Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

DIRECTOR: Terence Fisher.

CAST: Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson, Simon Ward, Freddie Jones, Thorley Walters, Maxine Audley, George Pravda, Geoffrey Bayldon, Frank Middlemass, Peter Copley, Harold Goodwin, Windsor Davies, Robert Gillespie.

SYNOPSIS: While the world thinks it is finally rid of Baron Frankenstein (Cushing), the malevolent scientist is secretly on the prowl for victims for his next diabolical experiment in creating life. Under a false name, he takes up residence at the guest house of Anna Spengler (Carlson) and, when he discovers she and her fiance, Dr Karl Holst, are illegally obtaining drugs in order to help her sick mother, he seizes the opportunity to blackmail the pair into helping him, when he discovers they are illegally obtaining drugs for Anna's sick mother. With the two lovers to help him, the Baron takes advantage of Holst's position at the local asylum, and uses him to procure the body of Dr Brandt (Pravda), a medical genius and Frankenstein's one-time collaborator, now insane and confined to a cell. He plans to transplant Brandt's brain into the fully functioning body of Professor Richter (Jones), thus paving the way for Brandt's restoration so that he can share his medical secrets with Frankenstein. Will the Baron's unprecedented enterprise be a success, however, and what is to be done about Brandt's distraught wife (Audley)?

COMMENTS: 'Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed' is one of Hammer's most finely crafted films, boasting excellent production values and tight execution from veteran director Fisher. Major contributions include the sharp script by John Elder (Anthony Hinds) and Bert Batt, a fine score as usual by James Bernard, sterling photography by Arthur Grant, and a first-class cast including a host of unforgettable cameos: Robert Gillespie as a deliciously dry and wryly insolent mortician; Thorley Walters in an amusing turn as a blundering police inspector; Geoffrey Bayldon as the longsuffering assistant who ends up having to do most of the work for him; and an appearance by studio regular Harold Goodwin as a burglar in the film's memorable opening sequence. Freddie Jones gives the best screen portrayal of the Frankenstein 'Monster' since Boris Karloff, whose affecting evocation of both pathos and abhorrence he shares.

One of the core features to which the Frankenstein series owed its success was the presence of an ongoing central character in Cushing's Baron Frankenstein. The sense of progression and development -- something lacking in the far less consistent Dracula series -- continues apace here, as the ambiguous anti-hero of the earlier films is now unmistakeably the real villain of the piece, hence the title: It is now the Baron himself, rather than his creation, who must be destroyed. This is a point brilliantly illustrated in the film's opening sequence, in which a gruesome beheading is carried out by a character identified only by his black shoes and white spats (an echo of the opening of Hitchcock's 1951 'Strangers on a Train'), suggesting a certain ambiguity or ambivalence; this is followed by a scuffle between the stranger, now seen to be hideously ugly, and an intruder (Goodwin) in Frankenstein's laboratory; following the encounter, the stranger rips off his mask to reveal his identity; this violent, ugly murderer is the Baron himself; he has become the Monster.

The Baron here also takes on God-like dimensions like never before. In Fisher's series the immoral nature of the Baron's attempts to usurp the place of God was always clear; here Frankenstein's spiral of descent into degeneracy, tyranny and blasphemy is complete. With great command, he exerts an almost supernatural force over the two young lovers. He takes control of nature, not only in his experiments, but in the particularly brutal and controversial rape scene. (It seems Fisher was forced into it by the studio, against his wishes, although I would argue the inclusion is successful on a thematic level.)

Central to the film is a pervasive irony: The irony of a man whose everyday manners are impeccable and gentlemanly, but whose total contempt for human life will lead him to murder and rape without a second thought; the irony of a man given back life only to be cheated out of the one thing in life he loves; and not least the irony of Frankenstein's downfall, hoist by his own petard, as it were. Never is this irony more clearly captured than in the very first scene, in which a lilting ballad accompanies a beheading, or (a few scenes later) the quick cut from Anna's words, "You'll find it very quiet here", to a screaming patient in an insane asylum, a surprisingly effective, if by now hackneyed shock moment.

The first hint of the Baron's demise comes towards the end of the film when Karl, unbeknownst to the Baron, overhears a conversation and discovers his plans, which information he then uses to foil him. Thus for the first time, the shoe is on the other foot: Frankenstein is no longer in control; he is not God, but a fallible human being who has finally been caught out, and his destruction is imminent. The destruction is one of the film's finest sequences. The shoe really is on the other foot now: "I fancy... that I am the spider and you are the fly," says the Baron's tragic creature. Frankenstein finds himself trapped inside Brandt's burning house with the police waiting outside. In the words of his creation, he must choose between "the police and the flames." The implication is clear: Even if Frankenstein manages to evade human justice, "the flames", a symbol of divine judgment, are inescapable. In a finale that harks back to Mary Shelley's original novel, the embittered creature himself carries his creator with him to their shared fate.

Other fine sequences include the water-pipe bursting, forcing the cadaver of one of the Baron's victims to resurface, as well as the forceful scene in which Dr Brandt, now transplanted into Professor Richter's body, and hiding behind a screen, pleads with his frightened wife to believe his story.

Gallery

Opening sequence, reminiscent of the opening of Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train:

Hammer stalwart Harold Goodwin as a burglar:

Fight between Goodwin and Cushing:

Two brilliant comic turns from Geoffrey Bayldon and Thorley Walters:

Robert Gillespie's wonderfully dry undertaker (right, with Bayldon, left):

Cushing takes command of Anna Spengler (Veronica Carlson) and her fiance Dr Karl Holst (Simon Ward):

Ward and Cushing set to work on the body of Dr Brandt (George Pravda):

Gory shot of Freddie Jones (and the sound effects in this scene are especially gruesome):

Carlson:

He's alive:

Maxine Audley as Mrs Brandt talks to the man she believes to be her husband:

Jones awakes to find himself in a new body:

Audley and Jones:

Jones is burned:

Cushing: The police or the flames?

 

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David L Rattigan 2005
 

 

 

 

 

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