‘The monster is back and no one can stop him!’

By Christopher Gullo

 (Originally published in "Hammered!" issue #2)

Often when comparing the Frankenstein films that Hammer films made with friends I find myself outnumbered defending ‘EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN’ as one of my favorites. They like to lambaste the film for not fitting in with the rest of the series and for the botched makeup job on the creature played by Kiwi Kingston.  I happen to love the film for the memories of my childhood that it brings back and for a storyline that showed Baron Frankenstein in a sympathetic light. So for this article my goal was to compare the film from my memories during my childhood and how it stands up today.


‘EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN’ was the first Hammer/Peter Cushing film that I ever saw. I was about seven years old at the time and it was on Halloween after I had made my rounds through the neighborhood dressed as a ghost. Plopping down in front of the television that afternoon to see if I could find any monster movies I came across some film that said ‘A Hammer Film Production’. I thought it was a silly name confusing it with the tool before I was shocked to see a body snatcher sneak into a house and steal a body while a little girl around my own age looked on. I watched as the little girl ran screaming through the woods into the figure of a mysterious man who would turn out to be my favorite actor of all time – Peter Cushing. When the film’s title came on the screen ‘EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN’, I was hooked. I had to watch the rest of this film to see whom the mysterious man was and what type of monster the film had in store for me.


The beginning of this film still holds up really well. It certainly is frightening to watch the body snatcher steal away a body during a storm knowing that he is up to some evil task. Cushing’s entrance is grand as the little girl runs into him and screams as if she has seen the creation he brings life to later on in the film. The credit sequence is particularly gruesome as Cushing goes about his business of cutting the heart out of his freshly stolen warm body. When a priest shows up to Baron Frankenstein’s hideaway laboratory, Cushing’s coolness and arrogance of his character shows through. The fact that he has been caught red handed dissecting a stolen corpse makes no difference to the Baron – he tells the priest matter of fact to get out of his laboratory since it is his property! While the priest ignores the Baron’s command and wrecks havoc with his equipment, the viewer begins to get a sense of sympathy for the misunderstood Baron, “Destroyed! They always destroy everything!”


Text Box:  The next part of the film that stood out in my mind from childhood was when Baron Frankenstein travels back to his château with Hans only to find it in ruins. I felt bad for the Baron that some people would destroy his home while he was away. When the Baron explains why he was banished I remember being awestruck by the incredible laboratory equipment and the creature itself – a hulking monster that sure did not disappoint me in terms of being frightened! All the creature’s moves were impressive. But most of all I could not forget the shuffling of its feet as it was learning to walk. Even though the creature was a horrifying creation, I felt sorry for him as the villagers shot him in the head and again later as it tried to escape.


The sympathy that Peter Cushing elicits as the Baron has almost never been matched for its strength as in ‘THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN’. Baron Frankenstein says it best, “Why can’t they ever leave me alone?” The character of Frankenstein is truly a misunderstood genius – hated by his colleagues for his advanced knowledge of the medical field, feared by local villagers who view him as a ‘devil’, he seeks to find the truth about life and its complexities even if it means paying for it with his own.


While the makeup on Kiwi Kingston does not hold up as well today I believe that the motions of the creature are still impressive and the sound of the shuffling feet still gives me the creeps. This is due to the performance of Kingston himself, a 6 foot 5 inch, 238-pound wrestler also known as a perfectionist in the publicity material for the film. “Kiwi’s passion for perfectionism can be gauged from his records. Before turning professional, he represented New Zealand in the Empire Games as a wrestler and horseman. Today his horses are known throughout Europe as prize snatchers in top class High School and Show Jumping competitions – ridden, incidentally, by Kiwi.” Kingston created a creature which seemed as a newborn child – learning to walk, being picky about what food he eats, not knowing the danger of fire until experiencing it, and listening to his ‘parents’ – the Baron Frankenstein and Professor Zoltan (what a dysfunctional family!).

I remember as a kid hating Zoltan for tricking Frankenstein and using the creature for his evil deeds. The creature was a simple child obeying almost like a marionette – unfortunately for its victims a truly strong and unemotional being as well. Why was the film called ‘EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN’? The film should have been called ‘EVIL OF ZOLTAN’!


Peter Woodthorpe creates a hated slimy and hated character in Professor Zoltan. He operates as a trickster of townspeople and can only think of the fasted way to make a quick profit. When he first revives the creature by hypnosis he cannot believe that the Baron does not want to show his creation in traveling sideshows. The Baron cannot comprehend why he would ever want to show his creation to the masses that certainly could not appreciate and would probably earn him another exile.  The two characters are perfect opposites – the genius and cunning of the Baron versus the greediness and manipulation of the Professor.

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The struggle for control of the creature between the Baron and the Professor also attracted my attention as my mind wanders back in time. I had no idea who would survive the monster’s wrath as both men shouted instructions to get its attention. When Zoltan finally received an iron spike through his body courtesy of the creature I was thinking that he certainly got what he deserved.


The struggle scene today is also still powerful once again due to Kingston but also to the portrayals of Cushing and Woodthorpe. Cushing is bold and adamant that he will have control over his own creation. Woodthorpe is afraid and vile in his attempt to kill the Baron through his control over the creature. Kingston acts as a child of a divorce, not sure who to listen to and finally turning on the one person who is now exposed to be a truly evil man. The three men create a mounting tension that builds into a bloody climax and more trouble for the Baron as the police arrive just in time to see him above the dead body of Zoltan.


The final scenes of Frankenstein and his creature inside a burning laboratory brought chills to my spine as I did not know what would happen to them – I certainly did not want them to die as I hoped to see more of the story of the two fascinating characters. When the castle exploded I felt let down, surely the Baron and the creature had died inside that terrible fire?


Once again Cushing elicits sympathy as he tries to save his creation that does not know that danger that it has put itself in. Only a father would risk his own life to save a son who has unknowingly put himself in mortal danger. Cushing even gets to play swashbuckler swinging from a rope down into the fire below to somehow put things right. The fire does seem extremely dangerous and Cushing admitted in an interview that both he and Kingston had to yell at the top of their lungs for the special effects team to get them out of the blazing set.


Of course being a kid I did not realize that there was an entire series of Frankenstein films starring the Baron and various creatures that he brought to life. I still had not seen the first two chapters of the series, nor the last three (not counting ‘HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN’ which I consider separate).  My first introduction to a Hammer film had me completely hooked for life – somehow I connected with them and with Peter Cushing in particular. The Baron was such an interesting character that I wanted to know more about the actor who portrayed him. How would I know that the actor was just as interesting as the Baron that he played on screen?


So when a discussion starts among fellow Hammer friends I will often find myself defending ‘EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN’ for the wonderful memories that it brings back of my first experience watching the Baron trying to bring life to his creation – both misunderstood beings by the world which does not want to accept either one. This was truly the most sympathetic Frankenstein film of the Hammer franchise.