Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell (1972)
Dir: Terence Fisher.
Simon Helder (Shane Briant) is a young Doctor carrying on the work of the presumed dead Baron Victor Frankenstein. After a bungled bit of grave robbing (look out for "Dr Who" actor Patrick Troughton, of "The Omen" fame, as one of the robbers) he is arrested at his lodgings, where the police discover such delights as a jar full of moving eyeballs, and sentenced to an asylum. There he meets the resident Doctor and instantly recognizes the Baron (Peter Cushing).
It seems Frankenstein has secured his position by blackmailing the corrupt
Asylum Director (John Stratton) into helping fake his death and so be reborn
as the Asylums surgeon.
Helping the Baron is a pretty young lady named Sarah (Madeline Smith) who is a mute. Simon is instantly attracted to her. Getting the director to install Simon as his assistant, Frankenstein goes about the business of treating the mental patients.
But Simon finds out that the Baron is up to his old tricks, using the lunatics as body parts to create yet another monstrous creation. Simon persuades Frankenstein to let him help, which the Baron reluctantly does as his hands have been crippled in the fire that ended "Frankenstein must be Destroyed", and the monster slowly takes shape. As the patients start to die...
All the cast handle their roles well, with the much criticized Briant (Also
to be found in Hammer's "Captain Kronos", and "Straight on till
Morning") actually giving a performance that is carefully restrained (as
it must be to counter the Barons bitter fanaticism) but never wooden.
Smith ("The Vampire Lovers") was never a front-runner in the Hammer heroines acting stakes, but she is at least adequate in a role of little scope.
David Prouse (who also essayed the creature to lesser effect in Hammers slyly satirical "Horror of Frankenstein") portrays the monster very well and he is helped by it being the best looking creature of the series. For once it really comes across as a real danger.
Stratton as the sleazy asylum director is also value for money, doing a fine turn with his small role.
Even the cast of lunatic patients (which includes veteran English support actor Bernard Lee) come across as realistically disturbed without being over the top (this is saved for the mob of lunatics at the end, whose delightfully mad cackling we have heard drifting through the corridors of the asylum throughout the film).
But it's Cushing who is the solid foundation that supports this highly enjoyable
Hammer construction. His performance as the aged, ever more psychotic Baron
is a master class in horror acting. At first Frankenstein comes across as a
caring man dedicated to his patients, but as the film progresses we see that
his dedication is purely to himself. The patients are nothing more to him than
spare parts. A Human crop ripe for harvesting.
His fanatical belief in his work is shown at it's best when he pushes a patient into suicide, using his knowledge of the mans illness and his trust to ruthless effect. But Cushing has enough skill to only hint at the Barons psychotic nature, so on occasions when the mask slips it's all the more effective. Frankenstein is also given a nicely dark comic tint, exemplified by the scene, where after a bit of gory surgery, he is served dinner and with much delight breathes in the aroma and declares "Ahh kidneys"!
The FX on show are easily the goriest of the Frankenstein series and are highly
effective. Limbs are graphically sewn on (a scene where the Baron has to hold
a tendon out of the way, with his teeth, during a hand transplant is a gruesome
highlight), skulls cut open, eyes removed and innards spilt. It's good, gory
stuff that never comes across as cheap or gratuitous.
Not that there isn't a place for that of course and indeed the violence on show here is much stronger than normal. The set design is brilliantly crafted and brings a great gothic atmosphere to the film. The Victorian asylum itself is a vital part of the films success. Add to this some striking cinematography by Brian Probyn (the lightning illuminated scene of the monster digging up the graves, as the terrified asylum director looks on, is quite simply the most gothic horror sequence Hammer has ever done), plus expertly efficient direction by Fisher and you have a film that works on every level.
Sadly neglected to double bills after a 2 year delay in its release and given only a tiny, American release along side "Captain Kronos" (and critically mauled when it was noticed) this is in fact Hammer at it's best. Stylish, full blooded, camp, technically brilliant and drenched in a classic gothic atmosphere. British horror does not come much better than this.