In between Boris Karloff’s two films for Amalgamated Pictures, he signed a three-picture deal with producers Howard W. Koch and Aubrey Schenick. They were the duo behind the disappointing Voodoo Island and they already had one picture lined up and ready for Karloff, entitled Frankenstein 1975. Although he had vowed never to do a Frankenstein film again, he agreed as this time was finally able to play Dr. Frankenstein. Well, a descendent of the original doctor anyway.
Frankenstein 1970, the title upon which it was eventually released, has Karloff playing the disfigured Baron Victor Von Frankenstein. He was tortured by the Nazis during World War II, leaving him with a definite limp while walking, a twisted body and scarred face. But his hands were never touched as they needed him to continue to perform their scientific experiments. He survived and now all he wants to do is continue the work of his ancestor and create a man and bring him to life. However, funds are low and, needing an atomic reactor to complete his work, he must rent out his castle to a Hollywood studio so they can film a low budget horror movie.
The movie crew is full of the usual clichés. There is the director who has eyes for his young starlet while his seething wife sulks off in the distance. The starlet is kind and naïve, showing attention to Frankenstein’s butler, which only serves to upset the good doctor has he has eyes for her. He longs for his younger and normal face, which we see a picture of courtesy of an old publicity picture of Karloff. The doctor needs body parts to finish his experiment so, one by one, people disappear. The director begins to suspect something is going on but can he convince the police in time to stop the doctor and his mad creation?
Visually, Frankenstein 1970 is actually stunning at times. It was filmed on the leftover set of Too Much, Too Soon, a biographical pic on the life of Diana Barrymore, daughter of famed actor John Barrymore. It enhances the movie far beyond the rather lackluster script. The laboratory isn’t as exciting as what Universal offered us but it is better than you might expect. Karloff is convincing at times as the mad scientist but he appears to be walking through the film. However, even when Karloff phones in a performance it still looks and sounds great. However, the rest of the cast is forgettable.
And what about the monster? Well, the producers cheated because we never really see the monster. He’s wrapped up like a mummy the entire film, only having its face revealed at the very end. I won’t give it away but suffice to say, it was cheesy rather than shocking. The monster was played by a rather large professional wrestler of the day, yet doesn’t do much more than stumble around once he finally gets off the slab.
I liked Frankenstein 1970 well enough. Not a great film but Karloff did worse. It looks great, having finally been released in widescreen as part of the Karloff and Lugosi Horror Classics box set. Watch the trailer and you’ll get a definite 1950 drive-in feel, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Karloff did have a few better films on the horizon but, as we begin to near the twilight of his career, there are some real tough ones coming up in the days ahead as well.