Sunday, 4 February 2018


THE 'DOUBLE BILL' is something of a tradition within the film industry. Simply put it meant- ‘two for the price of one’. Originally used pre-cinema in Opera houses, it came into prominence in the 1930’s after the Great Depression. With the film industry suffering heavy losses, a number of cinemas chose to offer the two-for-one scheme, as a hope of luring punters back into the seats. 

SUFFICE TO SAY it worked and since then double bills were something of staple. However by the end of the 20th century, as the number of low-budget films being given theatrical releases lessened they began to go out of fashion and are now exceedingly rare. None the less the appeal to ciniphiles is still there and they can often be found at festivals, usually featuring two themed or related films.

THE 'THEMED DOUBLE BILL' is the subject of today’s piece (and of two following pieces), namely what is the perfect Cushing double bill? I’ll be discussing three trios of films that in my mind complement each other. They can be directly related, as are today’s or can simply be of thematic interest. However, they must of course both star Peter Cushing in some capacity. 

STATING WITH a somewhat obvious one, today I’ll be discussing 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein and 1958’s The Revenge of Frankenstein, but more specifically, how they complement each other. Curse and Revenge are the first two instalments in Hammer’s Frankenstein series, one of course being the granddaddy of Hammer’s gothic output. Whilst the first is a truncated retelling of the Frankenstein story, putting emphasis on the Baron as more of a villain, the sequel brings events full circle. Together, they show the rise and fall of Baron Frankenstein with his eventual fate as his own creation.

TO BEGIN WITH, this probably makes the most obvious pairing simply as Revenge picks up exactly where Curse left off, meaning that watched back to back it feels like one consistent epic.  Furthermore, unlike some of the later incarnations of the character (for example the more softer version seen in The Evil of Frankenstein or vicious incarnation that features in Frankenstein Must be Destroyed) these are clearly supposed to be the same man.

MUCH OF THE SETS are recycled and  virtually identical and Hammer even got the same actor (Alex Gallier) who played the priest in Curse to reprise his role at the start of this film. This means that unlike other Hammer sequels, Revenge often feels like a natural progression of Curse. Terrance Fisher returns and the only notable admission is James Bernard, who is replaced by Leonard Salzedo. I for one adore Salzedo’s score and it’s certainly up there with my favourite Hammer soundtrack, fitting the atmosphere of Revenge perfectly. The final end credits fanfare is chillingly powerful.

WHAT REALLY MAKES these two films complement each other however, is the rich thematic nature in which one story reflects the other. I discussed briefly some of the varying levels in Revenge’s script during my tribute to Jimmy Sangster. However when watched back to back these two films have elements which show a great intelligence in Sangster’s work. The progression to brain transplants comes across as incredibly natural and the bravery in having the revenge as not a physical one (a slice and dice would have been so easy) but more of a philosophical one (he has to prove himself right), shows an incredible understanding of the character. With the Baron somewhat younger in the first film, he is the pupil to Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) who through the course of the film becomes the more dominant figure. 

IN REVENGE that Baron seems to have aged tremendously due to his near death experience and this time it is he who has the pupil, in Francis Matthews’s Hanz. Throughout the course of this film we see Hanz grow and learn, until at the finale it is he who must perform the brain transplant upon the Baron. 

THE FACT THAT this then results in the only successful operation, the final shot being Hanz looking on proudly at the new Baron, presents a wonderful circularity to these films. We see the Baron first develop his concept of creating life and then further this into brain transplants. We see his two failed experiments but we also see him grow and develop as a character, from pupil to teacher.

OF COURSE MUCH of this is down to Cushing, who in the space of a year manages two performances of the same character but in entirely different mind-sets. Thanks to him, we believe that this is the same man and that he really has been through a horrific experience, which has just made him more determined to continue. Indeed the most horrifying thing in Revenge is Cushing’s uttering of the line ‘they will never be rid of me’. The determination is so powerful as to be utterly chilling.

WELL THAT'S IT for this weeks double bill, but join me again next Sunday as I’ll be discussing another perfect pair…

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