Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell was released in 1974 but was really a throwback to an earlier era of British horror. That’s not intended as a criticism - this is classic Hammer.

This film saw Peter Cushing playing Baron Frankenstein for the last time and it was also director Terence Fisher’s final film. With music by James Bernard and a screenplay by Anthony Hinds this is like a Hammer reunion from the studio’s golden days.

As the movie opens a young doctor named Simon Helder (Shane Briant) is trying to continue the work of the late Baron Frankenstein. Frankenstein had died in a lunatic asylum some years earlier. Dr Helder is too young to have ever met the baron but he has all his books and is an eager disciple. Unfortunately the authorities remain unsympathetic to those at the cutting edge of science and Dr Helder is convicted of sorcery and committed to an asylum for the criminally insane. In fact it’s the same asylum in which Frankenstein passed his final years.

Young Simon has a major surprise in store for him. Not only is Baron Frankenstein still very much alive, he now effectively runs the asylum. He has collected enough damaging evidence against the director of the asylum (a man who is clearly both sexually depraved and mentally unstable) and most of his underlings that no-one will now dare to question his authority.

For Frankenstein it has been a congenial arrangement. He has the necessary privacy in which to continue his experiments and he has a source of human raw material. He also has a faithful assistant, a beautiful young female inmate named Sarah who is known to all as The Angel. Sarah is mute but quite sane. She has been a valuable, intelligent and capable assistant but it would obviously be very useful to have a second assistant with proper medical training. He is therefore extremely pleased to make the acquaintance of Dr Helder, and even more pleased when he discovers that the brilliant young surgeon is an admirer of his own work.

One inmate of this madhouse who had particularly attracted Frankenstein’s interest was a man who had regressed to a more primitive stage of human evolution. When he was killed trying to escape the Baron wasted no time in restoring him to life. He is now the subject of Frankenstein’s latest experiments. As always with his creatures the brain has been a problem but there happens to be another patient who is a genius, albeit an insane genius. His brain would be ideal.

Dr Helder’s enthusiasm for the work is soon tempered by ethical concerns. Frankenstein has no problems in that area. The Frankenstein of this movie is entirely lacking in anything resembling a moral sense. Frankenstein had always been inclined to allow his ambitions to overrule his conscience and this tendency has now reached an extreme. He is also now very close to complete madness.

Cushing is in fine form, giving one of his most chilling performances. Shane Briant is quite adequate, as is Madeleine Smith as Sarah. John Stratton is delightfully creepy as the asylum director while Patrick Troughton contributes an entertaining cameo as a grave robber.

The monster in this final film is more human than in most previous productions. He can speak, and he can understand his horrifying situation. David Prowse had played the monster before, in Hammer’s The Horror of Frankenstein.

Terence Fisher shows that he hadn’t lost his touch. The very low budget (a real problem for Hammer in this period) is evident but art director Scott MacGregor does a pretty good job within those constraints and the movie has a brooding claustrophobic feel that is perfect for the madhouse setting.

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell ends the Hammer Frankenstein cycle on a very satisfying note.


The Film Connoisseur said...

Totally agree, this was the last Frankenstein Hammer film, but it was also a very good one. I liked the look of the monster on this one and I also liked that the film had a couple of gooey gory moments. Nothing too over the top, but then again, Hammer films were never too gory.

I love the poster for this movie btw!

Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

I've never been particularly keen on this film. It was derided and dismissed on its initial release (once it was finally distributed), and as a result I think Hammer fans have rather taken it to their hearts. The setting is intriguing, but the unrelentingly depressing tone is not helpful. I also have to say I think the 'Monster' is embarrasingly poor. The design and make up work on it illustrates just how little progress Hammer had made in this department since 1957's far superior 'Monster'.