20 July 2011



1974/Director: Terence Fisher/Writer: Anthony Hinds

Cast: Peter Cushing, Shane Briant, Madeline Smith, David Prowse, John Stratton, Michael Ward, Elsie Wagstaff, Norman Mitchell   

This was the last of the Hammer Frankenstein series and it actually takes up where Frankenstein Must be Destroyed left off as the prior film, The Horror of Frankenstein, broke the continuity of the films by going back to when Frankenstein was younger. Horror also suffered a bit by the absences of Terrence Fisher as director and Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein, but more on that film another post. Cushing and Fisher are both back for this 1974 film, as are Anthony Hinds (writing as James Elder) and Hammer composer James Bernard. In a couple more years Hammer would see itself all but out of business as the British film company that revived gothic horror and with Monster from Hell they ended on a pretty good note. The only flaws for me are the title that does not really suit the film's atmosphere and the rather shoddy monster played by David Prowse (Darth Vader) who also played the creature in Horror of Frankenstein as well. There were understandable budget constraints with the film since Hammer itself was going under. The idea of some sort of Neolithic monster is not in and of itself that bad and certainly the monster here is one of the most unique in the annals of Frankenstein films. I think it could have worked better really with less rubber makeup and fakey body hair. But it is easily over looked after a while really. Some people have criticized Madeline Smith's as the mute assistant Angel but I liked it. The close ups of her face are beautiful and the innocent character's charm may have been soiled by exploiting her ample endowments with a title corset as is known to be the attire of most Hammer queens.

In Monster from Hell it is now some seventeen years since we have been introduced to Cushing's generally maniacal and unsound Victor Frankenstein. In this final chapter he is the now resident doctor Carl Victor and treats the inmates of an insane asylum where he himself was initially housed as a resident. He has since gained his position of power by having information that would spell the nasty end of the current director Herr Klauss (played with superb sleaze by John Statton). Soon admitted into the asylum for "sorcery" is the brilliant young doctor Simon Helder (Shane Bryant of Captain Kronos-Vampire Hunter) who has long admired the works of Victor Frankenstein. His acts of sorcery involves the creation of life, or of the reanimation of the dead more accurately. He is carted away after the drunken grave robber he employed spilled his guts to the local constable.

In the young Helder Frankenstein sees the opportunity to return with full vigor to his life's dream of creating not only a living human being from the rotted and mangled parts of dead bodies, but a literal superman endowed with genius and artist talent. The film at times makes note of the Baron's own lack of refinement in these areas. He admits he is tone deaf and unable to appreciate beautiful music and he shows no interest in higher mathematics. He sees these are the necessities his creation must possess in order that his own brilliance will be revealed. Before the arrival of young Helder the Baron had to rely on the hands of Angel to do the intricate surgical work required to bring a collection of corpses back to life as his own hands were burned and crippled. This no doubt is a tie in to the ending of Frankenstein Must be Destroyed were his creation in that film (played excellently by Hammer regular Freddie Jones) walks into a burning house with Victor thrown over his shoulder.

In Monster from Hell Frankenstein selects as his subject the body of a inmate who recently attempted suicide. The man is Neolithic in appearance and is easily driven to violence and shows particular interest in dicing up people with broken glass. Victor soon is sewing on the hands of a sculptor and making ¡°arrangements¡± to acquire the brain of the melancholy (though not insane) Professor Durendel (Charles Llyod pack). In this sequence we can see how obsessed and ruthless Frankenstein has become regarding his goals and the gaunt faced and wild eyed portrayal by Cushing is one of his best. The film version I have is the DVD version released in the states which is from their original edited and censored prints. I understand there is a foreign version fans are waiting for that contains a few extra minutes of gore that is unusual for Hammer. In one scene during surgery Frankenstein becomes frustrated with his useless hands and takes a severed bleeding artery in his mouth to clamp it. There are a few other quick scenes in the operating room that do not appear in this American version.

The monster, as in most Hammer Frankenstein films, is a tortured creature who is more than vaguely aware of his dire situation. While I did not care much for the appearance of the cave man type monster in this addition to the series I certainly felt it was one of the most suffering. A musical and mathematic genius' brain trapped inside the body of a grotesque and suicidal apeman. The thread that connects all Frankenstein films is that the monster turns on its creator and rather than give the doctor the worldwide acclaim he seeks it sets about to destroy him.

In the final scenes the monster runs amok in the madhouse and kills Herr Klaus in a scene that, according to my research, was edited by a few seconds of some spurting blood from a throat wound. The film ends in a most bizarre and un-Hammer style when the inmates, for some reason, turn on the monster and rip it to shreds. They literally disembowel the beast and in yet another edited out scene are supposed to trample its entrails underfoot. Certainly extreme for a Hammer scene that would often show blood but not delve much into actual gore. The movie seems to end on at tone that may have been a set up for yet another sequel with the Baron perhaps assuming total control of the madhouse and young Helder becoming his protrogee and successor. It was not to be the case and the Hammer Frankenstein saga ended here. One closing thought I have about the film is that it captured the feeling and atmosphere of the early films one last time. Though made in 1974 the movie, through Fischer's able direction, retains the appearance of Hammer's early glory days. My only criticism of this film might the monster but it is a small criticism really when held in light of the movie's entirety. Not the greatest film to ever come out of Hammer but still one of its better horror offerings.


Spiritual thinking said...

This is a great post, I liked your blog and added your feed.


Bill D. Courtney said...

Thanks for the feedback on this rather forgotten Hammer Frankenstein film. A strange one in many ways but not bad at all.


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