Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
In the midst of many misfires and boring retreads of earlier work, Hammer did well with its fifth
Frankenstein film Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. Bert Batt's snappy script properly evolves
the Frankenstein character into a sadistic monster and works some interesting twists into stale genre
conventions. If it followed through just a tiny bit more on its themes
this would be a classic horror film. Peter Cushing is razor-sharp as the unforgiving scientific
zealot, and he's well supported by the youthful Veronica Carlson and Simon Ward. Freddie
Jones is also excellent as Frankenstein's most sympathetic surgical victim.
A burglar (Harold Goodwin) burgles the wrong address, a vacant building used by
Dr. Frankenstein (Peter Cushing). Frankenstein flees for another town where he soon blackmails
his landlord Anna Spengler (Veronica Carlson) and her fiancée Doctor Karl Holst (Simon Ward)
into serving his twisted agenda. Old Frankenstein collaborator Dr. Frederick Brandt (George
Pravda) is completely insane and confined to the asylum where Holst works; Frankenstein's plan is
to kidnap Brandt and cure his insanity so that he can divulge the missing knowledge Frankenstein
needs. But Brandt suffers a heart attack, making it necessary to transplant his brain into
another body: that of Professor Richter (Freddie Jones). Anna and Karl have no choice but to
yield to Frankenstein's increasingly tyrannical rule. Worse, Brandt's widow Ella (Maxine Audley)
recognizes the fugitive Doctor in the street, and has to be dealt with.
The opening scene lets us know that some good thinking has entered the lukewarm world of Hammer
horror: While zither music plays from a street musician, a mysterious stranger in a darkened doorway
awaits his prey, like Harry Lime of
The Third Man. A decapitation by
sickle follows, and there's an action fight scene before our hero/villain is revealed from beneath
a frightening mask. It's Peter Cushing, all right, but all the gentleness has been
left out of the Frankenstein character. After four outings marred by bad luck, he's
abandoned all pretense of humanitarian aims. Mankind isn't worthy of his superior thinking, and
if the search for knowledge makes him a wanted criminal, that's all right too. For the first time,
the Hammer series emphasizes the basic truth behind the Frankenstein character - the Baron is
the monster, and his surgical creations are merely his victims.
The Doctor Baron started out as a sicko in
The Curse of Frankenstein, killing
kindly old professors and using his monster as a murder weapon against a troublesome housemaid.
The Revenge of Frankenstein and
to a lesser degree the other two sequels played up the doctor's benevolence at the expense of his
basic criminality. Now it's all out in the open. The Baron's platform speech to his fellow housemates
shows his total contempt for the unenlightened. He kills left and right for expediency's sake and
callously uses a basically innocent young couple for his own ends.
Writer Bert Batt was a crack assistant
director on some of the better Hammer films as well as mainstream English successes
(Zulu, The Man Who Would be King)
and this was his only feature script. It finally plays horror conventions out to their logical ends.
and madness are the only payoffs; the only monster is a pathetic victim; and there's no escape for
the young couple caught in Frankenstein's inferno. In the uncut version (maintained on this DVD)
Frankenstein shows the true color of his supposed enlightenment by raping the heroine. Often
criticized by Hammer fans, the scene supports the film's premise - Frankenstein is an egotistical
monster, not a misunderstood humanitarian.
The bulk of the Hammer output had by this time devolved into predictable programmers. They slowly
establish a menace and then mark time for eighty or ninety minutes while a new
set of characters repeats the tedious process of learning how vampirism works or that something
indeed is happening up at the castle, things the audience has already seen 50 times. Just as what
should be preliminaries are finished and the story is getting around to new or interesting content,
the movie is suddenly over.
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed has an unpredictable element in each scene. There are side
excursions into suspense setpieces, like the "plumbing problem" in the flower bed, and the police
search. More importantly, there's a new sense of dread
about the main thrust of the story. Doctor Brandt's brain will awaken in a new body. How will he
relate to the world, and will his wife accept him? Freddie Jones' Dr. Brandt is the most sympathetic
"monster" since Michael Gwynn's pathetic turn in Revenge. Unlike Gwynn, Brandt has his
faculties intact, a first for any of the doctor's experiments. Brandt succeeds in escaping only
to face the impossibility of living in another man's body. He hasn't a chance of relating to
the woman he loves.
That great idea needed a little more development, and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
rushes to its fiery end far too hastily. The serviceable Roger Corman-style conflagration doesn't
resolve the interesting concepts that have been raised. Anna Brandt never really gets to
accept or reject her monstrous husband. That could have led to an emotionally transcendant climax of
a kind never seen in a Hammer film. Her husband shows her the back door and she exits without
fulfilling her character's potential.
Anna's mental deterioration needs another link - we've watched her crumble from the trauma of the rape
and the tension of the broken water main. Her terrified and violent reaction to Brandt doesn't really
work; it's as if the exemplary plot has been forced to come back into line with humdrum genre expectations -
everybody cracks up, dies, kills each other. Vengeful Karl gets konked on the head and chases Frankenstein
all the way back to town, only to be konked on the head again and left unconscious on the walkway. A
couple of cuts later, his body has disappeared. The movie that makes us think we're on the road to
some new horror discovery, turns back at the very last minute. 1
The pleasures of Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed are many. For one thing, it bothers to construct
boarding houses, hospitals and police stations with more than a minimum of actors and sets. Costumes
look as if the actors have actually lived in them a little. The standard Hammer settings are well
disguised and we get real scenes with a real supporting cast. Frankenstein's fellow
boarders are a genteel lot and the asylum doctors (establishing Brandt and Richter) are caring
The thickest part of the stew is Thorley Walters' overbearing inspector. I don't find the investigation
scenes to be padding, but his thread is allowed to disappear in the rushed events of the
climax. Savant suspects some major trimming there.
But the key story needs are handled well.
We're concerned for the young leads, who fall into a trap because they've been selling stolen drugs to
support Anna's sickly mother. Simon Ward (Zulu Dawn) scoffs at the Doctor's ideas but is soon
fascinated by his transgressive surgical procedures. We're also impressed by Frankenstein's calculating
cynicism. Peter Cushing is at his cold-hearted best here, and his rape of Anna is presented as an
exercise of pure tyrannical power - he doesn't even lust after her. The best moment
in the whole picture is Cushing's ruthless handling of Frau Brandt. After coddling and cajoling her
into trusting him, he says goodnight and invites her to come back in the morning. Then he turns to his
confederates and barks out, "Pack! We're leaving!"
You can tell when a genre picture has vitality and when it's just marking time. Frankenstein Must Be
Destroyed is part of Terence Fisher's last burst of creative energy, and one of his best films.
Warners' DVD of Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed looks great, better than the murky
prints I saw when it was new. The 1:78 aspect ratio greatly increases the effect of many scenes that
seemed unfocused on full-frame VHS tapes and cable television. Arthur Grant's cinematography has a
nice haze that lends depth to the studio exteriors, and James Bernard's score reminds us of the
Hammer classics of a decade before. The clarity of the enhanced DVD sharpens the red main titles, that
before were always subject to NTSC smearing and bleeding.
The only extra is a trailer that spells out the entire arc of the story, including the ending.
The film carries the original 7 Arts logo from the American release, but retains the rape scene, which
was cut when Savant saw it new. There may be a surgical detail or two missing that the Hammerheads will
know about. The cover art is a subdued UK poster design with a large rendering of Peter Cushing.
Significant help on this review came from Hammerphile Gary Teetzel.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed rates:
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: April 28, 2004
1. Gary Teetzel informs me that
star Veronica Carlson had already shot later scenes, before the earlier rape scene was added to the script.
Her objection was that she would have played the post-rape scenes completely differently had she known this
before, and she thought her actions looked foolish (the missing emotional link I later note?). A solid
indicator that even Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed was shot under chaotic creative conditions.
Other DVD Savant Hammer Films Reviews:
X the Unknown,
The Curse of Frankenstein,
The Revenge of Frankenstein,
Hound of the Baskervilles,
Horror of Dracula,
The Brides of Dracula,
The Curse of the Werewolf,
The Phantom of the Opera,
The Kiss of the Vampire,
The Evil of Frankenstein,
The Plague of the Zombies,
Die! Die! My Darling!,
Quatermass and the Pit,
Dracula Has Risen from the Grave,
The Vampire Lovers,
Taste the Blood of Dracula,
Demons of the Mind,
Straight on Till Morning
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson