Saturday, October 08, 2011

FRANKENSTEIN 1970 (1958)

In order to raise money to buy some nuclear power equipment, Baron Victor Frankenstein (Boris Karloff) has allowed a team of filmmakers onto his estate in Germany to film a horror movie. The director (Don Barry) flirts with the leading lady, which pisses off the script girl, who happens to be his ex-wife. Gottfried (Rudolph Anders), the estate overseer, knows the Baron's background—he was tortured during the war, resulting in the scarring of his face, and was forced to take part in terrible Nazi experiments; now Gottfried is worried that Frankenstein is secretly using his new equipment to continue his ancestor's experiment with creating life. (Well, of course he is; his name is Frankenstein.) The Baron seems to be generally friendly and agrees to do a cameo in the film, and even agrees to a live TV feed from the castle, but when folks start disappearing—first Shuter the butler, then the script girl, then a photographer—Gottfreid fears the worst. Yes, the Baron has reanimated the monster, and needs body parts (brains, eyes, etc.) to complete it. When the leading lady goes missing, the director calls in the police and it's not long before the Baron gets his punishment for tampering in God’s domain.

This film is set in 1970 only because the filmmakers thought that personal nuclear reactors would be readily available by then; otherwise, there is no attempt made at futurizing things, though this might be the first Frankenstein movie that does have a relatively modern-looking lab. The screenplay has potential (the Nazi background, the romantic triangle tension) but the characters are flat, and even the usually reliable Karloff doesn't seem happy here, going through his paces slowly and with little spark. The opening, a creepy monster chase through a dark woods, is nice but it turns out to be just the crew shooting their film. Another good scene involving Karloff delivering what seems to be a madman’s soliloquy is another fake-out. The monster is disappointing, basically a big mummy with a boxy head and no eyes, though the last shot of the film, when the dead monster's face is unwrapped, provides one glimmer of what might have been with a bigger budget and more enthusiasm from the filmmakers. The film does look good in widescreen format. [DVD]

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