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Warner Home Video presents
Karl: I thought the world had seen the last of you.
DVD ReviewThe Hammer studios revolutionized horror in 1957 with its splashy and colorful The Curse of Frankenstein. The good doctor was still going strong a dozen years later in this fourth sequel, one of the highest points in the entire series.
Dr. Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) is on the run again, and takes lodgings in the boarding house of Anna Spengler (Veronica Carlson). He discovers that her fianceé, Dr. Karl Holst (Simon Ward), is illegally selling cocaine, and blackmails the pair into assisting him in his latest project: rescuing Dr. Frederick Brandt (George Pravda) from the madhouse where Karl works, so that he can share his secrets of brain transplantation. But Brandt suffers a severe heart attack in the process, leaving Frankenstein no choice but to shift Brandt's brain into the body of Professor Richter (Freddie Jones) and get the information from him before the police close in.
One of the things that makes this particularly a noteworthy installment in the series is the added level of humanity and pathos, particularly in the sequence where Brandt/Richter attempts to see Brandt's wife (Maxine Audley) one last time. But there are plenty of other memorable segments, beginning with the opening teaser involving a housebreaker stumbling into Frankenstein's lab. A sequence of a water main gradually forcing a corpse up out of the garden is a suspense sequence worthy of Hitchcock. The finale is one of the most satisfying in the entire Hammer canon as Brandt/Richter takes his revenge.
The cast is first-rate from top to bottom. Cushing is of course terrific in the lead, though his character as scripted is rather more severe than usual: where previous Frankenstein films have depicted him as suffering from a moral blindness, here he's downright wicked, with blackmail and rape counted amongst his affirmative offenses. Veronica Carlson is credible and gives a much broader-range performance than one is used to from Hammer starlets; one really believes a strong affection between her and Ward, unlike the more typical cardboard romance seen in such pictures. Esteemed character actor Freddie Jones really steals the picture, however, with his complex portrayal of love, grief, and hatred, even though it appears almost entirely in the last reel. Perhaps better than any other cinematic Frankenstein monster, Jones really captures the tortured soul depicted by Mary Shelley in her classic novel. Thorley Walters, who had been Frankenstein's sidekick in the prior installment, Frankenstein Created Woman, this time switches sides and plays a pompous police inspector.
The print used here is uncut, with an additional six or seven minutes added over and above the American theatrical release. Reinstated is Frankenstein's rape of Anna, which gives her behavior later in the film a completely different (and more understandable) aspect. A short scene of Thorley Walters addressing the press right after this is also reinstated.
Longtime Hammer director Terence Fisher would only make one more film, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974), but this marks a more fitting swan song. The deliberate pacing not only better simulates the Victorian era than the earlier, more quickly paced episodes, but also gives the film a strangling atmosphere first as Frankenstein pulls Anna and Karl deeper and deeper into trouble, and then as the law begins to catch up with the three of them.
Continuity had pretty much been dispensed with in the Frankenstein series by the third film, Evil of Frankenstein (now the only one in the series not yet on DVD, with no word from Universal as to when or whether it will be released). Each of the succeeding pictures stands on its own and is hardly consistent with its predecessors. In a way, that's good, since a fresh look could be taken at the Baron and his depredations each time. That certainly works to good effect here. The result of surehanded direction and the excellent cast makes for one of the best horror films of the 1960s.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: The picture is slightly cropped from the 1.66:1 original, but unlike some of the earlier Hammer films released by Warner it does little violence to the framing here. The source print is quite clean, though rather grainy. It's colorful and sharp with plenty of detail. There is mild ringing in a few spots, but that appears to be a compression artifact rather than edge enhancement. Black levels are good although shadow detail is a mite lacking.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Unfortunately, the audio is nowhere near as good as the picture. There's a good deal of noise and hiss prominent throughout. James Bernard's excellent score (with its three-note "Fran-ken-stein" motif) has a bit of a shrill sound and only nominal bass. In two segments, one from 54m to 57m, and another at 1h:31m, dialogue becomes extremely murky and difficult to make out.
Audio Transfer Grade: D+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Review: The sole extra is an anamorphic widescreen trailer. It too features terrible audio, making it impossible to make out much of the dialogue. It also manages to give away the finale. Chaptering is substantial.
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsOne of the best horrors out of the Hammer studios, with a very nice video transfer but unfortunately rather shabby audio and no extras at all other than a trailer. Well worth picking up for horror fans, however.
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