Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

Rating:

UK. 1969.

Crew

Director – Terence Fisher, Screenplay – Ben Batt, Story – Ben Batt & Anthony Nelson-Keys, Producer – Anthony Nelson-Keys, Photography – Arthur Grant, Music – James Bernard, Makeup – Eddie Knight, Art Direction – Bernard Robinson. Production Company – Hammer

Cast

Peter Cushing (Baron Frankentein), Freddie Jones (Professor Richter/Dr Brandt), Simon Ward (Karl Holst), Veronica Carlson (Anna Spengler), Maxine Audley (Ella Brandt), George Pravda (Dr Frederick Brandt), Thorley Walters (Inspector Fritsch)


Plot

Frankenstein is forced to flee town again after his experiments are discovered. In a new town, he signs into the boarding house of Anna Spengler. When he discovers that Anna’s fiancee Karl Holst has been stealing cocaine from the asylum where he works to help his ailing mother, Frankenstein blackmails them both with threat of calling the authorities. He takes over the boarding house and has Karl steal supplies so that he can set up a laboratory in the basement. He then discovers that his old colleague Dr Brandt is incarcerated in the asylum, having been deemed mad. Frankenstein wants the secrets of how Brandt successfully conducted brain transplants and devises a scheme to break him out with Karl’s help. However, the attempt places Brandt in a coma. Frankenstein makes the decision to transplant Brandt’s brain into the body of the incompetent asylum head Professor Richter. During the process, he cures the problem that was causing Brandt’s madness. However, when Brandt comes around, Frankenstein realises that he was mad after all. Brandt then escapes, setting a trap to kill Frankenstein.


Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed was the fifth of Hammer’s Frankenstein films. (See below for the other Hammer Frankenstein titles). While Hammer’s Dracula series had started to creatively thin out by the end of the 1960s, their Frankenstein series was maintained at a much higher degree of imagination, possibly because director Terence Fisher, one of the cornerstones of the Hammer legend, directed many more entries – five of the seven Frankenstein films – in this series, as opposed to the Dracula series where he bowed out after the third entry.

Terence Fisher is a director around whom a cult has grown, championed in particular by the likes of Anglo-horror critic David Pirie. Fisher had a distinctively florid style that used the full richness of Hammer’s cinematographic and production values and there are times, particularly the climaxes of his Dracula films, where he could bring everything together with dazzling effect. Upon other occasions, Fisher could be a pedestrian director. Fisher’s two finest moments are generally regarded as being Dracula/The Horror of Dracula (1958) and The Devil Rides Out (1968). (See below for Terence Fisher’s other films). Contrarily, one might go out on a limb and suggest that Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is the best of Terence Fisher’s films and certainly the finest of Hammer’s Frankenstein films. It is Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, Fisher’s penultimate film, rather than Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1973), that Anglo-horror-philes should consider Terence Fisher’s swan song. It is the one moment where everything he did knitted together superbly.

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is a brilliantly directed film, one that propels Terence Fisher from being an efficient manipulator of the Gothic into a master of mise en scene. The scene where the water main bursts, expelling Brandt’s buried body out of the garden just as the neighbour is visiting, is a sequence that would not go amiss in a Hitchcock film. The opening is a superbly edited piece – one that opens up like a Chinese box of shocks one after the other from the point-of-view of a burglar who breaks into Frankenstein’s laboratory. At first, we see just the feet of the figure coming down the cellar steps, the figure then joltingly revealed to have a bald, hideously scarred face, before this is revealed to be a mask worn by Peter Cushing, and with the burglar then accidentally tripping and knocking over a container that holds a recently severed human head. Of course, the climax with Freddie Jones taunting Peter Cushing and smashing oil lamps to set fire and block every exit from the house is superlative stuff too.

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is also a point where the new gore trends were making in-roads into Anglo-horror. Terence Fisher handles that too with an ease that leaves the film in a class way above the random splatter of today’s gore films. There is something that turns the stomach to the shot where Peter Cushing puts the brace-and-bit up against Freddie Jones’s head and starts drilling. Or the scene where he uses a fretsaw to cut open the skull. There is no blood shown in either scene – the effect is all conveyed from off-screen actions and some unnervingly convincing snapping and crunching effects.

Ben Batt’s screenplay is more complex than usual for the Hammer Frankenstein series. For Hammer’s Frankenstein series, unlike Universal’s Frankenstein series, the monster is a relatively anonymous creation that is far less interesting than Peter Cushing’s ruthless Baron. However, Freddie Jones’s creature is the most interestingly complex and well played of all the Hammer’s Frankenstein monsters – it is the only one to come anywhere near Mary Shelley’s novel and her conception of an intelligent and literate creation come to taunt its creator for the condition inflicted on it.

Surprisingly, Terence Fisher also indulges a sense of droll humour throughout the film – like the cut from Veronica Carlson telling Peter Cushing how he will enjoy the peace and quiet at the boarding house to a madwoman screaming at the asylum, or the boarders who sit around discussing Frankenstein’s infamous exploits unaware he is sitting in their midst. There are odd anachronisms, like having cocaine a regularly prescribed drug and the establishment of an international narcotics bureau in the midst of the 19th Century, although these hardly stand in the way of such an exceptional effort.

The other Hammer Frankenstein films are:– The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), The Horror of Frankenstein (1970) and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1973).

Terence Fisher’s other genre films are:– the sf films The Four-Sided Triangle (1953) and Spaceways (1953), The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula/The Horror of Dracula (1958), The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959), The Mummy (1959), The Stranglers of Bombay (1959), The Brides of Dracula (1960), The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll (1960), The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), The Phantom of the Opera (1962), The Gorgon (1964), Dracula – Prince of Darkness (1966), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), The Devil Rides Out/The Devil’s Bride (1968) and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1973), all for Hammer. Outside of Hammer, Fisher has made the Old Dark House comedy The Horror of It All (1964) and the alien invasion films The Earth Dies Screaming (1964), Island of Terror (1966) and Night of the Big Heat (1967).



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