(UK - 1970; US release 1971)
Directed by Jimmy Sangster. Written by Jeremy Burnham and Jimmy Sangster. Cast: Ralph Bates, Kate O'Mara, Veronica Carlson, Dennis Price, Jon Finch, Dave Prowse, Joan Rice, Bernard Archard, Stephen Turner, Graham James, Neil Wilson, James Hayter, James Cossins, Glenys O'Brien, George Belbin. (R, 95 mins)
One of the least-loved films in the Hammer horror cycle, 1970's THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN was intended as a reboot of their FRANKENSTEIN series as part of a calculated effort to skew toward a younger and more hip audience. By this time at the dawn of the '70s, audience interest was waning and Hammer decided to shake things up, with their general feeling being that 48-year-old Christopher Lee and 57-year-old Peter Cushing--the faces of "Hammer horror"--were starting to get on in years, relatively speaking. Cushing had just co-starred in THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, the first of the so-called "Karnstein trilogy," a film that represented a sort-of turning point for Hammer in that it went all-in on excessive gore and gratuitous nudity from Ingrid Pitt and the female cast members. But when it came time for the follow-up to 1969's FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED, Hammer opted to head in a different direction, ditching Cushing to make a desperate grab for the youth market and placing most of their hopes on the shoulders of one Ralph Bates. A busy British TV actor (most notably appearing as Caligula in the 1968 six-episode ITV series THE CAESARS), Bates was already being groomed as Hammer horror's heir apparent when he was cast in 1970's TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, which, in its earliest stages, wasn't even supposed to feature Christopher Lee's Dracula, instead focusing on Bates as Lord Courtley, a Satanist disciple of the vampire. Lee was growing increasingly dissatisfied with the direction of the DRACULA series and made no secret of his feelings to anyone who would listen. Nevertheless, it was at some point decided that he had to be in it, so the script was hastily rewritten to have Courtley supernaturally transform into Dracula, thus reducing Bates' role in the film to make way for Lee. The 30-year-old Bates took one for the team, and was rewarded by being made the new Victor Frankenstein in the same year's THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN, replacing Cushing as part of Hammer's new youth-driven direction. This didn't seem to bother Cushing in the slightest, as he paid a visit to the set and even posed for some publicity shots with Bates. Perhaps he was as tired of playing Dr. Frankenstein as Lee was of playing Dracula, but just wasn't such a surly pain in the ass about it.
|Ralph Bates (1940-1991)
|Peter Cushing visiting Ralph Bates on the set.
DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE, and finally teaming him with Joan Collins, Judy Geeson, and--wait for it--Peter Cushing in Sangster's 1972 thriller FEAR IN THE NIGHT. By this time, it became apparent to Hammer that Ralph Bates wasn't the answer to the problems (nor, for that matter, was having Sangster behind the camera). Other than occasional non-Hammer supporting roles (he appeared with Lana Turner and Trevor Howard in 1974's PERSECUTION, and with Collins and Donald Pleasence in the 1976 demonic baby outing THE DEVIL WITHIN HER), he spent the rest of his career as a regular fixture on British TV, including the lead on BBC's DEAR JOHN, which ran for two seasons starting in 1986 and would be remade a couple of years later into the hit NBC sitcom with Judd Hirsch. Bates' last screen appearance came in a small role in 1990's little-seen period adventure KING OF THE WIND. He was just 51 when he died of pancreatic cancer in 1991.
DRACULA A.D. 1972, and 1973's THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA, which found Hammer reaching a compromise in their shameless youth pandering by dropping their "aging" stars and their respective Dracula and Van Helsing characters into mod, swinging 1972 London in all its shagadelic glory. It wasn't any kind of happening and fans were decidedly not freaked out, and as a result, ambitious, inventive, and very entertaining period adventure/horror hybrids like CAPTAIN KRONOS: VAMPIRE HUNTER and THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES were forced to languish on the shelf for extended amounts of time because Hammer had grown skittish about their product. 1974 saw the release of FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL (like CAPTAIN KRONOS, completed in 1972 and unreleased for two years), which brought back Prowse as a much-different and more ape-like monster than he played in THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN. Even with veteran Hammer director Terence Fisher returning (in what ended up being his final film before retiring from the business), along with Peter Cushing stepping back into his signature role, its focus was less on classic horror and more on graphic gore. And still, it was a critical and commercial flop and marked the end of the road for Hammer's FRANKENSTEIN series.