Monday, February 12, 2007

Two mediocre Hammer horrors: The Horror of Frankenstein (1970); Fear in the Night (1972)

I am anal when it comes to Hammer Studios; as far as my DVD collection is concerned, I am a completist. And so I added a handful to the list, including two later Hammers, both directed by Jimmy Sangster.

Jimmy Sangster was a talented writer and producer. He scripted several of the early Hammer gothics, including the fabulous Dracula in 1958, perhaps the finest of all the Studio's productions. He scripted and produced The Nanny in 1965, another example of Hammer's very high standards. In the 1970s, however, he turned his hand to direction, with decidedly poor results. The abysmal Lust for a Vampire (1970) is best forgotten.

The Horror of Frankenstein (1970) is The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) revamped as a camp black comedy. God help us. As critic David Pirie noted in 1973, the chief problem is that the original Frankenstein film (and the ensuing series) was already replete with irony; Sangster's heavy-handed attempt to make the humour overt completely misses the point, taking away the most splendid and brilliant element of the original films. The jokes fall flat. Despite being photographed by the talented Arthur Grant, it has nothing of the usual Hammer atmosphere. Malcolm Williamson's score is as lumbering and soulless as David Prowse's Creature.

Fear in the Night (1972) is more interesting in that it does have at least two effective sequences, namely the genuinely haunting bookends. The 80 minutes inbetween is sorely lacking in suspense and interest, however. The first half is excruciatingly dull, mainly consisting of banal dialogue between Ralph Bates and Judy Geeson. The presence of Peter Cushing comes as a huge relief, but he is given very little screen time. The second half picks up pace, but is mainly silly and predictable. It was obviously very cheaply made, as only four characters carry the majority of the movie; two carry the first half virtually on their own.

My ratings?

The Horror of Frankenstein 4/10
Fear in the Night 4/10

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