The British horror movie The Revenge of Frankenstein was released in 1958 and is the second of seven Frankenstein movies starring Peter Cushing as Baron Frankenstein made by Hammer Studios Series. It is the sequel to the Hammer studio’s The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) Written by Jimmy Sangster and directed by Terence Fisher, the movie was, like its predecessor, a tremendous financial success.
In the prologue, the infamous Baron Victor Frankenstein is sentenced to death by the guillotine for grave desecration and murder, but succeeds to escape with the help of the hunchback Karl. Three years later, Baron Frankenstein, now going under the name Dr. Stein, is a well- respected physician and philanthropist for the poor in Carlsbruck, Germany. Together with his crippled assistant Karl, whom he promised a new body, Dr. Stein continues his experiments and uses his work at the pauper’s hospital to provide him with fresh body parts.
The Role of Science
Compared to the original novel by Mary Shelly, The Revenge of Frankenstein puts strong emphasis on how Victor Frankenstein accomplishes his experiments. The movie dedicates extra screen time to Baron Frankenstein demonstrating and explaining to Hans how his experiments work and also what mistakes he made in the past. In contrast to its prequel The Curse of Frankenstein, the medical focus shifts from the brain to the nerve system.
One of the most remarkable deviations of the original novel, concerning the scientific aspect is that Baron Frankenstein takes a step back and says that he actually is not capable of creating life and as a consequence needs a living brain for the success of his experiments:
“All I need is the brain and then I can give it life. You have seen the result of this [refers to an earlier experiment.] And these were only my first attempts. I only keep this cumber something to remind me of the impossibility of the task, should I ever try it again. No, the brain must be a living one. Unlike the limbs, life cannot be restored once life is gone. Brain is life and so a living brain must be used.”
-Dr. Stein to Hans Kleve; The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)
This statement deprives the figure of Victor Frankenstein from its most significant feature: the knowledge of the creation of life. The original novel focuses on the consequences of bringing life in this world and not taking responsibility for it. Mary Shelly’s Victor Frankenstein abandons the creature right after its creation and so, the creature has to acquire all basic knowledge and abilities on his own. This emphasizes the importance of education and raises the question about Nature versus Nurture, due to the fact that the creature claims that it could have become a good person.
Baron Frankenstein misuses his charity work in the pauper’s hospital to supply himself with fresh body parts. Frequently, he orders dubious emergency amputations of limbs that he wants for his new bodies. In his second medical praxis for the wealthy, on the other hand, he acts charming and flattering and prescribes the right medical treatments.
In the prequel, Victor Frankenstein is always referred to as "The Baron," a term that emphasizes Frankenstein’s superior status in society. Although he is known as Dr. Stein throughout this movie, his privileged social status remains always visible.
This fact reveals a socially critical component in the movie that wants to show that the poor, who cannot afford any other medical treatment except the one in the pauper’s hospital, are extradited to the socially privileged Dr. Stein.
The movie was well perceived by the public and a big financial success for Hammer productions. Peter Cushing’s performance as Victor Frankenstein has become iconic and inspired another five sequels with Cushing as the main character.
Significance of Adaptation
All in all a loose adaptation of the original novel, the significance of this film lies in its interpretation of the creature. Compared to many other Frankenstein adaptations and Shelley's original novel, this film is unique in that the audience learns the history of the created being. The monster no longer consists of an anonymous accumulation of body parts, but of a suffering human being with whom it is easy to sympathize.The hunchback Karl suffers under his deformities and surrenders himself to Frankenstein as a last desperate attempt to change his fate for the better. He is under no circumstances an evil person and even kills his first victim out of self-defense. As a result, the role of the villain lies upon Victor Frankenstein. Another significant issue in this adaptation is the emphasis on the monster's beauty. Whereas Victor Frankenstein’s main goal in most adaptations is simply to create life, Baron Frankenstein is obsessed with giving the creature beautiful features and to make his physical appearance attractive. This intention is related to Mary Shelley’s original Victor Frankenstein, who believes his creation to be beautiful until the very moment it actually comes to life.
Especially remarkable in The Revenge of Frankenstein is, however, that at the end Frankenstein becomes the monster himself. Hans transplants Baron Frankenstein’s brain into a new body and Frankenstein manages to go into hiding again and to obtain a new identity. The creator becomes his own creation, and what was hinted at through Victor Frankenstein's personality becomes obvious: That Baron Victor Frankenstein himself is the true monster of the movie.
References and Recommendations
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus. New York: Pearson Education, 2003. Print.
The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) (dvd)