JULY 2, 2012
It's a shame that Hammer never opted to give Frankenstein the same treatment as Dracula, transporting him to the present day a la Dracula 1972 AD. There's nothing wrong with Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell as a movie, but it suffers from being the 7th in a series that didn't really travel far outside its comfort zone - by now everything feels familiar. This would serve to be the last in the series, and it's a shame that it didn't really go out with a bang instead of just mostly going through the motions.
In an unfortunate coincidence, it actually feels a lot like the 2nd film of the series (Revenge Of Frankenstein), which was the last one I watched. Had I gone in order, maybe I wouldn't have had so much deja vu, but as with that film, Frankenstein is living under an assumed name (and again it's comically lazy - Dr. Carl Victor) and working in a hospital, and again partnering with someone to carry out his experiments. In continuity, this would probably be fine for an audience - it had been four films and nearly 15 years since they did this story, but for me it had only been 3 months.
The key difference is Cushing's performance as Frankenstein. Where he was a delightful asshole in Revenge, he's much more subdued here - at one point when his partner says "You did it!" in order to congratulate him, Frankenstein corrects him that "WE did it! All of us!", and thus giving credit to their mute assistant girl as well. Since when doesn't he want to take all the credit and look down on the people helping him out? It's not until the end that he starts showing some of his old, misguided self, "separating humanity from science" as his partner says and being blinded by his drive to finally create life successfully (I'd love a bit where he just takes stock of how many times he's tried this and wonders if he shouldn't have just become a farmer or something).
The ending is also much different, ironically ending on a setup for a sequel. Usually they seem pretty much open and shut, with the monster being killed and Frankenstein just sort of walking off in defeat or something, the final scene here has him discussing his plans for the next monster, how to improve what went wrong, etc. I don't know if they had a specific plan for an 8th film and had to abandon it due to lack of interest in this one, or maybe Cushing himself got tired of doing it (or wasn't physically able to - he is noticeably more gaunt here than in the others, though still gives it his all), but either way it's pretty much the most open-ended one in the series that I can recall, making its finality kind of a bummer. Similarly, it would be the last film directed by Terence Fisher, so it's a shame he too went out on a note that seemed to suggest further adventures.
The monster here is different; sort of an ape-man type thing. It has the usual "recipe" - hands from another body, brain transplant, etc. - but the look is unlike anything I've seen in a Frankenstein film, which is laudable considering how many I've seen. He doesn't get to do much; his first appearance is almost exactly at the film's halfway point and he spends most of his scenes just trying to do math or whatever Frankenstein is demanding. His obligatory rampage is rather short-lived, and the only person he kills is the asshole that runs the place (who apparently tried to rape his daughter), making his rather vicious demise unnecessarily mean-spirited (the other inmates basically tear him apart with their bare hands). This limited monster action is another thing it has in common with Revenge, by the way - was this SUPPOSED to be a loose remake?
The makeup on the monster (played by David "Vader" Prowse, by the way) is pretty good, as is the occasional gore effect (he gets drenched when he kills that one guy), another reason I wish the series had one more entry as it was entering the time period where blood and gore was becoming a staple of Hammer films and thus it'd be cool to have a Frankenstein movie on the level of the later Draculas (Scars of Dracula, for example). This also makes up for the shockingly bad model of the asylum that gets used for a couple of establishing shots - they might as well have had a guy's hand in the shot so we could at least know exactly what scale it was.
I've now seen all of Cushing's entries in the series; the 6th film Horror of Frankenstein is basically a remake of the original and doesn't fit into the overall continuity (i.e. it's not meant to be a "prequel" to the others or anything). I'll see it before HMAD wraps up next year, I'm sure, but I won't watch it soon - I want to savor it since it's the last of this uneven but always entertaining series. As with the Universal films, I always preferred these to the Dracula entries (it's a shame that Hammer didn't do "____ Meets ___" movies like Universal did), and I can't think of any incarnation since that I've really enjoyed. I liked how they used the monster in Monster Squad, that's about it. Of course, we don't really have an actor like Peter Cushing nowadays, so it's a tough obstacle to overcome - though I think William Fichtner would make a damn fine Victor.
What say you?