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DVD SAVANT

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed


Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
Warner DVD
1969 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic 16:9 / 101 min. / Street Date April 27, 2004 / 19.97
Starring Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson, Freddie Jones, Simon Ward, Thorley Walters, Maxine Audley
Cinematography Arthur Grant
Art Direction Bernard Robinson
Film Editor Gordon Hales
Original Music James Bernard
Written by Bert Batt, story by Anthony Nelson Keys
Produced by Anthony Nelson Keys
Directed by Terence Fisher

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.

Synopsis:

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. Misery 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 professionals. 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:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: trailer
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: April 28, 2004


Footnote:

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.
Return

Other DVD Savant Hammer Films Reviews:
Quatermass 2, X the Unknown, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Revenge of Frankenstein, Hound of the Baskervilles, The Mummy, Horror of Dracula, The Brides of Dracula, The Curse of the Werewolf, The Phantom of the Opera, Night Creatures, Nightmare, Paranoiac, 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, Countess Dracula, The Vampire Lovers, Taste the Blood of Dracula, Demons of the Mind, Straight on Till Morning




DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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