Reviews May Contain Minor Spoilers

If you're reading a review you should expect to hear some spoilers. I try to keep them to a minimum though.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Frankenstein Finales - Hammer Horror -

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) could be a sequel to the second or third hammer film, but seems more like a retread of the first two.

Baron Victor Frankenstein must perform brain surgery to get a secret from a former colleague's head. To do so, he blackmails a corrupt doctor and his wife into helping with this experiment. With the police hot on his trail, Victor takes more and more chances and endangers all those around him.

It think this film was trying to up the terror level from previous films. The film opens with a murder followed by a fight scene where a frozen body is broken from its case and a bloody severed head falls from a hat box. We get an uncomfortable scene in which Victor saws through two skulls. A lovely follow-up scene where Victor drills into a skull and then plunges a needle into the man's brain. And a scene where Anna has to drag a corpse away before it's discovered.

My review would be incomplete without mention of the rape scene, which was forced into the film by the studio over the objections of Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson (Anna's actress), and director Terence Fisher was stupid and unnecessary and makes this film worse for having it. It is totally out of character for Frankenstein in the series and I'd recommend fast forwarding through it, as it doesn't add to anything.

Our Hero
Inspector Frisch is an older bumbling deductive detective who seems like a parody of Sherlock Holmes. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to find him funny, smart or stupid because this is a sad downgrade from the part this actor played as Doctor Hertz in the previous film.

Anna Spengler is Karl's fiance. Through her we get to see the suffering Frankenstein can afflict upon a normal life. She runs a prosperous boarding house until Victor takes it over and bends everything to his will. Her scenes are mostly quiet and I really felt bad for her. Unlike her husband, she is drawn into the plot through no fault of her own. However; She does manage to make some stupid decisions before the end.

Ella is the wife of the scientist Victor is trying to revive. We are set up to pity her, but I think we get a bit too much. I don't think her number of scenes was needed to establish her circumstances.

The Monster is another completely sympathetic one. Though it's hinted that he may deserve some of what he gets, we don't see what he's done in detail. As such, he becomes a much less developed victim of the Baron. He does provide a unique ending to the film.

Cunning Villains
Karl is an unscrupulous doctor who Victor blackmails into helping him. He is stealing medicine from the hospital where he works and Victor's blackmail forces him into much darker crimes. He is the second unwilling accomplice of the series and is able to be far more cunning and ruthless than Paul from the first film. He just wants a happy life for he and his fiance and he lets that desire drive him to do terrible things.

Baron Victor Frankenstein is reduced to rape and vengeful murder in this film. How the mighty have fallen. He gets to be evil in this, but I didn't find it as fascinating as in the first nor as interesting as the end of the second hinted it might be. He's just not as careful or as clever in this film as I've come to expect. This is probably my least favorite version of Victor I've seen.

Tense Atmosphere
We get a house, an asylum and a forest. None of them are particularly great, but they fit the dark mood of the film. The final scenes are awesome, but I'm not sure they've been earned by what came before them.

In the End
The ending is a departure for the series and could be a fitting end for the villainous version of Victor we see from the first two films. I really like it, especially the final shot before the credits.

This film draws on the first two Hammer films to cobble together a more gruesome rehash of those Hammer tales. It takes Frankenstein's rash ego in the first along with preserving the brains of geniuses in normal bodies from the second. Peter Cushing is nice, but I think he drifts a bit too far into complete evil to capture the reserved mania of previous Hammer films.

I did watch The Horror of Frankenstein (1970), but I don't plan on doing a full write up. As a remake of Curse of Frankenstein it just seems like they added more sex and violence for the younger crowd. For you classic Doctor Who fans Kate O' Mara, the Rani, is in this as slutty maid Alys and for Star Wars fans this is David Prowse's (Darth Vader's physical actor) first take on the Monster. So, if you'd like to see frat boy Victor in a satirical dark comedy then watch it. I'd say skip though as I can't find much to say about it. 4/10

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1973) is a surprisingly solemn character study of Victor and a great end to the Hammer series.

Dr. Simon Helder is a young man who is experimenting with Baron Frankenstein's published ideas when he is caught and sentenced to an insane asylum. Once he arrives he discovers tha the insane asylum is run by brutal thugs, until their true master returns home. Baron Frankenstein now calling himself Doctor Victor has taken over the asylum. He takes Dr. Helder into his confidence and shows him around the asylum, including his private patients: a murderous artist, a nutty professor and a monstrous beast. Attended to by a mute girl, Sarah, he secretly carries out private research. Dr. Helder is more than willing to help his idol, but how far into the depths of insanity is he willing to follow?

The true master appears.

Victor Frankenstein running an insane asylum and it is as cool as it sounds. We do get the typical Frankenstein formula, but it is handled with a great amount of care. This film deals with the idea of insanity, but thankfully it isn't as cliche as it could have been. It does sink to a few gruesome ideas, but each inmate they focus on is there for a purpose. It doesn't treat the insane a evil, but it also doesn't treat them as stupid.

Our Heroes
Dr. Helder matches wits with Victor perfectly. He is a blend of Hans from The Revenge of Frankenstein and Hans from The Evil of Frankenstein. He wants to blaze new trails in the medical sciences under the best tutor, but he is not willing to do anything to get there. He has his principals and is not afraid to tell Victor when he crosses them.

Sarah, the angel is a mute with a traumatic past. She has great rapport with the inmates and manages to hold some interesting scenes. I liked her back story when it was revealed, but they could have shown more build up and resolution for it. As it was she suffers from the role of many of the females we've seen so far, a tool to enhance the male character's portrayals.

Insane Observers
The Asylum Director is all camp and perversion delivered with an over the top performance. He is probably the weak link of the cast, but I think he was intended to be over the top. It is a shame because with a more strong willed character this could have been a much more fascinating movie.

The inmates are all interesting and provide their own bits of flavor. Many of them are not overtly insane, but the film does get a bit exploitative by the end. I think the creepiest one was the professor since you have to wait to find out exactly what had happened to him.

Special note to Doctor Who fans: Patrick Troughton, the Second Doctor, has a bit part as a body snatcher at the beginning of this film. It isn't a big role, but he plays it well and it is nice to see him on screen.

Masterful Villains
Doctor Victor is portrayed perfectly in this. All Peter Cushing's years of the character really show. He commands every scene he's in. Special props to his fist appearance, his education of Dr. Helder and their work together.

The Monster looks a bit silly. They tried to match what they set up far too literally. He is played by David Prowse who is the physical actor for Darth Vader from the classic Star Wars trilogy. He is in much heavier makeup than in The Horror of Frankenstein and it kind of looks like a gorilla suit. The Monster also has a touch of Flowers for Algernon to his story, but with way less development. I really wanted his story to be expanded a bit more.

Grand Atmosphere
The exterior shots of the asylum do look like a model, but the interiors are beautiful. The sets remind me of the old castles of the first two Universal films. We spend almost our whole time in the Asylum and I really appreciated them making the major sets interesting to look at and differentiating each person's room/cell to reflect their personalities. It has a real proto-Arkham Asylum look (Arkham Asylum appeared in Batman comics the year after this film's release).

In the End
This is an ending I did not expect, but it is a perfect end to the film and a much more interesting ending to the series than Must Be Destroyed.The monster's rampage was somewhat nonsensical, but it did fit the character somewhat.

I understand why some people weren't impressed with this one, but I enjoyed it. As a final end to the character I much prefer the introspection of this one to the exploitation of Must Be Destroyed. You might need to have recently seen some of the other Hammer Frankenstein films to get the full effect, but I say give it a shot!
This is another one that'll cost you on DVD. Let's hope for some more reasonably priced re-releases.

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