Sunday, October 25, 2020

Hammer Watch: Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1968)

Watched:  10/22/2020
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1960's
Director:  Terence Fisher

I've watched the few Frankenstein movies from Hammer that I've seen completely out of order.  And this is no exception.  I think this is the second to last movie, but, really, do not know.

Completely spinning the opposite direction from Universal, Hammer decided the selling point for their Frankenstein films was not the monster, but the good doctor himself.  Building on the arrogant sonuvabitch from the novel, this version of Frankenstein is NOT humbled by his first creation, but emboldened by his success, and so the subsequent films are him doing what all good scientists would do - keep working on it.  

I mean, technically, a decent scientist should be publishing papers and attending conferences to share his findings, but I don't tell Dr. Frankenstein how science works, and I can't argue with his track record when it comes to bringing nightmares to life.  In this episode, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1968), he IS trying to follow up on the science of his colleagues to repeat their experiments and build upon them, and that, people, is what science is all about.  As well as what this movie is about.

Cushing turns his reserve as an actor to phenomenal use as Dr. Frankenstein.  While it makes his Van Helsing an off-beat hero, it makes his psychopathic doctor the clear monster here - and just the plot beats of this movie and what he's up to demonstrate a total antipathy for any actual other humans, his brand of "progressive medicine" far more about his ability to achieve than to actually help humanity.  Which is why you can almost snicker when he accuses other doctors of not holding up the Hippocratic oath.  

This movie finds the doctor on the run and looking for a way to get to another doctor who performed similar experiments before he went mad and was locked away.  He manages to secure a room at a boarding house - the proprietor of which is engaged to a young doctor at the asylum.  From here, he blackmails them into assistance.  And, basically, abuses them for the duration of the film while demanding their assistance.*  

In addition to the horrors surrounding the steps necessary for Frankenstein to hatch his evil plot, and a fairly dark creation scene, the actual "birth" of the new creature and all that follows keeps pushing the envelope on this film.  Terence Fisher was a solid director, and he manages to stage the scenes with a terrific level of tension, where we find ourselves sympathetic with Frankenstein's unwilling accomplices and hoping they are not caught, escape with their skin, etc... when we might feel frustrated watching Frankenstein alone escape again and again.  There's a particularly effective "cops looking for the mad doctor" sequence which I thought was a great set-piece, as well as when a water-main breaks.


The script feels like 85% set-up.  There just isn't much of an ending to the movie.  While it definitely does have a concluding section, it feels weirdly short, and with no real sense of satisfaction, a bit like the original Universal films that would roll credits the second the horror was dispatched without so much as a moment for the survivors to ponder what had just occurred.  

All in all, I guess I liked it well enough, but mostly for Cushing playing a psychopath with such absolute flair.  After all the set-up, and - frankly - the pretty good late-arriving sub-plot of the "creature" coming to life and realizing what has happened, we could have had a whole second movie all about *that*, with Frankenstein as a key player.  Now that would have been really interesting.  But something got cut short, and so we just get a flambe of an ending.d

*SPOILER - the abuse includes a rape sequence in the film, one which could be completely excised, and it's a strange bit to appear in the movie other than as a reminder of Frankenstein's complete depravity.   

1 comment:

RHPT said...

I can't argue with his track record when it comes to bringing nightmares to life

Maybe because I haven't had my first cup of coffee, but that made me audibly chuckle.