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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Hammer Film Double Feature - The Revenge of Frankenstein & The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (Blu-ray)
Hammer Film Double Feature - The Revenge of Frankenstein & The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (Blu-ray)
Mill Creek // Unrated // September 6, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by DVD Savant | posted September 5, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Okay, this sounds like the right way to release studio Hammer holdings to the rabid, acquisition-hungry fans: Blu-ray double Bills. As the source studio for Mill Creek's offerings is Sony, we have every right to expect great transfers, audio and picture. If Mill Creek gives them quality encodings, it's a lock.

This first double-bill is a good selection. One classic and one classy entertainment, and both have their followings. And if the price online is correct, even cheapskate Savant will be buying copies. What Mill Creek has done essentially, is taken a Sony 4-title "Icons of Horror" DVD release from eight years ago, swap out a B&W title for a color title, bump it up to HD and divide it in two.

The Revenge of Frankenstein
Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment
1958 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic 16:9 / 84 min. / Street Date August 13, 2002 / $19.95
Starring Peter Cushing, Francis Matthews, Eunice Gayson, Michael Gwynn, Lionel Jeffries, Oscar Quitak, Charles Lloyd Pack, Richard Wordsworth, George Woodbridge
Cinematography Jack Asher
Production Designer Bernard Robinson
Film Editor Alfred Cox
Original Music Leonard Salzedo
Written by Jimmy Sangster
Produced by Michael Carreras, Anthony Hinds
Directed by Terence Fisher

Because The Revenge of Frankenstein is one of Hammer's very best I've given it a much more detailed write-up. This thoughtful mix of mad surgery and tragic disfigurement was the very first follow-up to the firm's smash color debut feature, and is one of the best Frankenstein films ever. Peter Cushing alters his interpretation of the rash vivisectionist and Jimmy Sangster's intriguing script pulls in several fresh ideas.

The story sees the bad doctor hiding out in a credible bourgeois environment, Germany in 1860. After only three years in Carlsberg, Dr. Victor Stein (Peter Cushing) maintains a flourishing private practice and tends to a busy ward of charity patients. The insular and jealous local medical council is upset that Stein is taking all of the best patients. One council member, young Dr. Hans Kleve (Francis Matthews), recognizes Stein as the Baron Victor Frankenstein, you know, that fiend that everybody assumes was guillotined for a series of blasphemous murders. Instead of exposing the brilliant scientist, Hans joins him in his latest venture. Using 'spare parts' from the charity ward, the Baron has fashioned a new, handsome body for his misshapen assistant, Karl (Oscar Quitak). Hans helps his brilliant mentor to install Karl's brain into the 'new' corpse and bring it to life.

Frankenstein's benign new ambitions are thwarted once again, and this time it's tragic: he's on a basically good mission. An attempt to give the 'new' Karl (Michael Gwynn) a calm recovery is spoiled by a scheming ward orderly (Richard Wordsworth) and the beautiful Margaret Conrad (Eunice Gayson), a meddling socialite charity volunteer. Already set on having a bright new life free of his old, twisted body, Karl blanches at the idea of being exhibited as a scientific freak. He escapes, risking the healing process. He's got an iffy prognosis either way: Dr. Stein's earlier chimpanzee brain transplantees turned cannibalistic when the operations didn't go perfectly.

This second Frankenstein outing has a marked de-emphasis on gore, although we're still granted some graphic views of socket-less eyes, crumbly-looking brains and meat-slabbed limbs. We also get a benevolent and rational Victor Frankenstein who truly wants to help poor Karl have a new life. Frankenstein may have the same egotistic desire to vindicate his radical research but he's no longer an outright murderer. A stray arm or two finds its way into his freezer, but he's sworn off murdering kindly old professors and raping the household help. His assistant in Curse was all too aware that the Baron was a treacherous zealot who couldn't be trusted beyond his scalpel; Hans Kleve in Revenge joins Dr. Stein in a mutual comradeship that for a while seems like a winning combination.

This time out we have a kinder, gentler Baron Frankenstein. He's dropped his libidinous criminalities; he shrewdly fends off the attempts of a matronly countess to use her daughter as marriage bait. He also has no interest in ward candy striper Margaret Conrad, played by Eunice Gayson, the voluptuous Sylvia Trench of the first two James Bond movies. Instead of skulking about, Dr. Stein carefully places a flower in his lapel and serves the poor, taking his meals alone in his clinic office.

The Revenge of Frankenstein earns high marks despite adhering to the frustratingly unchanging format for mad surgery films: no matter what the doctors do the subject becomes a monster and all hell breaks loose. Jimmy Sangster was at this point one of the hottest pop screenwriters in the UK. His fresh approach takes some novel story turns, along with some not so adroit. The best thing this time out is that there's no blather at all about transgressing in God's domain. The Baron is a rational man in a world that falls back on superstition only when it needs an excuse for a lynch mob. He's gone undercover as 'Dr. Stein' and learned a few public relations lessons. He and Dr. Kleve make no medical mistakes whatsoever, and the synthetic Karl gets an optimistic new lease on life. The desired ending would have Karl marry Margaret (she has a thing for scars, you know) and live happily ever after. No such luck.

Having dispensed with old-fashioned moralizing, Sangster posits no reason for the doctor's failure except regrettable staffing decisions and plain bad luck. At the halfway point Revenge becomes almost bittersweet in its pathos. Audiences sincerely want the gentle, deserving Karl to get his second chance. Matinee kids that cheered Chris Lee getting his head shot-gunned off here totally identified with Michael Gwynn's Karl and suffered along with his each and every trauma -- especially when he's severely beaten on his vulnerable skull. Gwynn twists and distorts himself to suggest regression to savagery, succeeding where the script stumbles. Even some mainstream reviewers gave Revenge high marks based on Gywnn's sympathetic embodiment of the monster, often overlooking Cushing to praise the gaunt actor. Gwynn can be also seen in Village of the Damned, Barabbas and as Hermes in Jason and the Argonauts.

At its midpoint Revenge has nobly resisted the usual series of predictable murders. The entertaining nonsense science includes a silly Pavlovian experiment with plucked eyes that are magically able to look left and right while suspended in a tank of water. The show generates some of the same appeal as David Lynch's The Elephant Man, a film that Savant always thought was an upscale Hammer horror freed from the need to be a monster movie. The two films share a lot of ground. Each doctor is by and large benevolent. Both seek fame and acceptance through their discoveries. The monster in each case is hidden away in a secret room in a clinic, only to find misfortune through the interference of foolish hospital staff and corrupt interlopers.

But the 1958 market demanded a standard hulking menace, so Jimmy Sangster complied. Karl becomes a creeping killer for the last reel.

Frankly, Sangster isn't the best screenwriter in horror film history. He wastes time and energy on characters that don't pan out, and his third act throws logic for a loop. After being clubbed, Karl's damaged brain begins to deform his new body into the likeness of his old one, with a twisted arm, hunched back and lame leg. This only makes fairytale sense but we grudgingly accept it. Then Sangster has Karl revert to cannibalism as well, regressing to a state of savagery lower than the even the brutalized street scum in Stein's public ward. After all his enlightened willingness to make Frankenstein a liberated surgeon free from religious fundamentalism, Sangster invents a new reactionary notion - that messing with Mother Nature will turn us all into savages again.

Or, perhaps the cannibalism is an undeveloped theme suggesting that class differences are like evolutionary stages. It's not a very enlightened message: The dirty poor, by 'rejecting' the civilized ways of the clean society people, are becoming animal-like. The ward orderly even makes a verbal case for behaving like an animal. Karl's plunge into savagery is simply more extreme. I think it's more than possible that I've expended more thought on this idea than writer Sangster ever did.

The secondary characters are only partially integrated into the story. While Stein and Kleves work harmoniously, Sangster makes the gorgeous Margaret Conrad a ditzy, decorative idiot. Her only real function is to set up Karl for tragedy, by freeing him before he's healed. She makes no deeper connection with the play beyond handing out free tobacco from her wicker basket. Margaret gets some entirely unmotivated help from Richard Wordsworth's sleazy orderly. The gaunt Wordsworth is well known for playing emaciated prisoners in the Blood Island war movies and for his famous role as spaceman Carroon in Hammer's first big hit The Quatermass Xperiment. The miserable shape-shifting Carroon has a lot in common with this movie's Karl, as both are pathetic fugitives that have lost control of their bodies and roam the streets committing unintended murders. Here, Wordsworth establishes the grimy presence of the underclass and adds a note of comedy relief.

Also doing well in a brief stock part is the great Lionel Jeffries, who teams up with Michael Ripper to form a grave robbing team. Francis Matthews is fine as Kleves, a civilized and progressive soul who's probably quite an anachronism for 1860 Germany. As is usual, the Hammer Germany is populated with Cockneys in Bavarian togs, spouting Anglicisms and inappropriate phrases. In the examining room, the Countess asks Stein to 'give her daughter an overhaul,' as if Vera were a leaky exhaust manifold.

Visually stunning, The Revenge of Frankenstein overcomes petty issues by virtue of its inspired performances and the assured direction of Terence Fisher, here on his third film of a six- or seven-picture string of successes. He manages to weave powerful drama from Cannibal Karl's plight. The simple scene where the snarling but traumatized surgical failure crashes the Contessa's recital party is one of Hammer's best. Instead of the usual violence, we get a key image previously unseen in Frankenstein movies -- the monster stumbles at his creator's feet, tearfully begging for help.

The Curse Of The Mummy's Tomb
1964 / 2:35 anamorphic widescreen / 80 min.
Starring Terence Morgan, Ronald Howard, Fred Clark, Jeanne Roland, George Pastell, Jack Gwillim, John Paul, Dickie Owen, Jill Mai Meredith, Michael Ripper.
Otto Heller
Film Editor Eric Boyd-Perkins
Original Music Carlo Martelli (and Franz Reizenstein)
Written by Henry Younger (Michael Carreras)
Produced and Directed by Michael Carreras

Prolific Hammer producer Michael Carreras directed The Curse Of The Mummy's Tomb, an acceptable entry in Hammer's none-too glorious Mummy series. The Carlo Martelli music score is interrupted during flashback scenes by Franz Reizenstein's superior cues for the 1959 Terence Fisher version, reminding us that it has all been done much better before. Carreras' camera placement is weak. He has a fondness for ragged pans across décor and faces, something that doesn't work out too well in the Techniscope format.

The script only half-develops its ideas. When a curse befalls the raiders of the tomb of Prince Ra-Antef, we know that scurvy Egyptologist Hashmi is behind it, because he's played by Hammer's all-purpose Eastern fanatic George Pastell (The Mummy, The Stranglers of Bombay). Fred Clark is fine as Alexander King, a Barnum-like impresario hoping to make millions by exhibiting the Mummy back in England. His subplot is terminated before it can really get up to speed. King is meant to provide cultural contrast as a vulgar American stirring up trouble, but he's easily the most honest person in the show. Everyone else seems to be hiding their identities and motives. Actor Clark also projects more personality than anyone else, so much of the show's sense of fun exits along with him.

The potentially interesting material involves a love triangle. Egyptologist John Bray (Ronald Howard) watches while his intended Annette Dubois (Jeanne Roland) falls in love with a more interesting new acquaintance, Adam Beauchamp (top-billed Terence Morgan). The smooth fiancée poacher Adam is a man with a secret; it seems that he knows altogether too much about Egyptian relics to be the amateur he claims to be.

The Curse Of The Mummy's Tomb starts with a graphic hand-chopping but thereafter pulls back on the gore. What we get is seventy minutes of setup and harrumphing police investigation, and about ten minutes of repetitious Mummy attacks modeled on Terence Fisher's original. Ra-Antef (Dickie Owen) smashes through doors and lurches into fancy houses, but he lacks Christopher Lee's panache. He seems physically unimpressive, and not just because he doesn't tower over his victims. Chris Lee's aggressive juggernaut didn't loiter about, as does this Ra-Antef. Our new Mummy is also saddled with a costume that was surely designed with production convenience in mind. It looks like a baggy stack of wet newspapers, with a head that resembles the comic character Zippy covered in ashes. Ra-Antef's mask allows for no variation in expression.

But Carreras' show moves quickly, and has great color and lighting by cinematographer Otto Heller. Ms. Roland is stunning in her gowns, including the number she picks for a midnight jaunt through the sewer, carried by the Mummy. It's interesting that Hammer's male leads at this time all seemed to be in their 'forties... almost as if the young Turks up in the front office wanted to avoid the romantic competition that younger actors might pose.

As unlikely as it may sound, Mill Creek's Blu-ray of Hammer Films Double Features seems to have been initiated by a response to fan requests. When the company licensed some DVD collections last year, the fans spoke up. Most already had the old Sony DVDs; what they desired were upgrades to Blu. It looks as if Mill Creek has happily complied.

The result on this first set is something of a split decision. Both titles appear to be HD versions of the same transfers as released on DVD. I made an A-B comparison with their earlier DVD copies, and found both to be improved. The newer Mummypicture always looked quite good but now has added sharpness and improved contrast. The older The Revenge of Frankenstein was mastered in HD more than fifteen years ago, and doesn't look anywhere near as good. It's sharper and a bit brighter than its old DVD counterpart, but dirtier and less colorful. The overall improvement is much less apparent. By all rights Revenge should compare in quality to newer discs of the other initial Jack Asher-shot Hammers, with colors that knock one over. But it's still a great picture. Unless you're holding out for a miracle transfer, this isn't a deal-breaker. After all, I eagerly sprung for the 'All Blue, All the Time' English disc of Horror of Dracula, and am content to live with it until some devoutly-to-be-wish'd re-master takes place. I think Revenge missed out by being so popular. It was transferred long before other Columbia Hammers, and then not upgraded. I think that if Sony had release plans of their own for Revenge they'd certainly have remastered it by now -- they do marvelous work.

My recommendation to fans is to let the price point be your guide. I know of at least three friends that have gambled on preorders already, based on the sticker price.

It looks like the much-anticipated Halloween disc release stampede has begun: as I write this a stack of Olive discs has arrived. Expect plenty of monsters and mad doctors in next week's review mix.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Hammer Films Double Features: The Revenge of Frankenstein + The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb Blu-ray
Movies: Frankenstein Excellent; Mummy's Good
Video: Frankenstein Good - minus; Mummy's Excellent
Supplements: none
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? N0; Subtitles: None
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 3, 2016

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