A more traditional still and poster gallery is included as well, with many colour and black & white photos in addition to several foreign posters. An original UK trailer is provided, along with a US double feature trailer for this and 1970's Scars of Dracula, which was released on DVD on the same date by Anchor Bay, a nice touch that I found amusing. Wrapping up the packages are bios and selected filmographies for Sangster and Bates.

Extras Grade: A+


Final Comments

A snapshot of the beginning of the decline for Hammer Films, with some dubious changes to the franchise. As Sangster acknowledges in the commentary, he was wearing too many hats and didn't have enough people to tell him when he was going wrong, and the self-indulgent aspects of the movie bear out this observation. Those looking for heavy doses of sex and gore will be disappointed, but it makes for a decent, if occasionally awkward, black comedy. Loaded with extras, the disc is a good value.


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