Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Frankenstein 1970 (1958)

Welcome to (I suppose) the far-flung future of 1970. Baron Victor von Frankenstein (Boris Karloff) is the last of the Frankensteins, and secretly, he has gone into the family business after surviving Bergen-Belsen left him disfigured, crippled, and most probably just a tiny bit mad.

Science(!) is a rather costly business though, and so the Baron’s financial advisor and old friend Gottfried (Rudolph Anders) has rented use of the castle to a group of American filmmakers who are making some sort of vaguely defined documentary of dubious historical merit with sensationalist recreations of historical facts. Why, the film’s just predicted the History Channel! At first, the Baron isn’t too happy with the whole affair, but he quickly realizes  the money this earns him will let him buy the final element his experiments need to succeed: his own little nuclear reactor for his secret cellar laboratory! These TV people pay really, really well, and 70s nuclear reactor mail-order companies deliver so fast, the new gizmo appears practically instantaneously. Plus, his guests also afford the good Baron the opportunity and an audience for an inordinate number of mad science monologues, some mean organ playing, and some intensely creepy leering at the lead actress (Jana Lund).

And if one needs a replacement part or two for one’s monstrous creation, one might just have another use for one’s guests too. If only one tested the blood types of one’s potential victims before one murdered them.

There’s a lot wrong with Howard W. Koch’s curious little horror film: its deep stupidity, the non-plot, the fact it by far doesn’t make enough out of the fact that the Baron was a victim of Bergen-Belsen nor of the whole “taking place in the future” thing, a monster looking for all the world like a big guy with a bucket on his head wrapped up in white bandages (this also being a secret mummy film), the completely uninteresting American characters, and so on, and so forth.

However, there’s also something so very right with it, I find it impossible to imagine calling myself a horror fan and not enjoying it: Boris Karloff. Here, the great man is in the sort of intense, old-fashioned spooky scenery-chewing mode one tends to forget he had in him when one has seen too much of his very late work when he was often too ill (and perhaps too annoyed by material quite below his dignity) to apply himself as completely as he does here. So Karloff rants, Karloff raves, Karloff makes utterly inappropriate sexual advances, and he monologues, wringing every tiny bit of pathos and comic book spookiness out of every single line he utters, every single gesture he makes. It’s glorious, even a bit exhausting in its total abandon, and demonstrates that Karloff – while he was perfectly fantastic when he decided (or was allowed to) take on a role with nuance – was particularly brilliant when it came to creating larger than life characters, and wiling to act in a film utterly silly and applying himself with near supernatural power.

Not surprisingly, the rest of the cast can’t keep up with him at all, but then they really don’t need to, for director Koch obviously knew a good thing when he saw it and just let them step back and provide the background for Karloff being KARLOFF, homing in on the one thing about his film that was truly great. Apart from giving the man his space, Koch’s direction is okay. From time to time he hits on a gruesome image or clever transition and is a good enough filmmaker to make as much of it as possible, or throws in a creepy (in a silly way) element in when it fits, otherwise he leaves the show to Karloff, as well he should.

No comments: