Without a doubt, Hammer’s most consistent and successful franchise was their series of Frankenstein movies. Of their seven Frankenstein films – beginning with The Curse of Frankenstein in 1958 and finishing in 1973 with the focus of this article – only a single entry is bad. Unfortunately, that one bad film, The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), is really bad. But that’s another topic for another article. The best Hammer’s Frankenstein franchise had to offer is Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)… or Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) – I can never decide between the two. Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell falls towards the bottom of the list alongside the Peter Cushing-less The Horror of Frankenstein (1970), but in such a good franchise, that doesn’t mean it’s bad.
FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL
UK, 1973, Terence Fisher
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell is a pretty silly affair, and it is certainly far from the heights of the previous Peter Cushing entry, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. It is also undeniably entertaining and the direction of Terence Fisher ensures that it at least looks good. I’ve heard many complaints in reviews of the film’s “obvious low budget”. I’m not really sure where this point of view stems from. Sure, the film has some obvious miniatures and matte backgrounds, but personally, I love that stuff. The cast help in giving the impression of a bigger budget. Cushing looks a little unenthused in the lead, at least in comparison to his previous portrayals of Dr. Frankenstein. Still, a somewhat tired looking Cushing is better than most actors on their best day. Shane Briant, a 70s Hammer poster boy, is always enjoyable to watch. Here he plays a smug, yet somehow likeable, character – a performance typical of the young Briant. The rest of the inmates are fairly forgettable. The only other castmember of note is David Prowse, once again playing Frankenstein’s Monster (albeit a very different one from the incarnation in The Horror of Frankenstein) – Prowse is best known as the body of Darth Vadar.
It must be said that Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell has a fairly original monster – outrageous, but original. Frankenstein’s plan to create the monster is complete and utter madness. He believes it’s a perfectly good idea to take the demented body of a hulking lunatic and place the brain of a sensitive violin-playing genius in it. Of course things aren’t going to end well! All the better for us! The lumbering ape-like monster looks ridiculous in a way, yet somehow terrifying too. Perhaps it’s the performance from Prowse, or maybe it’s his bulging, dead eyes. Speaking of eyes, make sure you watch Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell in its most uncut form. (I believe the only almost uncut version available is the German DVD.) On top of the absurd monster, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell also contains some unexpectedly gory effects (this is by Hammer standards). Most notable is a eye operation scene, which was cut from most prints. It’s a shame that this gooey gore is nowhere to be found in the dispatching of the film’s sort-of-antagonist – it is one of the weakest deaths I’ve seen in a while. (The German disc has 40 seconds missing from it, it may be from this scene.) The monster’s final moments, however, are pure blood-drenched insanity. Yes, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell is quite obnoxious, as far as Hammer goes, and this extends beyond the violence. The horrible treatment of the asylum’s patients and a creepy incestuous subplot make this one an oddly sleazy affair.
Hammer fans – well open-minded Hammer fans; not the ones that think the studio’s last worthy efforts were in the early 60s – should have a blast with Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. However, for those yet to see a Hammer take on Frankenstein, then steer clear of this one till you’ve seen some of the better entries. In fact, while continuity is not an issue, watching Hammer’s Frankenstein films from start to end, in order, is a very satisfying experience. The franchise peaked in the late 60s, but do not be put off by the last two entries. They are very much underrated.