This week, our annual Hammer horror film review skips forward a bit in the chronology, with our first review of one of the Hammer Frankenstein films – but not the first of the Hammer Frankenstein films.
Cast and Crew
Peter Cushing as Baron Victor Frankenstein
Veronica Carlson as Anna Spengler
Freddie Jones as Professor Richter/the Creature
Simon Ward as Dr. Karl Holst
Thorley Walters as Inspector Frisch
Maxine Audley as Ella Brandt
George Pravda as Dr. Frederick Brandt
Directed by Terence Fisher
Written by Bert Batt & Anthony Nelson Keys
Based on the novel “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley
Victor Frankenstein is working on perfecting on storing human brains to preserve their knowledge for future generations. However, Frankenstein’s collaborator in these experiments, Dr. Brandt, has gone mad and has been committed to an insane asylum. To get in, Dr. Frankenstein blackmails his land lady, Anna Spengler and her fiancee, Dr. Holst, to get them to help him rescue Dr. Brandt.
One of the problems with the popular perception of “Frankenstein” is conflating Dr. Frankenstein and his monster. Here, we see that Dr. Frankenstein himself is, in a way, a monster. While he doesn’t consider himself a villain, with his efforts instead being for (in his eyes) the betterment of mankind, his actions are clearly monstrous, not only in terms of stealing cadavers and other equipment, to murder and blackmail.
I also like that when Dr. Brandt is resurrected, he realizes the horror of his condition and turns on Dr. Frankenstein to get revenge in a logical, rational fashion. To a certain extent, this is the first real film version of Frankenstein’s Monster that I know of that not only has full control of his mental faculties, but who is extremely intelligent.
The scene where Victor rapes Anna is completely unnecessary. Even Peter Cushing and Veronica Carlson, the actors in the sequence, found it unnecessary in the plot, and while Carlson’s performance in the later portions of the film reflects these events, the sequence is never mentioned again in the dialog, and according to Wikipedia it was inserted to placate American distributors, by which I mean it was meant for the grindhouse market. That’s unfortunate.
Further, we get some hints in the script that Dr. Holst is falling into Frankenstein’s thrall beyond the blackmail. Holst is witnessing things that he never believed were scientifically possible, and the thrill of discovery is drawing him under Frankenstein’s spell. This part is good. What makes this a low point is this plot thread gets dropped before it really is developed soon before the rape scene.
This film features some bloody violence as well as an on camera rape scene with a toplessness.
Originality: While this film is a sequel to earlier Hammer Frankenstein films, it goes into territory that earlier Frankenstein films didn’t go into. I’d even say that the time this was one of the most original Frankenstein stories. 5 out of 6.
Effects: The effects were par for the course for the Hammer Frankenstein films – any special effects trending towards the realistic-but-gruesome (brains in jars, surgery), instead of the supernatural, as with the Dracula films. There’s nothing spectacular here, but what we get works. 4 out of 6.
Story: The story works very well. Frankenstein’s motivation makes perfect sense for the character (both in terms of earlier films and even Shelly’s original work), and with the exception of the rape, his actions are in keeping with his actions from earlier films. 4 out of 6.
Acting: Peter Cushing is a fantastic actor, and is one of those actors who couldn’t phone in a performance no matter how much he hated a scene or role. Freddie Jones also does an amazing job at the end of the film as Dr. Brandt in Richter’s body. 5 out of 6
Production: By the time this film had come out, Hammer had built up a considerable degree of props, sets, and external locations for making gothic horror films, allowing them to make a fantastic Frankenstein film. 4 out of 6.
Emotional Response: The rape scene was unpleasant to watch, which I suppose makes it a success. Other than that, Frankenstein gets the kind of response that we want from a villain in a Gothic horror film, and we feel bad for his two forced assistants. 4 out of 6.
Overall: This was a good Gothic horror film – and certainly one of the better Frankenstein movies I’ve seen. I’d definitely say that Peter Cushing is one of the best actors to play Dr. Frankenstein. However, the rape scene really hurts this film. It changes Dr. Frankenstein from a person pursuing what he considers a noble goal using monstrous means, as he was in earlier films (or a tragically misguided man in the original work), to an complete monster. You don’t need Frankenstein to kick the dog. 4 out of 6.
In Total, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed gets 30 out of 42