Friday, October 15, 2010

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)
UK --- horror/ science fiction

Dir: Terence Fisher

Besides having the honor of having quite possibly one of the best titles in cinema history, "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed" also raised the bar for the entire series. And much like the Beatles' "White Album", they could never really live up to this one. The team of Terence Fisher and Peter Cushing are knocking on all cylinders for this entry, as we find the mad Baron is back to his evil deeds with ruthless agility. In this film, the filmmakers come right out the bullpen to establish that it is Frankenstein himself who is truly the monster, leaving no question or sympathy in the audience mind.

In the opening, we are witness to the brutal beheading of a town doctor by way of a well-dressed sickle-wielding psychopath. We also see a vagrant burglar trying to break into the wrong abode, when he finds himself in a laboratory complete with a corpse on ice. The thief tries to hide as the owner returns swiftly discovering his unannounced visitor. The owner carrying a hatbox (a callback to the last film, Frankenstein Created Woman) is revealed to be a strange looking pock-faced bald man. The two wrestle as the thief tries his best to escape, but during the struggle the hatbox gets opened to reveal a severed human head. This along with the corpse-sicle is too much for the would be thief as he escapes the house of horror. The owner does not chase after him, as it is revealed it is none other than Baron Frankenstein, who quickly disposes of the evidence.

The would-be burglar runs for his life into the arms of a policeman who takes him in for questioning as he's covered in blood from his struggle with Frankenstein. Hammer Horror alum Thorley Walters provides the comic relief in a sorts as a pedantic always-one-step-behind police inspector hot on the trail of Frankenstein's machinations.

Dr. Frankenstein soon finds himself at doorstep of the comely Anna's (played by another Hammer Horror alum Veronica Carlson) boarding house. He later affronts a couple of fellow boarders discussing an old colleague gone mad, Dr. Brandt, whom had also studied brain transfer successfully. Once this comes to Frankenstein's attention, he makes new plans perform this surgery by rescuing the mad doctor from the asylum, securing the doctors notes on the procedure, and implanting his brain in the body of a local professor.

He can't do it alone however. After overhearing Anna and her fiance Karl (who serendipitously works at the mental hospital) discuss their illicit drug dealings to help her mother, he soon finds his new assistants by blackmailing the couple. As opposed to prior films having loyal help, it's only fitting to see such disgust and reluctance come from his servants this time, confirming the despicable character of Frankenstein in this piece. Once we learn the plan, we are spirited away with the couple on this journey as they are pulled into Frankenstein's relentless quest for banal evolutionary science. He does indeed abduct Dr. Brandt, and soon after capturing Professor, Frankenstein and team successfully transfer the brain of Dr. Brandt into a new body. The doctor's mournful wife is not far behind as she recognizes her husband's old colleague, Frankenstein, on the street and inquires about her own husband's whereabouts after his disappearance from the asylum.

Frankenstein amiably allows her to visit his creation whose face is bandaged-up, but when after he convinces her it is indeed her husband, he quickly plans his escape. The final twenty minutes of the film is directed at breakneck precision as we get a monster that is not bogged down in makeup effects and truly assumes the role of protagonist, even with a unique twist on the ever-present Hammer Frankenstein climax where they all go up in flames. Fisher really directs some great and memorable scenes throughout this venture. High on suspense such as the escape from the asylum and a scene where Anna and Karl's house is being searched by police with the Baron in the basement. I found the sound design especially potent in some scenes. Some such as the asylum guards snores, or in particular the excruciatingly meticulous display at the procedure of the surgery with every bone-cracking noise accentuated. The cinematography in this one is once again top notch. There are so many little touches from the smoky fog to a lush glow of Veronica Carlson in a pink nightie. Aside from a Producer-forced rape scene injected into the film, all of the aforementioned highlights makes "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed" the best of the series. Had this been the final film, the series could have went out with a bang. It is pure Hammer Horror at its best.