Jules picks up where he left off in October by running through some of the choice horror offerings from the fantastic Hammer back catalogue.
You can check out the rest of our “31 Days of Hammer” by CLICKING HERE.
Starring: Peter Cushing, Shane Briant, Madeleine Smith
Director: Terence Fisher
Hammer Horror truly began in 1958 with Peter Cushing first bringing to life his greatest creation, Baron Frankenstein, under the watchful eye of Terence Fisher, so it’s only fitting that the duo were reunited one last time as the once-great studio began its death-rattle.
Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell sees Hammer’s most consistently entertaining and ambitious series end on a high note, upping the violence and effects, but also delivering their shocks with a fair amount of pathos mixed in amongst it and another, final bravura performance by Cushing in his defining role.
When Doctor Simon Helder (Shane Briant) is sentenced to an asylum for crimes of bodysnatching and sorcery, he discovers that the supposedly dead Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) is alive and well. Not only that, he is in full control of the asylum, as he has been blackmailing the corrupt pervert director Adolf Klauss (John Stratton) over his various indiscretions.
With Helder providing a steady pair of hands to conduct his surgeries, the Baron (or Dr Victor as he is now calling himself) resumes his experiments in life and death with gusto, creating a new creature (Dave Prowse) from the body of a brutally strong murderer, the hands of a craftsman and the brain of a genius, one who Frankenstein manipulated into suicide purely so he could harvest his mind.
Once again though, Victor’s hubris becomes his undoing as the asylum erupts into bloody carnage when the monster breaks free…
Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell is a film that wears its heart right on its sleeve. With the exception of the first film, none of the Hammer series have really been all that horrific, with the real monster being the Baron, but here they really go to town with it.
Huge and covered in body hair, with a stitched-on skull and sunken eyes, this final Frankenstein’s Monster is truly horrendous to look at, while Terence Fisher lets us see more than we’ve ever seen before. There are no punches being pulled here.
There are hints in the first half of the film of how far we’re going to go in terms of onscreen grue, with operations being performed on the Monster to give him a new pair of hands or eyes, but it’s the brain transplant that really marks this one out as the most extreme the series has ever attempted.
Remember the brain transplant in The Revenge Of Frankenstein, just out of shot, but vividly brought to life by sound alone? Now we see every incision, every twist of the skull top, every snip of ganglia of spinal column. All in glorious colour.
More upsetting than any gross body horror could ever be is the scene where the finished monster wakes up for the first time and realises what has been done to him. With the poor Professor’s brain at the controls, he’s a truly pitiful figure, trapped in a bestial body in a living hell in which even death seems to have no meaning. Worse, both Frankenstein and Helder are completely oblivious to his torment at their hands, he’s merely experimental material to them and are happy to leave him in tears while they go for a drink, full of their own self-satisfaction and hubris.
Shane Briant gives a nicely layered performance as the ambitious young Doctor, happy to steal bodies to further his research, but balking at creating the bodies in the first place, while Madeleine Smith does remarkably well with an almost silent role as Sarah Klauss, the “angel” of the asylum, rendered mute by her father’s attempted rape.
Quite rightly though, this is the Peter Cushing show. From his first dramatic entrance putting a stop to Helder’s abuse, to that final wonderful scene where he makes the darkest of small talk, the great man is on the top of his game here. Once again, he’s playing a different version of the Baron and once again he’s absolutely riveting. This Victor is moral on the surface, stopping petty cruelties where he sees them, or rescuing a young inmate from the predatory advances of the Director, but it’s all about power with him, he doesn’t really care about anyone or anything. It’s all about the work for him and Cushing is absolutely convincing in that. The brooding intensity underneath the brisk charm is magnificent, while his physicality is as strong as ever, as evidenced during several scenes where he has to get his hands dirty.
Terence Fisher is on top form here too, letting the beautifully-realised asylum live and breathe with vivid characters and stunning set design. Every action scene is dynamic and feels dangerous, while the shot of the Monster digging up his old body in the graveyard while being illuminated by lightning is surely one of the most nightmarish visions Hammer ever achieved.
Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell isn’t just the last film in the series from Hammer, it was also the last time we would see Cushing and Fisher’s names in the credits, but man did they go out with a bang. Unlike most other Frankenstein films, there’s no payback for his playing God in the end here. Both he and his assistants are just fine, even if his creature was torn apart by maniacs only minutes before. The work continues and he’s already suggesting still-alive inmates who would be suitable donors. The inference is that the work will never stop and Baron Frankenstein will continue his experiments into playing god forever. It’s a nice idea, that in some parallel dimension that this wasn’t the end and that somewhere Peter Cushing is still playing the Baron with that twinkle in his eye, laughing in the face of God himself and bringing chaos wherever he goes.
The work never ends…
The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy