When the titles started rolling on Hammer’s previous Frankenstein endeavor, there was a feeling that Peter Cushing’s resident violator of the laws of nature was beginning to soften in his old age. In fact, the final moments of Frankenstein Created Woman all but confirmed it as he wistfully looked away from his latest scientific failure with an expression on his face that said: gee whizz, maybe I shouldn’t be screwing around in God’s domain…
However, those afraid that the blasphemous Baron had turned over a new leaf must have been relieved when they snuggled down to watch the gloriously titled Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed as this latest installment not only restores the Baron’s nean streak, but paints him out to be a complete bastard to boot! While old Frankie had been known to resort to the odd, moral-free, shenanigans in order to obsessively achieve his goals, this may be the first time Cushing’s most famous character had become an out and out villain.
Immediately showing us that he means business, a masked Frankenstein beheads a local doctor in the freakin’ street with a scythe and hurries back to his hideout with the stolen noggin in a bucket. However, a chance run in with a burglar who has picked the wrong house to break into, means that the bloody Baron has to abandon yet another experiment and move on to pastures greener.
He finds it in the shape of Karl Holst, a doctor at the local asylum and his fiance, Anna Spengler, who runs a boarding house where Frankenstein chooses to Kay his hat. Discovering that Karl has been indulging in a bit of drugs trafficking by stealing medical narcotics to make ends meet, Frankenstein blackmailed the young couple into aiding him with his newest mission – to cure insanity via a brain transplant – but to do so, he needs to converse with an old colleague who also was ducking around with trying to beat death, a Dr. Frederick Brandt.
As “luck” would have it, Brandt is a patient in Karl’s asylum having gone violently insane due to the pressure of his work, so Frankenstein hatches a plan that not only involves smuggling Brandt out of the hospital and removing his brain in order to stave off the effects of his ailing body, but inadvertently sees Karl instinctively stabbing a night watchman to death to avoid getting caught, landing he and Anna deeper in this mess than ever before.
As the police and Brandt’s wife get ever closer to uncovering the Baron’s latest scheme, Frankenstein targets Professor Richter as the new host body for Brandt’s brain, but upon awaking, Frankenstein’s newest monster decides that his creators misadventure need to be stopped once and for all…
This concerted effort to make Baron Frankenstein something of a towering shit manages to fittingly inject fresh, new life into a series that was noticably beginning to rot by thrillingly getting back to basics. While Cushing’s Baron has never exactly been in danger of being accused of being a law abiding citizen, up until now you’ve always got the feeling that all the lies, blackmailing, gaslighting and, yes, occasional murder have all been the means to an end for a genius who has long lost objectivity many years ago. However, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed finds our resident doctor flat out decapitating bastards in the street in order to get whatever he wants and it seems the character has finally switched over from pathologically entitled to complete nutbag in one swift move. Sure, the unorevoked murder may be all the proof we need, but the way he skillfully manipulates both Karl and Anna is the sort of sinister, subtle, moustache twirling villainy that earns a big fat chef’s kiss from me. In fact, Frankenstein’s increased nastiness in general gives Cushing incredibly enjoyable licence to go complete bastard at every given opportunity, impatiently inflicting bitchy mic drops on a group of men gossiping about the nature of his work by interrupting with – “Excuse me, I didn’t know that you were doctors.”, “Doctors? We’re not doctors.” replies one of the confuced group, to which Frankenstein winds up the kill shot with a terse “I beg your pardon. I thought you knew what you were talking about.” No need to grave rob now, dude, you just murdered a whole roomful of people with just that one line.
However, it’s not just the Baron’s supercharged shift into evil territory alone that defribulates the franchise into having a renewed burst of energy, as the movie also gives us interesting new takes on the other stock character types seen in this series. While Frankenstein’s assistant is usually a young, impressionable man who is genuinely aids the Baron willingly, Destroyed offers a far more tense alternative by having a flawed but generally innocent couple (drug trafficking aside) sink deeper and deeper into the shit while their blackmailer twists those screws with a slight smile creasing his face and Veronica Carlson and Simon Ward manage to invoke sympathy despite all the heinous deeds they’re called on to do.
The movie makes an intriguing choice in its form of “monster” too, enlisting Freddie Jones in a scarred baldcap as an amalgam of the Brandt and Richter characters who puts his quivering jowels and his distinctive cadence to good use as he plots his creator’s demise. The movie manages to nail us with a few indelible images such as a broken water main unearthing a dead body buried in Anna’s garden which causes the corpse’s arm to bob ominously in the spray, or more impressively, the climax, in which Brandt lures Frankenstein into a gasoline soaked house and then ignites it may be one of the strongest of the franchise and the final shot of Brandt fireman carrying a screaming Baron back into the flames may be one of the most satisfying final images Hammer ever produced.
However, the reason why it’s so satisfying may be somewhat controversial due to a notorious and highly debated scene that occurs somewhere around the middle of the movie that sees an unusually aroused Frankenstein rape Anna much to the genuine distaste of director, Terence Fisher and actors Cushing and Carlson (they were all overruled by the producers). To be fair, it tonally sticks out as much as as the infamous tree rape sequence from the original Evil Dead; but while it’s obviously a distasteful subject to broad and may seem out of character as debonairly asexual as the Baron, its perversely effective at driving home that uber-villainous angle to an extreme degree, suggesting that decades of thumbing his nose at the law has led him to believe he’s a power unto himself.
A timely shake up for a franchise that was dangerously close to being laid out on a slab, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed may play its villainous hand a bit too harshly at times, but it’s still an exhilarating adventure for a classic wrong ‘un at his nastiest.