Released just a year after “Curse of Frankenstein,” “Revenge of Frankenstein” chronicles the further adventures of Baron Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) as he miraculously escapes the guillotine (his fate at the end of the first movie), relocates to a new town (Carlsbruck), assumes a new identity (Dr. Stein), and seemingly becomes a respectable citizen. Before long, however, the doc is up to his old tricks, collecting body parts and transplanting a brain into a new stitched-together creature. This time, his experiment seems to be a rousing success. However, things soon go awry.
Like the 1935 Universal classic “Bride of Frankenstein,” this is one of those rare sequels that surpasses the original. Although “Revenge” is not quite in the same league as “Bride,” The Creature (played by Michael Gwynne) is a much more complicated, and therefore more interesting, character than Christopher Lee’s Frankenstein Monster, who was basically just a homicidal maniac. Karl (The Creature) is not evil, merely misunderstood and terribly unlucky.
Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein is also a much more sympathetic character than he was in “Curse of Frankenstein.” There he did not hesitate to engage in cold-blooded murder to further his goals. Here we have a kinder and gentler Baron, resolute to be sure but not murderously ruthless. This remarkable character transformation is never explained nor even alluded to. But it makes the Baron a character we can root for, something that we could never do in the original movie. In that regard, the title is somewhat misleading, since revenge is not a major theme and the Baron is not out to get those who may have wronged him.
The same steady hands who guided Hammer’s first “Frankenstein” film to box-office success — Terence Fisher as director and Jimmy Sangster as screenwriter — are also at the helm in this one. Cushing’s presence adds a certain gravitas to the proceedings, and the other actors, particularly Gwynne, also turn in first-rate performances. Although there are few scares, the movie is well written and maintains the viewer’s interest throughout.
It should be noted that, like most of Hammer’s Frankenstein sequels, this one chronicles the further adventures of Victor Frankenstein and not the Frankenstein Monster. In that respect, they are quite unlike the Universal sequels, where the Monster eventually ran out of things to do and ended up being a virtual parody of himself. The original Monster would, in fact, return in the next Hammer sequel, “The Evil of Frankenstein,” and again a few years later in “Horror of Frankenstein,” which was a remake of “Curse” (this time with Ralph Bates as the Baron) rather than a sequel. Both of these films, while enjoyable in their own way (particularly for Hammerphiles), are inferior to this one and, in my opinion, not as good as the other sequels (most notably “Frankenstein Created Woman”) that do not feature the original Frankenstein Monster.