Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed

Dir: Terence Fisher
Star: Peter Cushing, Simon Ward, Veronica Carlson, Thorley Walters

One of the interesting things about the series is seeing how Baron Frankenstein (Cushing) has evolved through the films. It's clear that, in the Hammer versions, he's not just about creating life; if it's on the frontiers of research for medical science, he's there - regardless of any pesky questions about "morality". Informed consent? It's vastly over-rated... From the soul transference in Created Woman, he has moved on to the notion of brain transplants. He was working with Doctor Brandt on the topic; the latter had made a breakthrough in the process, but had gone mad and been consigned to an asylum before he could pass it on to Frankenstein. By good fortune, the Baron's landlady, Anna Spengler (Carlson), is betrothed to Doctor Karl Holst (Ward), who works at the hospital where Brandt is incarcerated. When the doctor discovers Karl is also supplying drugs to the black-market, he blackmails the couple, and they are left with no option but to assist in his plan to get the doctor out and cure his insanity. However, injuries received in the process mean the Professor's body can no longer serve as a vessel...

After the almost avuncular Baron we saw in Woman, he is much less sympathetic here: arrogant, egocentric and completely cold to everyone else. When it looks like he is showing compassion, such as to Brandt's wife, it is purely for show, with his own purposes foremost in Frankenstein's mind. There's even a scene where he forces himself on Anna, which is entirely out of character, and is probably the only time where the Baron shows any interest in sex at all. Neither Cushing nor Carlson wanted the scene, which was added by the producers to keep US distributors happy: that explains why it seems out of place, at least in the context of the overall series, if less so in this individual movie, where the Baron is at his most amoral and least appealing. Conversely, the "creature" is the most intelligent and well-spoken of the films, eloquently expressing to his wife the horror he feels, upon discovering that he is, literally, not the man he used to be.

There are some great moments in the film, perhaps most notably when a broken water-main threatens to expose a dead body previously buried in the back-garden, and a hysterical Anna has to drag it away before they are all caught. However, it never quite gels as well as some other entries: while Cushing was quite capable of playing a villain (as in Twins of Evil), you got the sense he had a moral code. That is completely lacking here, right from the opening sequence in which the Baron engages in a spot of casual decapitation. Cushing seems uncomfortable with the results, and that's a feeling on which the viewer may pick up. Certainly among the darkest of Hammer's Gothic offerings, the ending is abrupt, even by Hammer standards. Is Frankenstein destroyed? As ever, the box-office decided the answer...

[November 2010]

...though he clearly wasn't
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