Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
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The fifth film in Hammer's Frankenstein series and often ranked among the studio's best genre efforts, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) is closer in tone to a doom-ladden film noir than a traditional horror picture. As the story opens, Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) is a fugitive from justice, hiding behind the pseudonym Fenner. He takes a room in a boarding house run by Anna Spengler (Veronica Carlson) so he can be near his former colleague, Dr. Brandt (George Pravda), now incarcerated in the local insane asylum. The Baron's interest in Brandt is purely mercenary; he wants to steal his colleague's revolutionary brain transplant technique. His plan to kidnap Brandt, aided by Ms. Spengler and her fiancee Karl (Simon Ward), a doctor at the sanatorium, goes awry with his abductee suffering an almost-fatal heart attack. Desperate to save Brandt's brain, the Baron then concocts a scheme to implant it into a healthier body, that of Professor Richter, a doctor at the asylum. What follows is an even darker scenario that spells disaster for the Baron and everyone who crosses his path.
In each succeeding Frankenstein picture from Hammer, Peter Cushing's Baron Frankenstein became increasingly obsessive and bitter, hounded by failure and the rejection of the scientific community. By the time of Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, he has become completely misanthropic, exploiting everyone for his own sinister purposes. Now HE is the monster in the piece and his disturbing creation is the sympathetic victim. In the role of Richter, who becomes the Baron's ultimate transplant experiment, Freddie Jones (The Elephant Man) faced quite an acting challenge in the post-operation scene where he discovers his new identity. "To lend verisimilitude to a character who awakens to find himself in another body makes a powerful demand upon the actor," Jones said (in Hammer Horror by Tom Johnson and Deborah Del Vecchio), "Incredibly, I recall the logical sequence I followed: fearful headache, therefore a desire to touch and perhaps discover some things. On its way up to the head, the hand naturally came into view. Shock! - as the head was instantly unfamiliar! More spontaneous perfunctory investigation and then, I notice the shiny surface of a kidney-shaped bowl - a mirror! And the truth. I don't recall any role making a greater demand."
One of the more surprising aspects of Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is the Baron's emergence as a sexual predator; in the past he was always depicted as a cerebral character, seemingly uninterested in sex. Here he's a leering voyeur and rapist. In fact, many fans and critics took issue with the sequence where he attacks Anna and has his way with her. Initially, this scene was cut from the American release version but added back in later for subsequent television airings. Co-star Veronica Carlson was particularly unhappy about the scene telling Hammer biographers Johnson and Del Vecchio, "I couldn't refuse to do it. Peter was disgusted with the scene, and he didn't want to do it. Terence Fisher was very understanding, but it was totally humiliating."
Despite the period setting, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed reflects the pessimism and despair of the Vietnam era in which it was made. Not only is there a pronounced emphasis on drug abuse in the narrative but there is also a gruesome fascination with operating room procedure; it's hard not to flinch (or laugh) when the Baron and his assistant take a drill and saw to a patient's skull as the sounds of skin and bone being violated ring in your ears. Along the way there are other macabre bits to savor such as the sequence where a buried body bursts through the soil after a ruptured water pipe dislodges it.
Of course, with a title like Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed no one expected a masterpiece yet most critics and reviewers found it to be an unusually compelling example of cinematic pulp fiction. The London Times proclaimed the film "as nasty as anything I have seen in the cinema for a very long time" and that's surely words of praise for horror buffs everywhere.
Producer: Anthony Nelson-Keyes
Director: Terence Fisher
Screenplay: Anthony Nelson-Keyes, Bert Batt
Cinematography: Arthur Grant
Film Editing: Gordon Hales
Production Design: Bernard Robinson
Music: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing (Baron Frankenstein), Veronica Carlson (Anna), Freddie Jones (Professor Richter), Simon Ward (Karl), Thorley Walters (Inspector Frisch), Maxine Audley (Ella Brandt), George Pravda (Brandt).
by Jeff Stafford