Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed! (1969)
The thing that keeps springing to mind when watching these old Hammer Frankensteins and Draculas is how often - and well - the company attempted to re-invent such well-worn themes.
Not for them a supposed classical return to the original text (stand up, Branagh and Coppola. On second thoughts, sit down again, you pair of arses). No, Hammer were keen to experiment - much like the good Dr F himself, in fact.
Of course, what happened it that they did it so well that people pretty much forgot that Frankenstein had originally been a piece of classical literature, hence the 90s backlash. But now it's time for the Hammer films to stand up on their own two feet, as examples of what can be done when a bit of thought and ingenuity is applied to an old, old story.
Destroyed starts as it means to go on, with a bloke walking down the foggy streets of olde London towne only to become the victim of a machete-wielding maniac. As his head hits the floor sans the rest of his body, the audience thinks "blimey, this is a bit dark". They have no idea how dark, I can tell you.
Of course the nutter is Baron Victor, now completely insane after being thwarted on his first few outings.Not only that, but he's taken to wearing a lovely "burns victim" mask and seems to have developed superhumn strength - as a burglar soon discovers when he inadvertantly breaks into the maniac's laboratory.
This second death necessitates a quick exit by the put-upon mentalist, who sets up home in lovely Veronica Carlson's boarding house, only to take over her life (and the life of her foppish doctor boyfriend) to devastating effect.
It's a grim tale and no mistake, with multiple deaths, a heart rending performance by the "monster" (Freddy Jones), and some amazing set pieces going on. (For example - at one point a body which the terrible trio have buried in the back yard is unexpectedly exhumed by a burst water main. And as for that final conflagration - it may be totally expected, but it's excellently done...)
The operation scenes still manage to provoke revulsion, despite showing very little (it's just those noises... ew), and as for Peter Cushing's performance - in my eyes, it's a career high.
Granted, this isn't a particularly amusing essay, but it's hard to be funny about a film which plays it deadly straight, gets it almost completely right, and in which just about everyone dies.
I say "almost completely right" because although one of the policemen is Geoffrey Bayldon (ace), his immediate superior is a bit of light relief in the portly form of Thorley Walters - who manages to be both unlikeable and useless. A character study the old geezer managed to perfect in several Hammers.
Last updated: February 23, 2010
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