Title: Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
Director: Terence Fisher
Cast: Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson, Freddie Jones
Hammer films tended to veer away from the grit of the horrors that were being made around them. Very rarely did the studio produce something so completely in line with the way horror was evolving in the mid 1960s, much to the studio’s own demise. With the Frankenstein franchise now onto its fifth installment, the studio would use it as a last hurrah, tempting into darker territories before the decline of the studio into ultra-camp schlock overtook the quality in the 1970s.
Terence Fisher’s film is not only the most gritty and ragged of the Frankenstein series but perhaps Hammer’s most pessimistic film. The almost warm and friendly Frankenstein of Frankenstein Created Woman is gone and Peter Cushing returns to the desperate and brutal Baron last seen in The Curse of Frankenstein. This Frankenstein is aggressive, rude and violent; almost passionate to the point of madness and a corrupter of everyone around him. The film opens with an extremely grisly murder. Frankenstein has now taken to killing people himself rather than employing the typical ruffians of the past.
A thief breaks into his laboratory only to discover the gruesome entrails of his latest experiments. Again the Baron is now on the run from the law, taking refuge in the boarding house of Anna. Frankenstein blackmails Anna’s fiancé to help him perform another brain transplant from his friend who is currently a patient at the local lunatic asylum. Fisher’s direction is at his best with the unforgiving narrative being wonderfully realised through splashes of Kensington gore on bricks, pavements and walls.
There is little humour in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. Everyone involved is either under duress, mad or desperate. Coming after some lighter sequels, the film feels instantly more serious, almost hinting at a Michael Reeves style brutality. The colours are toned down, the reds no longer lavish but faded. Equally as faded are the law, represented by buffoonish incompetents who are no real match for the eloquent, fiendish baron. He seems almost like a gruesome master criminal more than a morally challenged scientist; there are no longer questions as to the moral balance of his actions. They are clearly evil in this film. He punches his friend under sedation, he blackmails, bullies and forces himself upon Anna. This is Hammer with no holds barred.
Even the scenes of surgery have a gruesome efficiency to them, showing perhaps more gore than most other Hammer films combined. This rawness is what makes Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed so refreshing. Whereas a number of Hammer films, Frankenstein sequels included, have the feel of a slightly more violent Sunday afternoon film, this installment is drenched in the grit and gore that moves horror into the later night viewing category. It seems a crying shame then that the final two Frankenstein sequels went in the completely opposite direction of this wonderful, dark film.
ADAM SCOVELL is a writer and filmmaker who specialises in cult and world cinema. When not obsessively watching and writing about film, he can be found making short films at www.celluloidwickerman.com