Frankenstein Must be Read: The Hammer Frankenstein Reviewed
Original Trailer for Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
The History of the Hammer Films Frankenstein Series is Finally Revealed
Did it take 40 years after the final Hammer Frankenstein film's theatrical release for a book dedicated to the series to appear in print? It did, and the wait was worth it. Bruce G. Hallenbeck wrote The Hammer Frankenstein. The work deftly chronicles the series' inception in 1957 with The Curse of Frankenstein to the final entry in 1973's Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. A few forays covering other Frankenstein films are put in the book for good measure, and this allows us to reexamine the Hammer films from their original historical perspective.
The release of competing Frankenstein films from other studios, along with changing times, tastes, and box office returns, frequently factored into why creators chose a particular plot for a new entry in the series. Hallenbeck gives us the full back story on all the films, so we do gain a better understanding of why certain films were made and why they sometimes were so radically different than the cinematic entry that preceded them. Frankenstein Created Woman arrived to cash in on the success of And Then God Created Woman and Barbarella. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed sought to capitalize on an emerging violent trend in horror films. The comedy aspects of Horror of Frankenstein can be deemed a desperate attempt to salvage a series in a radically changing horror genre landscape.
Hallenbeck delves into each film in significant historical and critical analysis depth, making The Hammer Frankenstein an excellent leisurely read as well as a great film history reference work.
From the Vaults of Midnight Marquee Press
The book's quality should not come as much of a surprise to anyone familiar with its publisher. Midnight Marquee Press (also the publisher of the long-running Midnight Marquee Magazine) has produced scores upon scores of genuinely outstanding books. In the late 1990s, I bought virtually every prominent book Midnight Marquee had in print when I found them to be invaluable collections of film history and critical analysis. You may wish to run out now and buy Jimmy Sangster's Do You Want It Good or Tuesday? (also by MM) since it is referenced so much in The Hammer Frankenstein. Sangster was the great screenwriter who crafted many Hammer films before moving on and writing for classic television programs such as The Night Stalker and Vega$.
Hammer Frankenstein Created Franchise
The most annoying aspect with Frankenstein films released over the past 20 years is the bulk of the films are all merely derivative adaptations of the novel. 1974's Frankenstein the True Story started this trend, and it has grown a bit tired. Re--hashing is precisely that, re-hashing. Watching two or three Frankenstein "adaptations" in a row can be a mind-numbingly boring experience.
No movie studio or production office makes a Frankenstein vehicle anymore known for presenting an original story. (Well, there is the forthcoming I, Frankenstein, which looks interesting) Then again, the word ''Frankenstein'' in a film does not automatically mean audiences will line up to buy a ticket.
The Hammer films understood their franchise by placing the Baron into various scenarios to make each new sequel interesting. Therein lies the genius of the Hammer films. Frankenstein, like in the novel, refers to Baron Frankenstein. It is the mad Baron/Doctor who is the star of the series. With each subsequent film, the Baron finds himself trying to launch his experiments anew and a wholly new and original looking monster. Gimmick oriented? Yes. The films did have their charm, which is why we are still talking about them today.
Expertly played by Peter Cushing with the one exception of Ralph Bates' foray into the role, the Baron constantly evolved into a different antihero and, in some cases, an outright villain from film to film.
The Halcyon Days of Syndicated Television: UHF Horror Resurrected
In Hallenbeck's excellent retrospective book, we can take a few steps back and seriously reflect on these films. One way to reflect on them is to think about how you originally watched them. The forum in which films are viewed most definitely does impact the impression they leave on you. As a young child, I found the Hammer films were garishly more adult and mature in themes than the classic more young person-oriented Universal Films. It could be said the Hammer horror films offered the perfect bridge from escapism horror to more serious films without ever falling off the rails into exploitation and schlock.
Watching the films was one thing. How you watched them often contributed to an indelible impression on the viewer. For many, these films were experienced in theaters and drive-ins during their original run. However, I saw them for the first time on local UHF television on weekends during the 1970s and 1980s. Probably the most memorable of all the Frankenstein films for me was Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed due to the frightening decapitation scene at the beginning and the unnerving suicide ending at the film's conclusion.
Each of these films had its own unique television syndication run in the late 1970s and early 1980s when I would catch them on airings. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed seemed to air around 5 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. In contrast, Evil of Frankenstein, Curse of Frankenstein, and Horror of Frankenstein were part of the usual Saturday afternoon horror package that was a weekend staple well into the middle of the 1980s. Revenge of Frankenstein commonly was featured on weekdays in the late 1970s as part of a 2 pm movie slot featuring high brow classic films such as Joan of Arc. Frankenstein Created Woman rarely showed up on TV, although there were the infrequent airings on the standard Saturday afternoon horror slot. Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell never, to my knowledge, aired in syndication in my local area. I do remember it running on USA cable long before I had cable access.
The films moved away from syndicated UHF around 1981 and then returned circa 1987 at 1 am on KYW TV 3's old (and outstandingly fun) Saturday Night Dead weekly late-night horror program.
The Modern Era and Beyond
And speaking of cable, in the early 1990s, all of these horror films would run again after a decade long absence appearing on TNT and TBS. Of course, the films still play on cable television since so many new channels continuously emerge in need of 24 hours of programming. There will be global airings of Hammer Frankenstein films as long as there are horror and science fiction cable channels.
Truth be told, as long as the owners of the rights can offer something new to DVD or Blu Ray (and beyond) consumers, there will always be home entertainment offerings for the collector.
Thanks to these films' perennial shelf life, scores of new rediscoveries of the Hammer Frankenstein (and Dracula) films are likely to occur again and again over the forthcoming years. Who knows? We may get an updated version of The Hammer Frankenstein in the distant future.
Until then, keep watching those old Frankenstein film trailers on YouTube.
Additional reviews from Midnight Marquee and British Cult Cinema are coming after the first of the year.