Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969 United Kingdom)

Following a long period of cheap-looking productions designed to play as double-features on their home turf, Hammer returned to premium quality with Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. This is Peter Cushing’s definitive portrayal of the Baron. For once a Hammer Frankenstein doesn’t need an actual monster, but lets the baron himself become “more monstrous than the monsters he created”, as the advertisements proclaimed. And for a horror film, you’d have to agree that the locations used for filming were really quite elegant and ornate. The Spengler boarding house and Brandt’s home were exquisitely appointed and furnished, and all the while I kept thinking that they would have been a pretty nice place to live. 

Here, Baron Viktor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing), on the run after his grotesque experiments are detected by the law (as depicted in a fairly explosive opening sequence), takes up room in a boarding house under an alias. Catching his landlady (blonde buxom Veronica Carlson) and her doctor beau (Simon Ward) in the act of pilfering cocaine for her ailing mother, Frankenstein blackmails them into doing his bidding. Besides robbing warehouses for surgical equipment (and in the process murdering a watchman), the young lover is forced to help Frankenstein make off with asylum inmate Dr Brandt. Brandt, once a brilliant scientist himself, doing work that parallels the Baron’s, is now insane and recalls nothing of his life.

Frankenstein, who needs information from Brandt on preservation of the human brain, transplants Brant’s brain to another body after the fatigued Brandt suffers a life-threatening heart attack. He then sets out to cure Brandt’s insanity by vivisection. These scenes are really gripping, even if not particularly gory, because of Cushing’s commanding air and some very convincing sound effects used to denote the grotesque surgical procedures. Frankenstein’s experiment succeeds and Brandt’s brain is successfully transplanted to another body.

But, after some macabre incidents, when Brandt goes to his wife, (an intense Maxine Audley) she is too repulsed by his grotesque aspect, and he vows revenge upon Frankenstein…

There is much discussion among fans about the rape scene. Supposedly producer James Carerras came up with the scene late in production with a glib comment about the movie needing more sex, and both actors objected to what they considered a gratuitous and distasteful scene. But whether he made the glib comment or not, I think Carerras’s instincts were on target. The sexual trauma suffered by Carlson goes a long way to explaining why she impulsively stabs the harmless “monster” later; that act of violence seals her moral downfall. And Frankenstein’s subsequent act of stabbing her reiterates his previous sexual penetration of her, thus marking his own moral nadir. He cannot sink any lower in this tragic tale.

Director Terence Fisher delivers flawless atmosphere and pacing. I’ll comment on one particular sequence–the eruption of the water main behind Carlson’s house, which is carried out with Hitchcockian gusto, from the grotesque humour of the nosy, “helpful” neighbour at the back gate to the nightmarish image of a bedraggled, miserable Carlson stiffly gesturing to let Frankenstein know where the body is. It’s unforgettable. Aristotle said that great art evokes terror and pity. The terror here is obvious; the pathos is generated by Veronica Carlson, but also by Freddie Jones as the monster. His fate is tragic, but he, too, is far from innocent. Some complain that this is a Frankenstein movie without a monster, but when Frankenstein himself is a fiend, the monster must become the tragic hero. In this brilliant reversal of an oft-told tale, there can be only one outcome: Frankenstein must be destroyed!

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Comments

  1. Fantastic review! Peter Cushing absolutely nailed it as Frankenstein.

    Liked by 1 person

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