Friday, December 10, 2010

Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell (1974)
UK --- horror/ science fiction

Dir: Terence Fisher

It's curtains for the Hammer Frankenstein series. Peter Cushing returns to the titular role in this somber elegiac final episode. If "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed" was this series' "White Album", then this film is definitely their "Abbey Road". The previous entry in the Hammer Frankenstein series was meant to be a reboot of the franchise by starting afresh with a younger Baron Frankenstein. That venture was not successful, and as we see Hammer Studios realized the team of Peter Cushing and Terrence Fisher needed to put closure to the era of true Gothic horror they started.

Our film opens once again in a graveyard, where a robber (played by Patrick Troughton, the second Dr. Who) is stealing a fresh corpse. The unknown bandit is not alone, as a police man is onto him. The grave robber is next seen at the doorstep of a young man (Shane Briant) with the dead body in tow. This is, I think a way of teasing the audience into thinking this film is continuation of "Horror" with perhaps another recast. The young man is outed by his assistant grave robber at a local pub. We see that this man has the same banal hobby as Frankenstein, as he's cutting into the corpse for his collection of eyeballs.

Soon enough, the policeman comes knocking to investigate the young man's home. Upon looking around the young man's laboratory, he proclaims it , and arrests him. The young man is revealed to be Simon Helder, and his next stop is in a court proceeding where he tries to plead his case, but is still found guilty and sentenced to time in a local asylum for the criminally insane. On arrival, Simon demands audience with the director, where he attempts to find information on another patient named Baron Frankenstein. Unfortunately, the bumbling alcoholic director finds out soon enough Simon is only an inmate, and is spirited away by the two guards. They cruelly wash him down with a fire hose in front of the other inmates, but the man in charge comes to the rescue; Baron Frankenstein, back in black with a blond wig and a stovepipe hat. Frankenstein has Simon cleaned up by a mute onlooker named Sarah, and the guards are reprimanded by the hapless director. Simon meets with Frankenstein and reveals to him that he knows exactly who he is and that he has been committed for the same reason as the Baron was. The Baron, in turn, reveals that he now goes under the name Dr. Carl Victor.

The once adventurous yet diligent Baron Frankenstein, has now grown quite gaunt and while still even-tempered has become much more sinister and insane. Now that Frankenstein has found a new assistant in Dr. Helder, and shows him around the vicinities and introduces him to some key patients he is to care for. The Baron then introduces Simon to the inmates in a special wing of the asylum, that houses, of course those he has use of. The first is missing, a vicious patient named Schneider who is missing because he's buried. Another named professor Durendel, who's a genius at arithmetic and can hold a tune on the violin, and has an affinity for Sarah. Yet another inmate in a man named Tarmut, who is a sculptor of wooden figurines, and also has an innocent crush on Sarah.

Simon, however, begins to suspect the Baron isn't being forthcoming with him. In the morning, he sees them burying Tarmut, whom Frankenstein remarked had great hands. Upon investigation of a wailing in the night, Simon finds Sarah tending to a patient in a hidden room; the secret laboratory of Frankenstein and a frightening new monster.

This new monster (played by "Horror"s David Prowse), looks like George "The Animal" Steele with a Halloween mask of Abe Vigoda and walks with a hunchback, but has succeeded in being the most grotesque version of the series. Frankenstein's project this time is a far step down from anything remotely looking human, in a truly hideous, almost neanderthal-esque body. . . and he faults his burnt hands. He asks of Simon his opinion and assistance, and as evidenced from the opening, his specialty is eyes. They deposit a new pair of eyes, and soon after the professor conveniently hangs himself, providing a donation of a brilliant brain.

Simon, realizing the Baron may have murdered an innocent man for his experiment criticizes his methods. Unfortunately, like all of Frankenstein's prior creations, he cannot control the monster. The inherent mental or psychological tendencies of the victims always return. The professor awakens first in the monster, then the homicidal patient, Schneider, is not far behind. The Baron begins to realize his latest creature may be just another bad creation. The monster has failed to exhibit that the body was rejecting the brain. Later, when Simon goes to check on Sarah, who's been watching the creature, he finds her asleep. He awakens her with a peck on the forehead, apologizes and sends her on her way, but the jealous monster saw it. He attacks Simon, but the Baron comes to his rescue (Cushing in full his Van Helsing mode); knocking it out and returning it to its cage, Frankenstein realizes his fears were all too correct. The monster is out of control. Frankenstein then formulates his most horrific idea of the series, when he suggests that he plans to mate the monster with Sarah. Finally coming to the conclusion that Frankenstein has gone mad, Simon tries to put the monster out of its misery.

"Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell" is very much noteworthy for it's final tribute to Gothic horror of the past. It isn't the best of the series, but certainly is in the top three. Like most of the Hammer Horror pieces, they've built a repertory. I have also noticed that somethings carry over from one film to another, either intentionally or not:

- The films often opens with a thief, usually stealing a corpse.

- The actors are one thing as Thorley Walters (Frankenstein Created Woman and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed), Veronica Carlson (Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed and The Horror of Frankenstein) and David Prowse (The Horror of Frankenstein and this film) returned in subsequent films.

- Notice that an asylum figured prominently in both this film and "Destroyed".

- Two films featured a mute girl as an assistant, "Evil of Frankenstein" and this one.

- A dirty old man is interrupted in "Horror" and this film.

- The guillotine figures in the first three films

- Everything usually goes up in flames as in "Evil", "Destroyed",

This version clearly derives its inspiration from the fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast" and Victor Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" as the creatures love of Sarah is a heartbreaking shadow of those tales. A melancholy swan song of of one of British horror's mainstays, "Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell" ties everything up nicely. If you haven't already followed the Frankenstein series, it is worth a try. It made a star of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and David Prowse, who all later on went on to star in George Lucas' Star Wars saga. One bit of dialogue is an interesting commentary on the Frankenstein character, when he refers to an inmate who believes that they are god, Frankenstein comments "He is not the first, nor will be the last". A perfect summation of what the Frankenstein series was all about, one man's quest to be a god in his own right.