Forced to leave town over his unethical experiments, Frankenstein and his assistant Hans return to their home town of Karlstaad to take up residence at his family's old chateau. Frankenstein even discovers his old creation, frozen in ice in the mountains.
After bringing it back to life, Frankenstein finds that it will not respond to commands. So he enlists the services of a Zoltan, an unscrupulous hypnotist, to animate it properly. Zoltan has other plans for the monster though and uses it to extract his revenge on the local authorities who forced him out of town.
The first of the Frankenstein films not to be directed by Terence Fisher, The Evil of Frankenstein is considered one of the weakest of the series and it's not really hard to argue that point. That's more to do with the fact that the other films are all of excellent quality and not because this one is poor in any way. It's just that it's the least memorable entry by a long shot. Peter Cushing was still playing Frankenstein which is the main thing!
The Evil of Frankenstein was to be distributed in America by Universal and a deal was struck with the studio to allow Hammer the rights to copy as much of the original Frankenstein as they liked. Unable to use Jack Pierce's legendary make-up design for the monster back when The Curse of Frankenstein was made, Hammer jumped at the chance to include it in this one. In turning the film into a vague remake of Universal's classic, Hammer lost all of the unique attributes they'd brought to the table back in 1957.
The make-up just doesn't look right on a Hammer creation for a start - its forehead looks like glue and oatmeal and its big, bulky shoes make it somewhat of a comedic sight to behold. The other monsters in the series were a lot more believable because they didn't use Pierce's make-up and the designers had to get creative with how they approached their creations. It looks a little old fashioned and out-of-date (with no disrespect to Pierce's legendary design) and it certainly doesn't fit in with the new direction that Hammer had taken the story to distinguish themselves from the Universal series. The series ditched the design after this one and continued to creatively challenge the notion of the monster in the following entries, most notably with the next installment Frankenstein Created Woman, the title of which seems to really tell you what you need to know about the 'monster' in that one.
Even Hammer's sets don't look as lavish and colourful as usual - they tend to be bleak and devoid of any life. Frankenstein's laboratory complete with huge electric coils owes a lot more than just gratitude to the 1933 film. The sets have dated badly over time and look like the worst of the series but that's no surprise considering they were ripping them straight from the 30s. Another bone of contention is the lack of continuity shown to the series. This one has a flashback to the events of The Curse of Frankenstein but re-shoots them and re-tells them in a different way. And no reference is made at all to the events of The Revenge of Frankenstein with the exception of the character of Hans.
What about the new body that Frankenstein got at the end of that film? And what about Frankenstein himself? The character is less scientifically-driven here and more sympathetic. One of the strengths of the character was always in achieving his end goal by any means but that takes a back seat so that he can settle a few scores with the locals. At least Cushing is on top form again. He's excellent as the scientist and it's hard to imagine anyone even coming close to portraying Frankenstein as well as he did. This is Cushing's role forever and he relishes every minute of it - listen to the line he says when he removes the heart from a body right in front of the body snatcher, smugly claiming that "he won't need it anymore." Still, the character loses the traits he'd gained from the previous films, reverting back into a more clichéd, sympathetic and misunderstood character.
The addition of Zoltan the hypnotist isn't really needed either and he takes something away from the whole re-animation/life after death process that Frankenstein was all about. If this guy can do it by hypnosis, why does Frankenstein need all of his scientific equipment? However the odious Peter Woodthorpe still manages to put in a sly and underhand performance to win over any critics of his ability. It's a great part to play and Woodthorpe relishes every moment, verbally squaring up to Cushing in some of the film's best scenes.
You'd think I hate the film judging by the review but it's not the end of the world. The Evil of Frankenstein is one of the weakest films of the series but when you consider how good some of the other films are, that shouldn't really be taken as a damaging blow. It just doesn't live up to the standards that the other films have set and seems too busy cashing in on the opening of the Universal flood gates to do anything nearly as good.