Brain Drain

While unquestionably more lurid than Universal’s horror line from the 1930s and 1940s, Hammer’s genre productions started by lambasting smug English society. Revenge of Frankenstein is less a movie about a mad doctor performing brain transplants – although there’s plenty of that too – than it is one veering between social factions in relation to one another.

There’s a pompous society of doctors who initially serve as villains. They resent Dr. Frankenstein (Peter Cushing), partly because he refused to join them and mostly because he helps the poor for free. Entering his office, the elite plug their noses, the smell from the poor too much for their sensitivities. A janitor proudly boasts as to his lack of self-care, because if monkeys don’t need to bathe, why would he? In contrast, Frankenstein resents the posh patients who fund him, showing total indifference to a badgering, fancily-dressed mother who wants a perfect daughter.

Revenge of Frankenstein builds an appropriately revolting depiction of this literary character

This Frankenstein acts from a place of spite, damning a society who nearly took his head over experiments they didn’t understand. In that, Revenge of Frankenstein builds an appropriately revolting depiction of this literary character. He shows no remorse for decapitating a priest in the opening frames, (a sly admonishment toward the Christian censors who kept Universal’s films so tame). Behind his helping-the-poor PR campaign, turns out Frankenstein holds the penniless in even less esteem, chopping off their limbs to supply his underground work. Narcissists project their failings; so is the case here.

What Revenge of Frankenstein lacks in visual prowess, it’s bound by an engaging script. Much as this saunters through familiar territory, Cushing’s skill finds the title character worthy of sympathy before a turn toward sadistic lunacy. And, where genre films prior end with torches and pitchforks aimed at the monster, Revenge of Frankenstein acknowledges the actual brute. His own patients turn their resentment into a physical assault, and the creature becomes a compassionate figure.

Unlike Karloff, Michael Gwynn spends Hammer’s offering as a normal looking man – mostly. He can freely speak and walk. Plus, he agrees to have his brain transferred to escape a disfigured body. Revenge of Frankenstein still brings in scenes with grave robbers (Lionel Jeffries hilariously noting, “I’ve never seen a real life Barron before,” as he stares into the plot), yet those scenes serve the narrative, not becoming the catalyst. The approach is wholly different, establishing Hammer’s brand through inventiveness, not only more lenient censorship standards.

Video

Licensed from Sony/Columbia, it appears Revenge of Frankenstein didn’t rate highly on the studio’s restoration list and thus sat in a bin… for quite some time. Dust and scratches flood the screen, in varying severity, but always persistent. Sometimes this causes rot to the color too. Splotches mar the screen regularly.

As for the overall color, it’s flaccid, even bleeding/fringing. The analog artifacts exist on the print itself, so this isn’t a fault on Mill Creek’s side. Their encoding appears excellent, even when paired with another film on the same disc. Flattened, mostly brown-ish color tones cover most primaries. Grain structure escapes from the dated mastering. Struggling black levels mostly work, losing their way on occasion if providing the density needed to night shots.

End results leave Revenge of Frankenstein more in the SD realm rather than HD. Visible definition falters and crispness isn’t a worthy quality. With weaker compression, this presentation might be accused of being a DVD upscale. As it sits, Revenge of Frankenstein only barely exceeds those standards. On its own, there’s no reason to upgrade. In a full box set, it’s less offensive.

Audio

Natural to the period, stuffy dialog fits the age. No harm done, and the DTS-HD track can suffice. The score wobbles, but holds its own.

Those restrictions aside, there is superb boldness to the audio. For mono, the overall bass brings weight to this track. It’s unusual depth for anything vintage regardless of time. Thankfully, the visual damage doesn’t carry over to the sound.

Extras

Constantine Nasr joins Steve Haberman for a commentary track, coming from two people with an almost unmatched knowledge base.

The Revenge of Frankenstein
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  • Extras
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Movie

Hammer bends a familiar story to their creative will, establishing the studio’s brand in The Revenge of Frankenstein.

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