As a tail end baby boomer who loved genre films, when it came to horror the prevalent and easily accessible films were not the Universal studios classics but the Hammer gothic renditions that, pardon the pun, gave new life to the old staples. Those late sixties and early seventies Dracula flicks gushed with the blood the early censors forbade, gave glorious morbid colors to the black and white celluloids, and for good measure threw in a bit of sex taking advantage of that revolution as well. The Karloffs, Lugosis and Chaneys were replaced by Hammer principals Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee and I loved every minute of it.
As much as I enjoyed The Curse of the Werewolf, The Horror of Dracula, Quatermass and the Pit or a personal nostalgic favorite The Reptile, it was impossible to catch them all in the pre-videotape, pre-DVD days. And Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell was one of those movies that I never managed to catch. Until now…
Simon (Shane Bryant) is a young doctor infatuated with the work of Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) and vainly tries to recreate some of his experiments in body reanimation as he studies Frankenstein’s notes and publications on the topic. When his hired body snatcher gets caught he leads the police to Simon’s makeshift home lab where he is arrested and brought before a magistrate who summarily sentences him to the local asylum for his crimes. Unfazed, Simon goes to the asylum and immediately runs afoul of the director, who instructs the guards to ‘give him a good washing’. But the spectacle of his torturous cleansing under a high pressured hose with an audience of the other inmates is interrupted by the asylum’s medic, who is none other than Baron Frankenstein himself.
Initially an inmate, Frankenstein had managed to usurp power over the director due to some indiscretions, and then had the director fake Frankenstein’s death in order to assume a new identity. Working within a secret lab in the asylum, Frankenstein has continued his experimentation. Simon immediately recognizes Frankenstein, and devoted as ever, begs him to let him learn more as his apprentice. With his own hands scared and useless, Frankenstein had been using the mute Sarah (Madeline Smith) as his hands for surgical procedures. Learning that Simon is a surgeon by trade, he agrees to let him help with his experiments. But Frankenstein does have some dark secrets he keeps to himself.
Simon soon learns of a monstrous creature (Dave Prowse, a semi Hammer staple himself having played a completely different looking Frankenstein creature in The Horror of Frankenstein) Frankenstein has caged in his lab, but is astounded by the progress Frankenstein has made. But Frankenstein is not as pleased with the shortcomings of his creation – feeble minded and with hands as useless as his own. Fortuitous events in the form of timely passing of other inmates allow Simon and Frankenstein to give the creature new eyes, dextrous hands, and finally a brilliant brain.
But just as Simon begins to take Frankenstein to task on his methods to acquire suitable body parts, the creature goes on a rampage. The end is grisly but almost without skipping a beat Simon and Frankenstein begin planning their next experiment …
While not as highly regarded as many other Hammer horrors, I must say that I was more than pleased upon finally seeing this one. There are a few additional angles lurking in the plot which includes Sarah’s secret, and the past of some of the other inmates. Cushing is more cold and callous than his usual Frankenstein, and the other actors all hold their own. One aspect that may have been received negatively is the unusual, grotesque non-traditional look of the Frankenstein monster, but I thought it’s uniqueness entrancing just the same. The Hammer touches are all present with the gore mostly delivered via the surgical procedures.
Sadly this was the last Frankenstein movie that Hammer made, a tragedy that may be corrected with the recent rivival of the studio.