RICHARD PHILLIPS-JONES reviews Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell 1974, Terence Fisher and Peter Cushing’s final Frankenstein film
TITLE: Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell
YEAR RELEASED: 1974
DIRECTOR: Terence Fisher
CAST: Peter Cushing, Shane Briant, Madeleine Smith, Dave Prowse
Dr Simon Helder (Shane Briant) has been conducting experiments with human body parts, with the objective of creating the perfect man. When the authorities find out, he is incarcerated in an asylum for the insane.
Although ostensibly run by the incompetent director Adolf Klauss (John Stratton), the true balance of power in this institution is held by the mysterious Dr. Karl Victor (Peter Cushing). Recognising in Helder a kindred spirit, not to mention something of his younger self, the doctor eventually reveals to him his true identity: Baron Victor Frankenstein…
Believed by all but a few to be long dead, the asylum has provided the Baron with the perfect cover to continue his life’s work. Initially he has been assisted by mute inmate Sarah (Madeleine Smith), known to her fellow inmates as Angel. However, Helder’s surgical training finally provides the Baron with the means of completing his latest experiment, and compensates for the Baron’s own hands being burnt beyond any practical use (presumably in the fiery climax to 1969’s Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed).
When finally completed, the new creature shows promising early signs, but ultimately proves to be violent. That’s when the Baron hatches a new plan: To have the creature perfectly reborn, by mating it with Sarah. Meanwhile, the inmates begin to get restless…
Returning to the series after the misfire of Horror Of Frankenstein (1970), Terence Fisher turns in one of his finest works. He makes virtue of a minuscule budget by crafting a deeply claustrophobic piece. The image is heavy on greys and browns, Brian Probyn’s cinematography almost radiating stench and decay.
Cushing’s final outing as Frankenstein is quite simply inspired. To paraphrase philosopher George Santayana, the Baron has become the definition of a fanatic, re-doubling his efforts long after he has lost sight of his original objective. The Baron of old is still visible, lurking in there somewhere, but the sparkling enthusiasm of the young and eager medical student has been replaced by something cold, world weary, methodical and calculating.
Shane Briant’s performance is a lovely counterpoint, his cocky swagger bringing to mind the younger Cushing’s Baron of years before. Madeleine Smith is perfect as Sarah, giving a performance of great subtlety. Smith seems especially proud of this performance, and with good reason. As the creature, Dave Prowse lives up to the film’s title amply, looking like something which has been dug up from the depths, and far removed from what the baron had originally set out to achieve many years before.
We are left in little doubt at the film’s conclusion that the Baron will go on attempting to create the perfect man. There is a point as the film reaches its final denouement when Helder, upon hearing the Baron’s plans to mate the creature with Sarah, states that he thinks the Baron is quite mad. His response?
“Possibly… I must admit I’ve never felt so elated in my life, not since I first… ah, that was a long time ago…”
Not only has it become clear that the Baron is beyond all help, there is also a real sense of poignancy in this line. Just as Cushing and Fisher had ushered in the golden age of Hammer Horror with The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957), they had provided its perfect epitaph in Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell. In every sense, the lunatics have taken over the asylum.
It was to be Fisher’s final film.
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