The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957 was a milestone in British film, especially for the studio that made it. While they’d made many movies before, including horror titles, it was this that defined what a Hammer Film was. A full blooded, colour gothic, combining classy acting and sets, with lurid monster filled horror. The film was a huge hit and many sequels followed. By the ‘70s though, Hammer were having trouble keeping up with the changing landscape of films. They tried rebooting the franchise in The Horror of Frankenstein, with a younger lead (Ralph Bates), but it didn’t work out. So in 1974 they bought back star Peter Cushing and director Terence Fisher for one last try; Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell.
Dr. Simon Helder (Shane Briant) is a follower of Baron Frankenstein’s work, which the authorities, on discovering this, aren’t happy about. He is sentenced to an insane asylum, the same where Frankenstein was also condemned to and apparently died in. However, the Baron has instead, by blackmailing the staff, faked his death and set himself up as head doctor. What’s more, he has a special interest in some of the patients at the hospital; he still has his experiments, and they need a supply of raw materials…
The main problem this film has is the fact that there’s very little new to it. The previous films, bar The Evil of Frankenstein which was a pastiche of the Universal series, had Frankenstein going into new areas. Every time he’d be trying different experiments, looking for new knowledge, pushing into unknown territory without fear or care for the consequences. In Frankenstein Created Woman he actually managed to harness the human soul! So in this one, where it turns out he’s just been stitching together some of the inmates into a new monster, it’s kind of a step backwards. There’s very little here that the franchise, and indeed some other Frankenstein movies, hadn’t tried before. Even the whole plotline of him set up as a doctor, using his patients as pick ‘n mix had been done in The Revenge of Frankenstein.
That’s not the only problem. It’s glacially paced, with it seeming an eternity before Frankenstein appears on screen, and it’s nearly half over before our first glimpse of his new creation. The monster’s escape and rampage (which you know is coming from the word go) is brief and anti-climatic. Finally, this has one of the worst looking monsters in the series, with the face a very stiff, immobile mask, made worse by the fact that the creature has to emote in a few scenes. Although, one amusing point in retrospect is that the creature is played by David Prowse. Four years later, he’d find fame as Darth Vader in Star Wars, under the command of the Grand Moff Tarkin… played by Peter Cushing!
Speaking of which, this is one of this film’s saving graces. Cushing is mesmerising every time he’s on screen, being one of those actors that can bring a touch of class to anything he’s in. By this time, he’d gotten the art of playing Frankenstein down to a T, and there is plenty of good character moments for him to work with. There is also a lot of very dark, droll humour in the script. For example, talking about one inmate he says “he believes himself to be God. He’s not the first man with that opinion of himself, and he certainly won’t be the last”. That line’s more amusing when you consider what the Baron’s hobby is. There’s some pretty good supporting acting too, including Patrick Troughton as a body-snatcher in the early scenes. Finally, the very last scene forms perhaps the film’s best dark joke, with the idea that the retreading of old ground in Frankenstein’s work may have been part of the point all along.
Overall though, this film really wasn’t enough to help Hammer. It did seriously amp up the gore content, to the point that several scenes were cut, though they’re now restored in this new Blu-ray edition. However, when it came out, Night of the Living Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Exorcist had all been released to massive furore. It was clear that a new age of horror had come, Hammer’s old formula just couldn’t compete. Still, this film is worth a watch, despite its flaws, and makes for an interesting close to the series. It’s recommended, but mostly if you’re a Hammer completist.