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Tag Archives: Horror

The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)

In the various cinematic incarnations of Mary Shelley’s novel, Dr. Frankenstein’s record for creating life is one of overall failure, for one reason or another. He fails spectacularly, wreaking havoc both on society and the pathetic monsters that he creates. The 1958 Hammer Horror film, The Revenge of Frankenstein, stands out as something of an anomaly, however. Frankenstein actually succeeds in his experiments, only not in the way one expects.

The Revenge of Frankenstein is actually a sequel to The Curse of Frankenstein (starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee), though it is not necessary to have seen the original to enjoy the sequel. In Curse, Baron Frankenstein is played by Peter Cushing as an out-and-out psychopath and the film ends with him being executed for his crimes. Revenge opens with Baron Frankenstein (still played by Cushing) about to be executed. He is saved, however, at the last minute, by Karl, a man with a hunched back and paralyzed arm and leg.

Years pass and the action moves to Carlsbruck, where Baron Frankenstein lives as Dr. Stein and has a flourishing practice, much to the dismay of his fellow doctors whose business he has attracted. He has both rich patients with imaginary illnesses and poor patients, who he treats at a pauper’s hospital. One doctor, Dr. Hans Kleve (Francis Matthews) recognizes Dr. Stein as Baron Frankenstein and blackmails him into allowing him to become his assistant. Frankenstein is not unwilling to have a new assistant, however (thus avoiding the classic movie scientist mistake of working alone), and shows Hans his life’s work.

He has figured out how to put a body together from scraps of human anatomy, but has discovered that the only way to animate the body is to insert a living brain. Thus Karl is willing to allow Frankenstein to insert his brain into a new and better body, with the eager assistance of Dr. Kleve.

(Spoilers contained in final analysis) The plot in The Revenge of Dr. Frankenstein definitely took me by surprise. Cushing’s second incarnation of Frankenstein is a little less overtly psychopathic, but nevertheless still obsessively driven. As in the original The Curse of Frankenstein, the true monster is him. Karl is simply a victim.

Karl’s body is successfully transferred into a new and better body (played movingly by Michael Gwynn, who nicely plays a conscious that feels alien to the body he is now in) and at first I was disappointed when a simple blow to the head renders Karl the presumed monster of the film, terrorizing the city. But it soon becomes clear that Karl is simply a tragic accident in Frankenstein’s unstoppable quest to create life. It brings up the question of what life is. What sets Karl off initially is his fear that Frankenstein is going to display both him and Karl’s previous body as scientific proof of his achievements and Karl poignantly protests that he’s always been an object people stare. He doesn’t want to be a figure of study again. He only wants to live his life.

Peter Cushing treating the poor

But it brings up the interesting question of Frankenstein’s desire to create life. Does he really wish to create life? Since to create life is presumably to create a living, autonomous being. If one truly creates life, then isn’t one obligated to let that new life free? Frankenstein’s plan to put Karl on show, to essentially possess him, is a denial of Karl’s life. One of the fascinating themes of many Frankenstein films is the sense of ownership and possession that Frankenstein feels towards his creation (or subsequent rejection of them).

Frankenstein repeatedly demonstrates a lack of respect for life, even animal life. He transfers lizard brains into frogs, frog brains into lizards, orangutan brain’s into chimpanzees. Unlike the other snooty doctors of the city, he treats the poor, but it turns out that he does so partly to obtain body parts to create new bodies to house fresh brains.

(Big spoiler)The ending in particular took me by surprise. With seven minutes to go in the film, Frankenstein is beaten nearly to death by angry patients whose body parts he as collected for his experiments. They kill his body, but Hans has learned from the master and, much to my surprise, is able to place Frankenstein’s brain into the second body that Frankenstein had cobbled together from the patient’s body parts (a rather macabre reflection that seems to bother Frankenstein not at all).

The new body is really just played by Peter Cushing, looking rather more piratical with mustache and tattoo on his right arm (taken from a pickpocket), but apparently healthy and determined to continue his experiments, apparently fully vindicated in his work. He just can’t show anyone what he has achieved. It rather took my breath away. The monster lives. And he has learned nothing from his previous experiments.

This has been my contribution to “The Great Hammer-Amicus Blogathon.” Many thanks to Cinematic Catharsis and Reekweegiemidget for hosting! To read the rest of the posts, click here for Days 1, 2, and 3.

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Posted by on June 4, 2018 in Movies

 

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Jack Nicholson in The Raven (1963)

Bizarrely enough, I had never before seen Jack Nicholson in a movie until he unexpectedly walked through the door in a 1963 comic B horror movie, The Raven, directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, and Peter Lorre. I never associated Jack Nicholson with comedy, but the kicker is that in this comedic story with Price, Karloff and Lorre hamming it up for all they are worth, Nicholson is actually pretty funny.

The film opens with Vincent Price, as Dr. Erasmus Craven, quoting Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven.” Dr. Craven is a sensitive soul, a vegetarian and sorcerer who “prefers to practice [his] magic quietly at home” and is still mourning the death of his second wife, Lenore. But into his misanthropic musings comes a real raven, who turns out to be the rather ineffectual Dr. Bedlo (Peter Lorre), transformed into a raven by the magic of Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff), the evil grandmaster of the Brotherhood of Magicians. When Dr. Craven hears from Dr. Bedlo that he thought he saw Lenore (Hazel Court) alive at the castle of Dr. Scarabus, the two set out to investigate.

However, on this dangerous mission they somehow end up bringing the whole family: Craven’s daughter Estelle (Olive Sturgess) and Bedlo’s son, Rexford (Jack Nicholson), who fall in love while their parents deal with Scarabus. They arrive at the castle and are met by Scarabus, dripping false benevolence as only Boris Karloff can.

Entering Scarabus’ Domain

The idea of Jack Nicholson as Peter Lorre’s son is pretty funny in itself. As Scarabus says after mistaking Rexford for Craven’s son and being set right, “The resemblance is quite uncanny.” Even Craven asks Bedlo if Rexford favors his mother. Bedlo’s gloomy reply is that “she favors him.”

While the Price, Karloff and Lorre ham it up for all their worth (delightfully), Jack Nicholson steps into the story with perfect earnestness and sincerity, speaking in a kind of deadpan, flat tone. He was originally sent by his mother to find his father and is always trying to take care of him, remonstrate with him, prevent him from drinking too much wine or challenge Scarabus to yet another duel. It’s all the more amusing for his seeming unaware of all the jokes going on around him.

The special effects are hopelessly cheesy, but the cast pretty much knows it and seem to all be having a grand time. Scarabus wants Craven’s secret for magic by hand gestures and the two of them have a magic face-off, rather in the mold of Gandalf and Saruman in The Fellowship of the Rings, only the participants seem to be having more fun in The Raven.

Evidently, Jack Nicholson made his start in B films and appeared in a number of movies directed by Roger Corman. He had all good memories of working with the cast of The Raven, though he didn’t care for the actual raven, who had an inconvenient habit of relieving himself on people. The script is entirely un-serious. Matheson felt that was the only way to adapt a poem to screen. It seems like there are far worse B movies to make at the beginning of a career…and far worse actors to work with.

This post was written as part of the “Here’s Jack Blogathon,” hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews. Be sure to check out more posts about Jack Nicholson for Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3!

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2017 in Movies

 

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The Lost Moment (1947)

220px-poster_of_the_movie_the_lost_momentThe Lost Moment is based on Henry James’ novella The Aspern Papers, though the movie is rather different in tone and plot (I want to review the novella in a later post). The movie is more in the line of a Gothic thriller/romance, akin to Rebecca.

Lewis Venable (Robert Cummings) is an American publisher interested in the writings of American poet Jeffrey Ashton (Jeffrey Aspern in the novella), a poet in the mold of Shelley or Byron. Ashton had written exquisite poems to a lovely woman named Juliana (Agnes Moorehead). When Venable hears that Juliana is still living at 105 years of age, in Venice, and that she might possess love letters from Ashton, he is determined to get his hands on those papers and publish them.

After his request by letter is refused, he visits her under a false name and becomes a lodger (she is badly in need of money). Also living with Juliana is her niece, Tina (Susan Hayward), who is distinctly hostile to Lewis. The entire house is riven with secrets and everyone – Tina, Juliana, and Lewis – are obsessed with those passionate love letters and the poet who wrote them.

There’s sort of a mystery, though not everything is answered at the end. Lewis feels strong hero-worship for Jeffrey Ashton and seems all to ready to topple headfirst into the ghost-ridden, self-contained fantasy world that Juliana and Tina have constructed for themselves.

Interestingly, the story ends up being Tina’s story most of all. When we first meet her, Susan Hayward plays her like a young Mrs. Danvers in training (seriously – if someone had ever made a movie about the backstory of Mrs. Danvers and Rebecca, Susan Hayward would have been a candidate). She has the same frigidity, same way of doing her hair, the habit of suddenly appearing without having seemed to have walked, same hostility to the new member of the household.

However, as the story unfolds, she reveals an exceedingly vulnerable side to her character. It’s almost like she’s playing dual roles, with her soul at stake. But unfortunately, the film ends too abruptly and there are many questions that are never answered about her. Who were her parents? How is she really related to Juliana? Why does the priest say that she never had a chance at happiness from the moment she was first born? We needed a bit more.

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Agnes Moorehead, playing 105 years of age

Agnes Moorehead, on the other hand, is nearly unrecognizable as Juliana. When the film came out, much was made about her makeup…and deservedly so. She’s plays her like a dried up husk of a human who seems more like a ghost than a real human, shrunken into herself. I would never have known it was her if I hadn’t already known it was her. Juliana lives on her letters and memories from Jeffrey Ashton

There is something very poisonous about her, even though Tina initially comes across as the hostile one. Almost as though Juliana was inadvertently possessing Tina (Plot Spoiler: Tina occasionally goes into fits where she imagines that SHE is Juliana and steals the letters from Juliana). Juliana even complains at one point about feeling as though she had lost Jeffrey to Tina. She resents her, but sort of inhabits her, as well.

It’s a fascinating movie. Imperfect. There is a potential villain who’s character ultimately goes nowhere and the last third does not quite live up to the first two-quarters, either. The film built such an excellent ghostly feel, but didn’t quite know how to wrap it all up.

The film is the only movie directed by Martin Gabel and it’s somewhat uneven at times, though I do not possess the necessary cinematic knowledge to say why. It just feels uneven, how scenes transition – not as seamless as, say, a Hitchcock film. However, The Lost Moment fairly reeks of atmosphere and I liked the score by Daniele Amfitheatrof (who also wrote a gorgeous and moving score for Letter From an Unknown Woman).

Robert Cummings actually does pretty well. He is borderline smarmy, which seems to suit the character, willing to use all the women to get what he wants, including a highly impressionable and young maid. The film is not quite, properly speaking, a romance. The filmmakers seem to be trying to bend the story in that direction at the end, but it by no means feels inevitable.

Another Plot Spoiler: The final irony of the film, I thought, was the ultimate fate of Jeffrey Ashton (a fate completely made up for the movie). He is this extraordinary poet, writing passionate love letters to the Divine Juliana and her extraordinary eyes, yet at the end of the film, he is revealed to have been just another cad, loving and leaving his woman. Ultimately, he comes off as less extraordinary than the people in the movie: Juliana, Tina. It’s the opposite in the novella, where the characters prove to be rather inadequate compared to the glorious poet.

Juliana ends up being the one who holds the key to the whole story, though she is not in the movie as much as Tina and Lewis Venable. But Agnes Moorehead does a magnificent job of sort of haunting the film. We don’t even get a good look at her face half the time she is in the scene, but she still haunts it. Like a living ghost. I would have enjoyed seeing more of her and getting more of her story and Tina’s. It’s not often that one complains about a movie being too short, but this is one of those times.

This is my contribution to “The Agnes Moorehead Blogathon,” hosted by In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood, who I want to thank for hosting this marvelous event! Click here for all the rest of the posts about her.

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Posted by on December 6, 2016 in Movies

 

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