During their golden years, Hammer films released horror movies that contained everything from Werewolves, Gorgons, zombies and a shit load of Vampires of varying genders and sexual preferences; but arguably the jewel of their crown was the substantial amount of Frankenstein movies that they released the second the studio cottoned on to this horror lark. In fact, if it wasn’t for the direct success of 1957’s The Curse Of Frankenstein, Hammer might not even have the legacy they have today as it was the tip of a bloody spear that allowed the horror genre to embrace colour cinematography and more overt, sexual themes in ways it hadn’t before.
However, by 1974, the studio was struggling to remain relevant as their attempts to keep up with the times (a Frankenstein reboot, sticking Dracula in modern times, lesbianism) had resulted with mixed results, so the studio decided to bring back Peter Cushing and original director Terence Fisher to infuse the bloody Barron with a new lease of life.
Frankenstein fanboy Simon Helder is a young doctor who has taken his fascination of the Baron’s work to the next extreme as he hires a bedraggled grave robber to plunder the dead so he can have the spare parts he needs to recreate Victor experiments. However, after his desire to collect limbs ironically attracts the long arm of the law, Simon finds himself committed to an insane asylum for his crimes – but he’s barely been there a day when he finds that the resident doctor is Frankenstein himself who survived his fiery death two movies ago and has free reign thanks to having the corrupt and perverted director under his thumb.
Working under the alias of Dr. Carl Victor, Frankenstein is still up to his old tricks as he enlists Simon to help him stick two fingers up to nature and create life and he has a string of patients lined up to cherry pick various bits of them to make one glorious whole.
However, his canvas is somewhat unconventional, as the hulking Herr Schneider is an ape-like neanderthal with limited reasoning power and the strength of a bear who was saved by Frankenstein after a suicide attempt and the devious doctor gets his plans underway by grafting on the hands of a sculptor to the monstrous being.
However, as Frankenstein adds yet more improvements to his subject like a perverse episode of Pimp My Neanderthal, he comes a cropper when he swaps out the brain of Schneider for an incredibly smart inmate only to find that his creation has grown depressed and increasingly violent (what are the odds?). Soon Frankenstein, Simon and pretty, mute nurse Sarah have a full scale rampage on their hands as yet another one of the doctor’s misadventures goes tits up.
Not only did Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell spell the end of Hammer’s adventures for mirror’s most irresponsible medical practitioner, but it also proved to be the final film of Hammer mainstay Terence Fisher who had been responsible for a good amount of Hammer’s earlier classics. It’s something of a shame, because despite poor box office, the movie is something of a fun, final ride for Peter Cushing as arguably his most iconic character and it also makes great use of its virtually perfect setting.
Cushing at this point in his life was starting to be overwhelmed by ill health, but you wouldn’t fucking know it by watching the movie as he attacks the role with the same amount of vigour and detail than he did back in ’57. Whether holding the screen in a vice-like grip with a steely stare, or alarmingly performing his own stunts by flinging himself off a table onto the creature’s back like a man half his age, it’s a fitting send off for one of cinema’s most memorable and endearing takes of Mary Shelley’s notoriously obsessed doctor. It also helps that his new surroundings compliments the doctor perfectly as he strides through his hospital, plotting and collecting body parts like macabre version of Pokemon Go and you genuinely why more versions of the character hasn’t been dumped in an insane asylum before or since.
Utterly running the show after completely out maneuvering the blatant sex case of a director (John Stratton in memorably super-leering form), the Baron’s only issue is that his burn-scarred hands means that his surgery skills are on par with a post-car crash Doctot Strange and that’s where Shane Briant’s Simon Helder comes in. While starting the film with all the emotions of a practicing psychopath and looking distractingly like James Spader in Stargate, he’s a rare accomplise to Frankenstein that’s not only on par with the medical deviant himself, but you feel that Victor may even see him as some sort of heir to his never ending quest to resurrect someone and not have them go on a rage-fueled killing spree.
The combination of Cushing, an insane asylum and a partner in crime who doesn’t initially act like the whining voice of conscience is somewhat refreshing, but it has to contend with some amazingly clumsy plotting that the movie assumes we’ll all go for no matter how ludicrous it is. For a start, the movie seems to have no compunction about sticking a hatchet-faced caveman in the middle of the film and calling it a day even though the very appearance of “Herr Schneider” is frankly ridiculous. While Darth Vader himself, David Prowse, fills out the fuzzy, rubbery costume, the fact that the script has gone for a dude that seems to be more orangutan than man and features more exposed body hair than Austin Powers’ chest seems too outlandish than falling back on, say, an abnormally strong hunchback. Elsewhere, while it’s always nice to see Madeline Smith show up in one of these things, her mute nurse (rendered thus after suffering attempting rape at the hands of her father – the deviant director of the institute) is less a rounded character and more a giant, luscious, set of eyes who flits around the set and brings things to the men.
However, despite the random weirdness of no one finding it odd that one of their patients looks like a troll from the movie Willow, the film embraces the grisly subject with gusto, gifting us with a graphic brain removal (with a saw, naturally), meaty throat slashing and a brutal hanging by violin string. Also, the typically frenzied final act lurches fully into Grand Guignol as the other inmates take out this latest monster by tearing it limb from limb as Frankenstein shrugs all the carnage off with mild annoyance as he plans to start all over again as a dumbfounded Simon and Sarah look on.
Flawed, certainly – but it’s still a nicely crazy final bow for one of Hammer’s tent pole franchises and it’s certainly ends in a better place than Christopher Lee’s Dracula franchise did as the horror genre steadily moved on to more contemporary scares.