Dr Frankenstein has buried his old identity and is now working at an asylum where he basically has complete control and harvests the inmates for their body parts so that he may continue his ghastly experiments on reanimation with the help of an ambitious doctor who has been institutionalised. Using pieces from the asylum’s most promising inmates, Frankenstein patches up a horrific brute of a monster who is as sad and tortured as he is grotesque.
Hammer’s last Frankenstein film is arguably one of the best films of their final years of existence. They had tried to reboot the series with Ralph Bates taking over the lead role from Peter Cushing in the dull The Horror of Frankenstein – see even back in the 70s studios were obsessed with rebooting flagging franchises with newer models. When that failed to garner a positive reception, Hammer opted to return to their tried and tested formula of Cushing and his experimentations. Director Terence Fisher was back at the helm for one last crack before retiring. Peter Cushing was back in his most famous role. And as usual, Hammer provided a good supporting cast as well as some tight script writing. So the stage was set to give the Frankenstein series one last big hurrah and for the most part, it works completely.
The film is a true sequel which is good, as elements from the previous films are incorporated (either for a little in-joking or for plot developments including Frankenstein being burned at the end of Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed) to allow for newer developments to make way. Unlike the Dracula series, one of the strengths of the Frankenstein series was to re-invent itself and look original in every instalment (despite the plots being almost the same). At no point here do you feel like you’ve been here before and it’s all seemingly original material we’re given.
Logical progression of the story has made Frankenstein more evil and murderous in each instalment and finally Fisher decides to go the full distance and relish the fact that the previously-sane-although-corrupt scientist is now simply a mad killer who doesn’t realise the futility of what he’s doing. Credit must be given to Cushing as well because his performance verges on the sane/insane and at times you don’t know which side of the line he’s treading. It’s a fitting finale for Cushing in his best cinematic role, even though he could have slept-acted the part now. Shane Bryant as his assistant is also pretty good and reminds the viewer of how Frankenstein used to be: a little cold, naive but intelligent and ruthless nonetheless.
David Prowse plays the part of the monster and through his mannerisms he manages to turn the creature into a sympathetic and pitiful monster. For the first time, Hammer decided to actually go with an out-and-out monster instead of just some guy with a big head and big boots. That’s maybe one of the reasons why so many people dislike this entry. Albeit the suit isn’t particularly convincing (he looks like a mutant ape) but it’s still believable if you take into account that this is meant to be a mixture of about sixty body parts from different people – it isn’t going be perfect, folks! I also like the idea that Frankenstein started off in a position of privilege where he was able to acquire the best body parts for his experiments. Now confined to the asylum and forced to resort to what he can get his hands on from his fellow inmates, the results are noticeably cruder.
Gore was upped in the later Hammer films and there are plenty of surgical pleasantries here, with no less a brain transplant revealed in all of its shocking power. Depending on what version you get, some parts may be censored. And like the rest of the Hammer films, it wouldn’t be a Frankenstein film without the finale where the monster does meet its maker. But not before giving us some classic Hammer moments such as a brilliantly shot scene in which the creature is seen digging graves during a lightning storm. As a final note, it’s also amusing to see Peter Cushing and David Prowse share the screen a few years before they were to rain terror across the galaxy in Star Wars.
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell is an excellent finale to the Frankenstein series. It’s arguably my second favourite of the series and that’s because everyone from the director to the actors to the guys who makes the coffee seem to be on top form. A fitting end to one of horror’s greatest and most overlooked series of films.