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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Dr. Frankensteinia Creates A Blogathon

That great site Frankensteinia, celebrating its namesake since 2007, is this week on a Peter Cushing centennial Bloga-roll, where writing and links have recognized one hundred years since the actor's birth. By all means, go there and enjoy myriad thoughts/pix/videos shared by fans, among whose ranks Greenbriar proudly belongs. What follows is appreciation for many a Liberty afternoon livened by Cushing, with pause to consider samples from his Frankenstein group ...
Peter Cushing seemed like a star exclusive to us Hammer-goers. Unlike Karloff or Vincent Price, he didn't do American TV, which accorded dignity/specialness for the pair or so features he graced each year. To put it brief, you had to pay to watch Cushing. All his were from Britain and reflected style that had our AIP chillers beat. No wonder Jim and Sam set up shop in the UK later on ... and hired Peter Cushing.  There was no culture barrier between this actor and US fans, crisp diction and carriage something we might come by given better habits. His characters were ringing endorsement for higher education, a full alphabet of degrees following names he portrayed, always deep in books even (especially) during moments of crisis. Intellect was always first line of defense for Cushing, though he could startle for flights of athleticism to assure us that this was no chair-bound effete combating Dracula or run-amok Gorgons. His was rare capacity to enact thoughtful men of action, and who among Cushing's audience didn't covet such robust identity for themselves?

Here was principal genius of the Hammer Frankenstein series: They always let Cushing survive endings. Even in Curse Of Frankenstein, where he's committed murder to further experiments and there is last-scene trudge toward the guillotine, we don't see the blade fall specifically on his neck, as confirmed by a year-later sequel where Baron F escapes to exact Revenge. From this point, he'd but need to shun further killings to avoid Code edict that death or confinement result, an easy fix for Hammer. Where was harm in further rifle of graves or continued cutting down of hanged men --- at least the good doctor let breathing ones live. It was a brilliant ploy on Hammer's part that kept their medico in practice whilst adhering to movie standard/practices still enforced during the 50's and much of the 60's. Toward consideration of a few specific among the Frankenstein lot (Curse being addressed here and here), there is:

REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958) --- Some would call this less movie than autopsy, and I full understand critic revulsion over clinic eye-view of floating eyeballs with jarred brains for a chaser, but what novelty it was seeing these for a first time in color (well second ... Revenge followed Curse Of Frankenstein). Coming as encore, and within a year, did slow sales from Warners' Curse clean-up, that plus too many Frankensteins crowding marquees (a Teenage one + proposed 1970 model) along with Universal oldies all over TV. In short, Revenge deserved better than it got, but we were slow by decades appreciating how stylish Hammers were, fact they were watched mostly by youth making all easy to dismiss. There was a look to Hammer that made credits superfluous. You knew within first frames from whence these came. US majors sub-contracted from Hammer because nothing done stateside could look as rich for so little. Revenge Of Frankenstein currently streams on Apple in HD, a best by far way to view it, though I wonder what a full-out Blu-Ray restoration might look like. Are there enough Hammer-heads out there to make such effort pay?

Hammer was diligent to soften UK-ness that might off-put, Yank investor/distributors keeping close eye lest regional flavor become indigestible. The triumph of Hammer and lead dramatic spokesman Cushing was their being able to mount a series of thrillers aimed at a US audience that sustained for two decades, accomplishment unmatched by any British firm up to then. That my generation made point never to miss what were, after all, foreign films, was tribute to understanding Hammer/Cushing had of their worldwide viewership. Cushing being exclusive to us, that is, matinee and horror-goers, presupposes that adults saw less of him than youth patronage that grew up to celebrate his hundredth. This was, after all, an actor who did fewer features that were mainstream beyond small parts in a John Paul Jones here, The Naked Edge there, etc. Did grown-ups go to Hammer films in theatres? Crowds I recall were mostly young and rowdy. To view Peter Cushing in his heyday meant coping with a frequently wild bunch ...

FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1967) --- The good doctor whipped up a Playmate for Hammer reborn as a pin-up factory following twin hits She and One Million Years BC. These were far and away biggest money pics of Bray's output so far, thus sleeker models coming off Frankenstein's assembly. Susan Denberg was the deformed duckling he turns into a swan, that coming late in the show after much cruelty heaped by aristo-youth that look to have been expelled from a local Hell-Fire club. There's a revenge theme, as in one by one killings done not by the Baron, but his girl monster. Experiments serve novelty by transferring souls rather than brain matter, so there's less hacking into skulls. Hammers were actually not so gory as some remember. Certainly today they play mild to extent of discreet cutaway from most carnage. Peter Cushing as always is the lure, his creations mattering less and less as the series wore on. Denberg would grace a Playboy fold-out which made her a lot more appealing than Kiwi Kingston off Dr. F's last operation table. Frankenstein Created Woman got $296K in domestic rentals, not a lot, though television would later inject black ink into this and others out of Hammer.

Peter Cushing became the rooting interest in all his movies almost despite himself. His Baron Frankenstein would not again be unsympathetic after Curse, except for a startling break from character where he assaults Veronica Carlson in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, a disrupt I put down to writer aberration in 1969 when the pic was new. Cushing came reliably back to the character, plus vampire hunting Van Helsing, well into the 70's. Of other horrors he did, less need be said. One that disturbed me much was Corruption in 1968, where Cushing kills and kills again to doubtful purpose of restoring a girlfriend's mutilated face, an ordeal sit I had within months of equally repellent The Conqueror Worm. Both I swore not to watch again, a promise so-far kept re Corruption. Does it continue to play as unpleasant forty-five years later?

FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1973) --- Here was a happy surprise: a Hammer horror done old-fashioned ways even in the face of a soon-to-come spoof, Young Frankenstein, and a same year's Andy Warhol dismemberment, two that would seem to have laid Frank to rest for all time, at least insofar as straightforward approach. I shouldn't have boycotted this in 1973 as was case with all Hammers by 70's juncture. Some of them were/are quite good and deserved my ticket buy (the still-boy in me wanted them to stay as they'd 50's/early 60's been). Hammer mined a franchise here not easily given up, it having served well since 1956. Happy ingredients of a Bray past are remixed: director Terence Fisher, a score by James Bernard, and best of all, Peter Cushing in perhaps a best of all his Baron interps.

Things I'd change: Cushing's coif, or wig, or whatever, co-star Shane Briant's 70's blow-dry styling, and a monster I'd not wish on PRC. The writing's good, though, and whoever suggested an insane asylum as Frankenstein's base of operation merits applause for ingenuity. Surgery goes gory as never before, skulls sawed, then detached on-camera ... well, it was a new day, but this Frankenstein was still a model of decorum beside stomach churn Warhol staged. Things don't go as you expect --- for all Monster From Hell's carnage, I didn't see a cheerful and upbeat finish coming, so it's welcome all the more (who wants Victor banished yet again?). Frankenstein and The Monster From Hell earned a tepid $249K in domestic rentals for a US-distributing Paramount, so maybe '73 was time to call it a day for this series; I'm just glad Hammer squeezed out one last for a happy Fisher/Bernard/Cushing send-off.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

CONQUEROR WORM is one of my favorites. Another great post.

12:13 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Great post! Funny how the initial sequels to Hammer's first two gothic hits (REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN and BRIDES OF DRACULA) have grown in stature over the years, even though both are Lee-less! Love all the Cushing entries, maybe the Frank flicks an eyelash more than the Drac pack. Just saw FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE for the first time (now streaming on Warner Archive) PC is wonderful in that one! Another one shot favorite, THE CREEPING FLESH.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Steve Haynes said...

I found CONQUERER WORM as repellant as you did. I never saw CORRUPTION, but on your non-recommendation, I will definitely not seek it out...

10:52 PM  
Blogger Joe Thompson said...

Thank you, John. Interesting comments on the Hammer films. "Unlike Karloff or Vincent Price, he didn't do American TV, which accorded dignity/specialness for the pair or so features he graced each year." I had never thought of that. By the time I got interested, the older movies were showing on late night tv and I wasn't old enough to see the news ones on their first runs. I just had to read about them in Famous Monsters.

12:36 AM  

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