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The end of the line
Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell (DVD)
Member Name: hogsflesh
Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell (DVD)
Advantages: A nicely downbeat end to Hammer's Frankenstein series
Disadvantages: Cheap and a little slow
Made in 1972 but not released until 1974, this was Hammer's last Frankenstein film, and their last gothic horror. It reunited director Terence Fisher with star Peter Cushing, and if ultimately disappointing, has enough good stuff in it to hold the interest.
A young doctor named Simon is sent to a lunatic asylum for attempting to replicate the notorious Baron Frankenstein's cadaver-raising experiments. There, much to his delight, he finds Frankenstein himself, installed as the asylum's doctor, and going by the name Dr Victor. Simon becomes Frankenstein's assistant in his latest attempt to recreate life by transplanting the brain of a genius into the body of a weird apeman. All in the name of science, you understand. Personally, I'd do that just for laughs.
This is very much the dying embers of Hammer, and the low budget is painfully obvious. The sets are tiny, the design not up to their usual standard, and the film unusually small-scale and intimate. The appalling model asylum we see in long shot is a big let-down, and sadly the monster costume is very obviously an unwieldy concoction of rubber and yak hair.
As a standalone film, this isn't really very good. As a rather downbeat continuation of Hammer's Frankenstein series it works much better. Unlike with their Dracula films, Hammer made an effort to have the Frankenstein movies follow on from one another. This version of the Baron has hands damaged by fire, and wears a rather silly curly wig, also perhaps a result of fire damage (he was last seen being dragged into a burning house in the previous film). And in contrast to the Universal version, this Baron had always seemed more interested in brain transplants than in simply stitching corpses together and making them walk around.
Peter Cushing returns to his most famous role for the last time. He is stick thin, and seems curiously lacklustre during the early part of the film. But towards the end he really comes to life, reminding you of how great he was when on form. This Baron always had a foppish arrogance, but now he's ludicrously dandified, looking like a scarecrow crossed with a drag queen. He's still driven by the same desires, although perhaps he's simply doing it now because he knows of nothing else to do. He seems blissfully unaware of how ludicrous his creature looks, and doesn't understand why the genius whose brain he transplants might not be happy about it. He's still got a few last energetic moments left in him, leaping onto tables and throwing glass flasks around, but otherwise he's a shadow of his former self. This works well in the context of the film.
Shane Briant fares less well as Simon. He was in a few late Hammer films, and had an unusual intensity in the right part. Here, though, he has to be more or less a standard Hammer juvenile lead, and doesn't quite get away with it. There's a pretty, mute girl helping the doctors, played by Madeline Smith. She was sexy but terrible in The Vampire Lovers, obviously out of her depth with all the dialogue, nudity and hot lesbian action. She is better here, probably because she doesn't have to speak, and is just a vaguely affecting presence in the background most of the time.
The rest of the cast is as expected. Muscleman Dave Prowse plays the monster, and isn't too bad I guess, but even Boris Karloff would have been defeated by the makeup (the mouth hardly moves, for goodness sake!). Old-school Hammer actors like Charles Lloyd Pack and Patrick Troughton are in it briefly, but make a mark. John Stratton gives us some typically laboured Hammer comedy as an alcoholic, womanising asylum director (a disturbing late revelation about his character makes the humour he's been treated with seem quite distasteful). Philip Voss stands out, but not in a good way, as the campest asylum guard in history.
It's stronger on the gore front than most Hammer films (although there's no nudity, which is slightly unusual for this a film from 1972). The organ transplants are a lot more explicit than in earlier efforts, and Cushing casually drops a useless brain on the floor before accidentally treading on it. Sadly, this isn't really enough to make the film scary.
Terence Fisher's direction was usually slow, but there were things he did very well. There's a scene here, for instance, where the monster awakens for the first time with his new brain, which is good enough to have been in any of Hammer's other Frankenstein movies (or would have been, if the costume was better). Unfortunately, apart from one genuinely great shock moment, the attempts at generating suspense go on for too long and don't really pay off. This was Fisher's last film, and he was past his prime.
The colours are more muted than is usual for Hammer. Even James Bernard's score is restrained compared to his usual work for the studio. The film is at its best when it stops trying to wallow in gore and focuses on the curiously domestic arrangement of Frankenstein, his young assistants (Shane and Madeline) and the big hulking monster in a cage in the corner. That could almost be the basis for a weird little sitcom. That's the kind of small scale feel we get in this film, with its few sets and minimal cast.
It's a sad but oddly appropriate final Hammer horror (excluding To The Devil A Daughter, which was self-consciously trying to escape the Hammer style). Although not how it was intended, it certainly feels like a last quick run through all the old material for nostalgic reasons. Fisher, Cushing and Hammer itself all feel like they needed to be put out to pasture at this point. The film has a reasonably effective downbeat style, but isn't quite worth going out of your way for.
Summary: Hammer's last Frankenstein film