Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 33 min.

Release Date: June 12th, 1974 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Terence Fisher Actors: Peter Cushing, Shane Briant, Madeline Smith, David Prowse, John Stratton, Elsie Wagstaff, Clifford Mollison, Patrick Troughton, Philip Voss, Bernard Lee

 


 

A

booze-addled bodysnatcher (Patrick Troughton) unearths corpses from fresh graves, hiding his deeds under the cover of night and fog. Despite being interrupted by a police sergeant, the rogue rushes his latest acquisition back to the abode of young Simon Helder (Shane Briant), an aspiring doctor and unscrupulous student of the legendary Baron Frankenstein’s (Peter Cushing) research. When the authorities catch up to his schemes, which involve stitching together body parts to create new life, he’s quickly arrested for sorcery. “You admit to attempting to resurrect the dead.”

An understandably unsympathetic judge has Simon committed to the state asylum for the criminally insane for five years, patterned after a similar sentence bestowed upon Frankenstein himself. Simon’s youth and professionalism bewilders the nervous, paranoid asylum director, Adolf Klauss (John Stratton), who momentarily confuses the new prisoner for a genuine doctor. The sadistic guards reward the mixup with an initiation treatment – a skin-tearing bath with a firehose – before the institution’s physician, Dr. Karl Victor (also Peter Cushing), breaks things up.

As it turns out, Victor and the corrupt director have come to an agreement over their indiscretions and varied interests; the lead doctor has a certain freedom over his many patients, including a wing of dangerous inmates, who provide subjects for unusual experiments (especially the ones who are recently deceased or have suffered rapid brain degeneration). Of one such prisoner, Victor comments: “Homicidal tendencies. He was fascinated by broken glass. He liked stabbing people in the face with it.”

Though unable to leave the asylum, Simon is recruited to help Victor with his work, which involves – what else? – stitching together fresh body parts into a hellish, wailing monster (David Prowse). At his side is another assistant, the mute Sarah (Madeline Smith), dubbed “The Angel” for her striking beauty (her introduction is in rags, yet she cleans up considerably in the following scenes). Curiously, despite the virginal Sarah and the statuesque Simon, there are no real protagonists in this Hammer horror film. Everyone is either insane or inclined to explore unethical areas of medicine and anatomical reconstitutions. Even when Simon appears momentarily disconcerted by Victor’s methods of collecting human parts, he dismisses such feelings in favor of the scientific breakthroughs.

Cushing is once again superb in his role, taking the part seriously, even when he’s surrounded by silliness. Of course, as a later, R-rated Hammer venture, “Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell” boasts bloodshed, jars of eyeballs, disfigurement, corpses, skull-sawing brain surgery (a particularly gooey sequence), sexual suggestiveness, and a spectacularly frightful, hulking brute, covered in hair as if a relative of the abominable snowman. The makeup and monster designs are entirely effective, even if they’re not terribly convincing outside the realm of this macabre fantasy.

Unintentional humor also finds its way into the events, perhaps unfortunately, such as when Victor drops a disused brain into a dish on the floor, then accidentally steps on it and kicks it out of the way. Were it not for the odd moment of slapstick, the notions of playing god and of psychological torture and of uncontrollable rage (which appropriately transforms into revenge) would be genuinely terrifying. “I’m not a murderer, Simon,” insists the evil doctor, though he’s fooling no one. By the end, bravely mirroring the morbidity of “Frankenstein Created Woman” (yet with far more perverse – if darkly poetic – ideas), justice and redemption are tragically absent; audiences are left only with villainy and victims.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10