Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

Country: UK

Hammer Film Productions’ fifth entry in their cycle of Frankenstein movies is a major accomplishment. Those Frankenstein films directed by Terence Fisher have a remarkable consistency, and each subsequent instalment sought too extend the moral arguments set up in previous entries. There is a definite sense of thematic progression in Fisher’s Frankenstein films, and a sense of fragmented morality that centres on the twin pillars of these films; The Baron, and ‘The Monster’. In most of the films the creature is a reflection of a certain facet of the Baron’s personality - the best example is the vanity and pride of Karl/The Baron in The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958). But in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed this aspect of the characters’ is subsumed into the Baron’s uncompromising sadism. Prior entries had shown The Baron to be an astute reader of social situations, a well mannered aristocrat cleverly using the mask of benevolence to hide his diabolical schemes. There was at least a sense that somewhere amid the dismembered body parts The Baron’s motivations were noble and progressive. This moral tension is totally excised from Bert Batt’s screenplay, and The Baron is free to murder, blackmail, and even rape his way to the achievement of his nefarious goals. Depending on your point of view this is either a major weakness of the screenplay, or a major strength. I personally think it is a great strength, it leaves Peter Cushing free to indulge in some wonderfully cruel behaviour, and gives ‘The Monster’ an opportunity to fully explore the moral wasteland within which he resides.

The callousness of The Baron is best exemplified in the opening sequence; a wonderfully tense and beautifully shot set piece in which the masked Baron stalks a doctor in the fog filled streets of London. The Baron decapitates the poor fellow, and later when his lair has been discovered by a petty thief he unceremoniously kicks the head into the sewer beneath his laboratory. In the boarding house of Anna Spengler (Veronica Carlson) The Baron’s resolute and forceful personality soon sees him assuming total control. He resorts to blackmail with an astute deftness when he discovers that Karl (Simon Ward) is lifting cocaine from the asylum he works at for Anna’s ill mother. This is a young romantic couple who, unusually for Hammer, are given no opportunity to be romantic. They are both completely broken to the will of The Baron, who makes them complicit with every vile deed he performs. Anna is especially abused, if she isn’t being ordered to make cups of coffee, she’s being raped by The Baron; her eventual demise is a pure act of petty vengeance, her treatment and death the most nihilistic and depressing aspect of the whole movie. However the boarding house comes alive as a space, especially in a brilliantly Hitchcockian moment which sees a burst water main reveal the flailing hand of a freshly buried corpse.

In this particular adventure Herr Baron is obsessed (to the exclusion of rationality) with the brain of Dr. Brandt (George Pravda). Brandt and Frankenstein were collaborators until Brandt went nuts, and locked within Brandt’s fevered brain is information Frankenstein desperately craves. In a cruelly ironic twist Frankenstein transplant’s Brandt’s brain into the body of Dr. Richter (Freddie Jones) the man who runs the asylum and earlier on declared Brandt incurable. This is symptomatic of a black sense of humour that runs throughout the film. In the shape of the excellent Freddie Jones ‘The Monster’ is a pitiable and wretched creation, but Frankenstein has progressed considerably from the amalgam of body parts seen in his first adventure. The only indication of Brandt’s operation is a scar across the forehead, but the eyes speak of fathomless pain, and much pathos and sympathy is elicited by the facial expression of Jones. A scene in which Brandt attempts to convince his wife Ella (Maxine Audley) of his true identity is subtly heartbreaking, and only serves to reaffirm Brandt’s desire for vengeance.

The film is padded with a number of unnecessary scenes featuring a perfunctory and uninspired police investigation led by Thorley Walters and Geoffrey Bayldon. Uncharacteristically for Walters, Inspector Frisch is brash, unfriendly, and emotionally hollow, and does not provide the comic relief which one would normally expect from such a character. This is another way in which the screenplay confounds ones expectations. Nevertheless the finale does play to type as Frankenstein is lured to Brandt’s lavish mansion, which soon takes the form of an obligatory inferno. However Brandt does take the opportunity of mocking his creator and frustrating his attempts to locate secret papers. This is a very literate and intelligent ‘Monster’ and one which most strongly evokes the character as conceived by Mary Shelley. The nihilism and brutality of Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed may be off putting, but I for one enjoyed it immensely; this is up there with the very best of Hammer’s gothic horrors.
© Shaun Anderson 2010


  1. An amazingly well written and thought out assessment, Shaun! We may not agree much with the Dracula's, but we seem to equally love the Frankenstein series, this being my favorite! I used to not like the Frank films as a kid save for the last film because it had the most obvious monster in it. But over the years, the series grew on me more out of my fascination with Peter Cushing, hands down my favorite actor.

    However, I did find Walters role as the constable rather funny as he was literally stupid and his arrogance brought that stupidity to the fore making him a comical representation of the law. You could see Bayldon was frustrated to be saddled with him and he seemed to possess all the answers his superior didn't have. For me, these bits gave me a giggle that offset the somber and violent tone of everything else.

    I absolutely love this movie. It's easily one of my favorite Hammers. I also love the scene in the boarding house where Frankenstein is listening in on a group of men talking badly of him and Cushing's riposte was hilarious! Great stuff, this one.

  2. Cheers Brian :-) - I was going to mention that scene as well, I love Cushing's flinching reaction when one of the stuffy men refers to Frankenstein as "the devil's disciple". Also hilarious is Frankenstein's brief moment of super human strength when fighting a bungling thief in the films opening moments. The hideously scarred face mask is also rather fetching.

    This isn't quite the best Frankenstein film in my view, but it's not far off. One of its faults (there are very few) is that it is at times a bit long winded. While I acknowledge your reading of Walters & Bayldon, I do think the film wouldn't have been adversely affected had that whole subplot been excised.

  3. I agree about the long windedness of some of the passages, but that's one of the reasons I like it so much. Pretty much every character of consequence is given something for the audience to feel from. I especially felt sad for Brandt's wife and I'm sure had the opportunity presented itself, Frankenstein would have gleefully killed her, too. It was quite sadistic him allowing her to see her husband, then after telling her to come back tomorrow, instantly turns cold and states "PACK! We're leaving!"

  4. Yes I think Frankenstein would have slaughtered everyone if he could! In this film the character of Frankenstein lacks depth and dimension; sure he is still motivated by knowledge, but this is punctuated by his ever present vanity and greed - but the overriding trait here is the cruelty and sadism. Despite this lack of character depth, this is without a doubt my favourite characteristation of Frankenstein.

  5. Another one I am looking forward to reproaching, after these two reviews I am all the more tempted Shaun! Cushing's performance here was my favorite in the series for all of the sadism you guys spoke of above. Great review dude!


Related Posts with Thumbnails