Friday, April 9, 2021

Frankenstein 1970

Frankenstein 1970
Howard W. Koch

Much like How to Make to a Monster (1958) which came out in the same year, Frankenstein 1970 takes a self-reflexive look at popular monsters of time. Frankenstein 1970 never goes as far as How to Make a Monster but does open with a fun narrative trick as we watch what we think is a by now rote scene of Frankenstein’s monster chasing a woman into a lake to murder her. Someone off screen yells cut and the shot is pulled back to reveal that we are in fact watching a Frankenstein movie being filmed.

The legend of Frankenstein gets quite update here, Victor Frankenstein was a real person who really did experiment with creating life from dead bodies. Only here his descendant was co-opted by the Nazis, tortured, and forced to work for them. Now permanently injured and running low on funds he takes money from a film crew looking to create a celebration of the original Frankenstein’s work. Frankenstein's lab is modernized complete with atomic reactor and other more high-tech elements at his disposal. He even has the original monster with which he hopes to get working again. 

"I think perhaps you need to start moisturizing."

Frankenstein's motives and history are much more compelling than anything the paper-thin characters of the film crew have to offer. It is thankful that Boris Karloff puts on such a compelling performance while we wait around for the good doctor to finally get to harvesting their organs for his monster. Frankenstein 1970 is not particularly gruesome, you do see the odd body part here and there, but it largely plays things safe. The monster itself is a mixed bag. I particularly liked it when it has just a skull head but later it lumbers around wrapped in bandages and with what looks like a giant pillowcase on its head. Not exactly the stuff of nightmares.

Aside from the opening a few scenes shot on location most of the film takes place in Frankenstein’s castle complete with caves, and his lab. It makes good use of the widescreen format making everything lusher and grander where it could easily could have looked cheap and small. For a film allegedly shot for $110,000 (about $1,000,000 in 2021 dollars) it looks and sounds good. The score is typical bombastic stuff you find in many movies of the 1950s and I didn’t find it particularly interesting. Along with the updating of Frankenstein’s life and his tools I wonder if a more modernized soundtrack with a Theremin or other electronic sounds would have been more appropriate and memorable.

This Charmin squeezes you.

Frankenstein 1970 is a small film with just enough engaging elements to keep you watching through its runtime. The final moment is strong idea executed poorly. Frankenstein’s need to create is given a poignant reason but it feels almost like an afterthought rather than the shocking climax it should have been. Still, the film is worth a look, especially to see Boris Karloff late in his career deliver another fun performance.

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