Monday, October 26, 2009


FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969). Directed by Terence Fisher. Starring Peter Cushing, Simon Ward, Veronica Carlson, Freddie Jones.

The penultimate outing for Peter Cushing as the eponymous Baron, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is a grim and nihilistic treat for any lover of Hammer films.

In a nutshell, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed sees the Baron at an impasse, unable to continue with his work without the help of the brilliant but insane Dr Brandt. His solution is to kidnap Brandt from the asylum where he is incarcerated – with the help of a young couple whom he is conveniently blackmailing - cure the sickness in his brain and then transplant said brain to the body of the unfortunate Professor Richter. Unfortunately the now sane but unrecognisable Brandt/Richter fails to see the upside of this procedure and, driven to despair, literally brings the house down in a blazing climax that consumes both himself and Baron Frankenstein.

Taken in such bald terms, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed might come across as yet another run-of-the-mill gothic shocker. And indeed, all the prerequisite Hammer motifs are there – a Mittel Europa setting sometime in the 1800’s, a plethora of recognisable character actors (Thorley Walters, Freddie Jones, Geoffrey Bayldon) playing parts they could do in their sleep and a young, handsome couple (Simon Ward and Veronica Carlson) to act as foil to the machinations of the Baron. But what sets Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed apart from even the other films in the series is Cushing’s portrayal of the Baron himself.

Shorn of much of the black humour and virtually all of the ‘adult fairytale’ aspects of the earlier films, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed sees Cushing at his charming and glacial best – a man who has long since abandoned the (albeit twisted) altruism of his previous work and has become singular and fanatical in the pursuit of his goals.

This is a man who will not hesitate at blackmail, murder and even rape to achieve his ends and it is a testament to Cushing’s performance that, despite all this, we still feel a certain empathy with the now clearly insane Victor Frankenstein and perhaps even a touch of sympathy when he and his creation meet their fiery demise.

But if Cushing provides the focus of the film it is Freddie Jones as the physically and psychologically mutilated Brandt who provides its emotional core. More undeniably human than, say, Christopher Lee’s earlier patchwork Creature or Dave Prowse’s later Neanderthal incarnation, and far, far less brutish than either, Brandt’s fate is one of a man robbed of everything. The scenes in which he confronts his wife who, understandably, fails to recognise him, are heartbreaking and certainly unexpected in the context of a gothic horror and his anguish at what has happened is all but palpable.

With Terence Fisher behind the camera, the film has all the hallmarks of that great – and underrated director – the violence is handled with aplomb (particularly the opening scenes in which Frankenstein, hideously masked, stalks and kills a fresh victim to provide material for his experiments) and the low-budget of the film is expertly masked once again proving that Fisher was always capable of making a silk purse from whatever was at hand.

A tight and taut script from Bert Batt and Anthony Nelson Keys gives the actors and director great scope to flex their cinematic muscles and if both Ward and Carlson seem a little underwritten it is only in comparison to the powerhouse performances of Cushing and Jones.

Although somewhat overlooked at the time, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is arguably the most grimly enjoyable of the Cushing/ Fisher Frankenstein films and has a bleak view of the human condition that belies the popular view of Hammer films as somewhat cheap and campy shockers.

It would be followed a few years later by the equally enjoyable Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell but by then popular taste in cinematic horror had moved on (ironically thanks in large part to the trail that Hammer themselves had blazed) and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed stands as a high water mark of a studio that was occasionally brilliant and never less than entertaining.

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