Sunday, December 12, 2010

Frankenstein & the Monster From Hell (1974) review


Peter Cushing (Baron Victor Frankenstein/Dr. Victor), Shane Briant (Simon Helder), Madeline Smith (Sarah), David Prowse (The Monster), Patrick Troughton (Body snatcher)

Directed by Terence Fisher

The Short Version: The last of Hammer's Frankenstein series is the trashiest of the seven films, but goes out on something of a sour note with what was obviously a restrictive budget. Still, there's enough blood and sadism to keep less demanding horror hounds entertained for an hour and a half.

Baron Frankenstein, having survived a terrible fire at the hands of his oppressors seeks asylum in just that--a halfway house for the criminally insane. There, he takes up his old hobbies in autonomy with his mute assistant, Sarah. A young, enterprising medical student fascinated with Frankenstein and his procedures finds himself within the walls of the asylum where he eventually becomes the mad scientists prized pupil constructing a neolithic monstrosity made up of various parts of the other inmates.

This last Frank flick from Hammer Films is a riotously enjoyable excursion into British exploitation that piles on more grand guignol theatrics than the whole series combined. This preoccupation with all things putrid doesn't detract from the fact that the monetary limbs had been severed by mad producers for this last hurrah. By this point in the series, the formula had become as tired as the Baron's blood. There's still a good deal of frightful fun to be had with this anemically funded film.

Peter Cushing looks incredibly weary and tired despite an energetic and spirited performance playing what is likely his most recognized role alongside his turn as Professor Van Helsing in five Hammer vampire pictures; four of which were Dracula films. The much revered British gentleman also essayed the iconic Sherlock Holmes in Hammer's classic, THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959) as well as a sixteen episode television series in the late 1960s and in a HOLMES TV movie in 1984. Cushing also played the enigmatic space/time traveler, Dr. Who in two big screen adventures.

Sporting a blonde wig, Cushing is definitely a flamboyant Frankenstein, but slightly less mad from previous interpretations. His villainous tendencies are mostly absent and when it becomes known he wishes to mate the mute Sarah with his monster, this is more akin to his slide into madness than antagonistic preference. The character is surrounded by insanity, both in the patients and in those running the sinister sideshow. The establishment's director is a pervert as are the two assistants under his employ. Only Sarah and Simon seem to occupy the realm of sanity to a normal degree.

Dave Prowse, encoring for a second go at playing a pitiable beast manages to stir a higher degree of pathos than his previous stab at the role in the mostly lifeless HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970), a film that only managed to stay afloat on Ralph Bates' cold performance and Kate O'Mara's perky breasts. For MONSTER FROM HELL, his hairy troglodyte is given the brain of a genius and the hands of a musical master. The costume used here is rudimentary, but the most monstrous looking of all seven films and comes to the most undignified end.

For its US release, Frank's finale had several gruesome bits and pieces amputated from the finished film. The most famous bit saw Cushing unable to make the required stitching of a severed hand because of his own badly burned appendages. He then uses his teeth(!) to perform the action. Other bits cut involve some additional gore from a throat slashing and the climactic destruction of the monster. Scenes of cannibalism were disregarded altogether. The Japanese laserdisc was uncut and seeing these additions add little to the film, but the 'teeth stitching' scene is indeed missed from the US release and Paramount couldn't be bothered to reinstate any of this cut footage. Some other DVD editions contain the scenes omitted from the US version.

While Hammer's Frankenstein movies offered a substantial amount more for viewers to chew on than its Dracula pictures, this last entry in the mad scientist cycle aims for ghoulish shocks and narrowly misses being nothing more than gore drenched schlock. It's nonetheless prime monster movie viewing on a Saturday afternoon, or kicking back with a bowl of popcorn in the wee hours of the morning.

This review is representative of the Paramount DVD

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