May 24, 2019

On Blu-Ray: Boris Karloff in Frankenstein 1970

Decades after getting his big break in Frankenstein (1931), Boris Karloff revisited the idea in Frankenstein 1970 (1958). This time he was the one harvesting body parts and playing with knobs as Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Karloff is the draw in this low-budget quickie production which recently made its debut on Blu-ray from Warner Archive.

In this continuation of the Frankenstein legend, the doctor lives alone in a creepy castle, disfigured by the torture of World War II Nazis, and desperate for funds to continue his work. That work is to create a version of himself before his face and body were deformed, so that the Frankenstein bloodline may continue.

Frankenstein finds a source of cash via a television crew looking to use his home as the set of a horror film. He also relishes the influx of fresh organs for his creation. As people begin to disappear in the night, the production’s director starts to ask questions.

Of course, an atomic age Dr. Frankenstein needs an atomic reactor to complete his work, which he is able to do with his new funds. He also has recording equipment, which gives Karloff the opportunity to provide long, unnecessary monologues about what exactly he is doing. His creation remains wrapped in bandages for most of the film, a budget-friendly decision which makes it seem more like a mummy movie than a monster flick.

Frankenstein 1970 suffers from a lack of energy and tension. It’s got a lethargic pace and not much to distinguish the familiar story. A tinge of camp might have given it more oomph, but the cast plays everything straight.

Karloff is the reason to watch: he’s got that Joan Blondell quality of never being bad, however lackluster the film. Even saddled with the cliché of moodily playing an organ, he manages to be effectively creepy. There’s also a gruesome thrill in watching him pout because he drops a pair of eyeballs from one of victims and has to deal with the bother of killing again to get a fresh set. This was a milieu Karloff knew well and could work to his advantage.

Special features on the disc include commentary by historians Charlotte Austin, Bob Burns and Tom Weaver from the original Warner Archive DVD release of the film and a trailer.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

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