With the success of their first Frankenstein feature, "The Curse Of Frankenstein" (1957), Hammer films wasted little time in following up with a sequel. "The Revenge Of Frankenstein" (1958) saw Peter Cushing reprise the role that made him famous; the creature from the first film (played wonderfully by Christopher Lee) did not return. The interesting feature of Hammer's series of Frankenstein films was that their main focus was always on the Baron rather than his creations, even when the role was briefly taken up by Ralph Bates during the seventies. This allowed Hammer to create all sorts of variations on Frankenstein's monster over the years, but "Revenge" contains one of their most interesting ideas: concentrating on the Baron's experiments in brain transplantation and his attempt to create a new body for his deformed assistant, Fritz. Naturally, his dabbling leads to tragedy!
The first film was told in flashback by the Baron, who was facing execution for the deaths caused by the creature he had created. This enables screenwriter Jimmy Sangster to continue the story where the last one left off — with the Baron escaping the guillotine at the very last moment. With the help of a hunchbacked prison attendant called Fritz (Oascar Quitak), and a corrupt executioner, Frankenstein's place on the chopping block is taken instead by a priest — and the Baron escapes with his new-found assistant to the town of Carlsbruck, where he starts his own medical practice under the name Stein. Ostensibly, the Baron seems to have turned over a new leaf: dedicating his practice to tending to the poor and needy. But all the while, he is harvesting body parts from his "clients" to create a brand new body for the hunchbacked Fritz!
It is not long before Dr. Stein's "altruism" starts to bring him unwanted attention from the medical board — a cartel of physicians who don't appreciate the fact that they are losing all their clients to the doctor. The board meet a frosty reception when they try to entice Stein to join their little club; but one of them, Dr. Hans Kleve, recognises Stein's true identity since he attended the funeral (also attended by Frankenstein) of a Professor Bernstein -- murdered by the Baron for his brain in the previous film! Instead of turning him in though, Kleve is beguiled by Frankenstein's experiments and demands to join him as an assistant. The Baron reveals his plan to remove Fritz's brain and replace it in the body he has created from the discarded body parts of his patients and Kleve is happy to assist in the operation!
At first things seem to have gone well; but the first intimation that all may not be quite as it seems comes when Kleve notices that a chimpanzee that Frankenstein had first tried the brain transplant procedure on, has turned to cannibalism! And when Fritz, with his brand new athletic body, discovers that Frankenstein plans to "exhibit" his medical miracle all over the world, together with his old body, he breaks out of the secret room that the Baron has hidden him in, and returns to the lab where he seeks out his old body and destroys it in the furnace. Frankenstein and Dr. Kleve launch a desperate search, but Fritz is already starting to develop cannibalistic cravings and it isn't long before dead bodies start cropping up all over Carlsbruck!
Fisher's sequel makes a good job of continuing in the style of the previous film, containing the same muted colour schemes and similar looking sets. But Sangster takes the opportunity to develop a very different kind of story, one that has little in common with the previous film versions of Frankenstein. Peter Cushing's charisma and obvious affinity with the role are taken full advantage of, and, this time round, we are presented with a slightly more sympathetic portrayal of the Baron. Although he is just as driven, Frankenstein now uses his talents to try to help the needy and to repay Fritz for helping him escape the guillotine; but his own ambitions soon come to the surface to sabotage these efforts! Rather than just being the usual tale of man tampering with nature, Sangster gives us a Frankenstein with his heart mostly in the right place (sort of!) but who can't help getting carried away with his ambitions for Fritz, completely neglecting the man's human needs and desire to live life as something more than a medical case study. Cushing's usual strong performance is ably supported here by Michael Gwynn, who plays Fritz in his new body. Instead of a horrific looking creature, Gwynn plays an ordinary man who gradually develops murderous urges due to the effects of the brain transplant he has endured. Francis Matthews is also good as Frankenstein's enthusiastic accomplice, Dr. Hans Kleve. Matthews' voice will sound familiar to most viewers since he went on to supply the voice for Captain Scarlet!
Columbia Tristar have given us a terrific, crisp looking anamorphic transfer of the film but once again, as with so many Hammer films, we lose out on the extras with just two trailers and a photo gallery included on the disc. A wonderful film though from the golden age of Hammer and almost on a par with the original.