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So I’m what you would call a Boris Karloff fan. One day I’m going to run out of Karloff movies to watch, and that is going to be a sad day. General availability is going to render that sadness difficult to achieve, perhaps. I can’t think of any circumstances bizarre enough that I’ll get to see him play an Indian in Tap Roots, but hey, I’ve been wrong before.
Frankenstein 1970 starts out strong, with a clawed monster chasing a peasant girl through dark, fog-shrouded woods. This is damned effective movie-making. So effective that you start thinking, wait, this is just the opening, something is up, and sure enough, somebody yells “Cut!” revealing it all to be part of a movie being shot.
You will remember one of the things that will turn me against a movie is an attempt to treat me like an idiot. The movie crew is distressingly tiny – five people, and two locals – and this stick-bound tripod just shot a scene covering several hundred feet, with cuts. It’s a blatant cheat, and I’m not going to be in the movie’s corner for the next 80 minutes.
This less-than-skeleton crew is making a movie about… well possibly Frankenstein, who knows, because the director (Don “Red” Barry) keeps changing that (hell at one point he’s even decided it’s going to be a television show – who’s funding this idiot?). He rented out the actual Castle Frankenstein for his set, because the current Frankenstein (Karloff, yay!) is impoverished and needs the money to buy an atomic reactor. This is why its Frankenstein 1970, not Frankenstein 1960, as was originally planned. Obviously, it was unrealistic to expect people could buy their own atomic reactors until then.
Frankenstein has a reason to put up with those odious showbiz types, the same reason he needs the atomic generator: he’s building a monster, and this time, he’s going to get it right. After his manservant gets too nosey and finds the underground laboratory, Frankenstein uses the poor man’s brain and then proceeds to work his way through the movie people for more spare parts as needed. The Monster is fairly cost-effective, too, basically a mummy with an oversized head.
As ever, Karloff is worth watching; his Frankenstein bears the scars of Nazi torture, because he would not use his skills for their cause (considering the absurd changes the Breen Office enforced on the script, a time-lost copy of Frankenstein’s Army would have resulted in a lot of soiled trousers in that Office). Karloff gives the role his all, even injecting some creepiness toward the women in the crew. It’s more dimensional than the picture deserves, really.
The movie crew is solid enough, but annoying. It’s like there are two different movies going on, using the same set, but one is a tragic horror story and the other is an unfunny comedy. I kind of wish everybody had been working on the tragic horror story.
There are two reasons this movie got made: one was the Shock Theater package that re-introduced the Universal horror movies to television audiences, and the other was the success of the Hammer Curse of Frankenstein. This is a handsome movie, at the very least; it uses a Warner Brothers set built for an Errol Flynn movie, and it’s shot in CinemaScope, for God’s sake, using the same cinematographer as that Flynn flick, Carl E. Guthrie (clever of producer Aubrey Schenck – Guthrie already knew how to best light the set). I honestly do appreciate that the Warner prop crew put the Maltese Falcon in Frankenstein’s library.
Frankenstein 1970 doesn’t fall into the “for Karloff completists only”, but there isn’t a whole lot here to reward the casual viewer, either.
That opening is still killer, though.