Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell (1972)
Patrick Troughton is busy robbing a grave. Spotted by a policeman, he makes his escape, aided by the unfortunate fuzz falling into the open hole. "Oh my god," you're thinking - "it's yet another Hammer 'comedy' 'spectacular' along the lines of the opening scenes of Scars Of Dracula or the whole of the risible Horror Of Frankenstein" (the company's previous outing for the Baron).
Luckily, it isn't. It's the beginning of Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell, and the end for Hammer's Baron, being their last Frankenstein film ever. It's also possibly their greatest Frankenstein film ever, too - once again (how many times do I have to tell you?) showing that in their last few years, Hammer produced their greatest works.
After delivering his booty to a bored-looking Simon Helder (Shane Bryant, at his most louche and disinterested), Troughton goes to spend his hard-earned at the local, running into the policeman again and bargaining for his freedom by dobbing in his employer.
After a brief scuffle, in which a jar of eyeballs are destroyed, Helder is arrested for sorcery and sent to an asylum for five years. After enjoying a brief period where they think he's the new asylum doctor ("You're one of them!" gasps the creepy director as the penny drops), Helder gets the old asylum initiation, which involves a very public high-pressure hosing-down which looks like it really hurts. "Enjoying that are you, my lovely?" shouts the camper of the two guards, as the babble coming from the inmates looking on grows louder.
It's at this point that Cushing enters, the camera crash-zooming in on his alarmingly gaunt features. He soon puts paid to these hazing activities ("There's nothing to see - it's over!"), and then goes to berate the governor over the treatment of the new intern. It becomes obvious at this point that the two of them are in cahoots - "The Baron is dead, remember?" says Cushing, "We killed him!"
Of course, despite such subterfuge, Helder sees Frankenstein for exactly who he is - it helps that the books he was studying at the beginning of the film had a lovely lithograph featuring Cushing's chiselled cheekbones on the front of them.
Helder demands to help the Baron in the experiments he's conducting in the asylum, and gets a quick tour of the place, with introductions to the patients which interest Frankenstein the most.
Herr Muller thinks himself to be God, the Baron noting "he's not the first man to hold that opinion". Then there's an empty cell with bent bars which used to house an inmate who tried to escape, but landed on his head. "He was more animal than human," says Frankenstein. "Fascinated by broken glass. Liked stabbing people in the face with it."
Next is The Professor, who is playing the violi and studying advanced mathematics. Helder thinks he looks harmless, but the Baron explains: "When roused, that harmless little man is as savage as a wild cat."
And finally there's a sculptor, who offers the Baron's mute servant, Sarah (the jaw-droppingly beautiful Maddie Smith) his latest creation, and whose face cracks into heartbreaking despair when his visitors leave.
The next day, the sculptor is found dead in his cell, and as Helder watches the funeral procession, the coffin is dropped to the ground, falling open to reveal that the man's hands have been removed. As he investigates a monstrous wailing that night, Helder comes across the Baron's secret laboratory, and the monster he is creating is revealed.
"I knew you couldn't give up your work completely, and you haven't have you?" the younger doctor enquires. "No, I haven't given up - and I never shall!" his mentor replies.
With the half-finished monster revealed, we're treated to some truly revolting surgery, with hands being sewn on, arteries being grabbed between teeth, and eyeballs hanging out of sockets. Frankenstein reveals that he can no longer perform intricate surgery, as, in a nod to the explosive ending of Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, he holds up his hands and says: "These these are useless for intricate surgery. Lost all sensitivity they were burned in the interest of science "
Always the reasonably level-headed chap in the past, it becomes apparent that not all the Baron's marbles are still rattling around in his bewigged head. As the monster's replacement eyeballs are "popped in", Helder cracks a "joke":
"We shall see," says the Baron.
"Let us hope that it is him who sees," replies Helder.
"A-hahahahaha-haaaaa!!!" laughs the Baron, slightly hysterically and definitely for too long.
"I didn't think it was that funny " says Helder drily, under his breath.
Now all the gruesome twosome require is a brain for their creation - the brain of a genius. It looks bad for the Professor, and it's not long before the poor bloke is found hung by his own violin strings. Just when you think you're not going to see this horrible scene in its entirety, you're treated to it in loving close-up, followed by an extremely gruelling brain transplant.
Unfortunately (as usual), the brain transplant fails to take properly, and things head towards their tragic (and ridiculously violent) conclusion, with much death and the shocking reason for Sarah's disability being made clear.
The film ends with the Baron, now quite, quite mad, pottering around and still hoping to pursue his useless experiments, his final words being: "Now you can use your hose. Make this place clean "
Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell is the perfect end to Hammer's run of tales of the mad Baron. It follows on from the end of Destroyed (let's just ignore Horror Of), with Frankenstein burned and insane (although hiding it well for much of the picture), has subtle links to the original film ("Let us eat, and then we'll transplant the brain. Ah, kidneys!" says Cushing after engineering the death of the Professor, in a nod to his "Pass the marmalade" line from Curse Of Frankenstein), and shows his work for the waste of time it always was.
Shane Bryant's acting "ability", for the first and probably only time in his career, actually works in his favour as Helder. Throughout the entire proceedings he never so much as raises an eyebrow, whether being approached by the police ("Oh my God"), scooping up spilled eyeballs ("Ruined, quite ruined"), or putting in a spirited defence for his activities ("If you must know, I'm going to stitch them together, to create a new man."). This gives the character such an air of other-wordliness that his attitude and reasoning seems perfectly "right".
But the film belongs to Cushing, and as such is a perfect swansong for his greatest creation.
Last updated: February 25, 2010
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