Film Review: Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

Release Date: May 22nd, 1969 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Bert Batt
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson, Freddie Jones, Simon Ward, Thorley Walters

Hammer Film Productions, Warner Bros., Seven Arts, 98 Minutes, 101 Minutes (US version)

Review:

“I have become the victim of everything that Frankenstein and I ever advocated. My brain is in someone else’s body.” – Professor Richter

It’s been a really long time since I have seen this chapter in the Hammer Films’ Frankenstein series. This is the fifth one out of the six movies starring Peter Cushing and it’s my favorite one after the original.

Even though I really like this installment, it has its ups and downs but the film really plays out like a good drama with horror and sci-fi elements thrown in.

This has some of the best acting in the series and the inclusion of Veronica Carlson was a strong positive for me. She is one of the more talented Hammer scream queens and really takes over the screen in the scenes where she is featured. It also doesn’t hurt that she is absolutely stunning in that old school, classic beauty sort of way.

I also thought that the rest of the cast was pretty damn good for a Hammer picture that came out towards the end of their two decade run as kings of horror.

Peter Cushing is absolutely dastardly in this one and while that does a fine job of building suspense, tension and the desire to see him get his comeuppance, it did feel uncharacteristic for his version of Baron Frankenstein. We’ve come to know him over the four films before this one and he’s always operated fairly consistently. Sure, he’s done evil shit before but he just has an extra edge to him here. He isn’t driven by his science and obsession over his work. Instead, he seems to be driven by the fact that he enjoys being a complete bastard. His dive into deeper evil is punctuated by him raping Veronica Carlson’s character and frankly, that’s the most uncharacteristic thing that he does in the film. He never cared about the ladies before but that changed with this movie. For the first time, it made him truly unlikable. I guess it makes him more of a pure villain but I always liked to think that there was still some way to save his soul and that he was just a victim of his own mania.

I love that the “monster” in this maintains his intelligence and isn’t just a dumb, hulking brute. It’s about time that Baron Frankenstein’s experiments reach a higher level. And I’m glad that this ignored the absolute weirdness of the previous film that saw the mad doctor trapping souls.

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed benefited most by having the series’ best director, Terence Fisher, return. This felt like a true sequel to the original more than any of the other films and in some ways, it was probably another soft reboot, as the continuity in this film series doesn’t seem to matter from film to film.

This is solid, classic Hammer. This is a prime example of why they were masters of the horror genre from the mid-’50s through the mid-’70s.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

Film Review: The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)

Also known as: Blood of Frankenstein (working title), I, Frankenstein (alternate title)
Release Date: June 1st, 1958 (US)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: Leonard Salzedo
Cast: Peter Cushing, Francis Matthews, Eunice Gayson, Michael Gwynn

Hammer Film Productions, 89 Minutes

Review:

“It should have been perfect. I made it to be perfect. If the brain hadn’t been damaged, my work would have been hailed as the greatest scientific achievement of all time. Frankenstein would have been accepted as a genius of science. Instead, he was sent to the guillotine. I swore I would have my revenge. They will never be rid of me!” – Dr. Victor Stein

The Revenge of Frankenstein was the first sequel to The Curse of Frankenstein. It came out pretty quickly, as its predecessor was released just a year earlier. Also, 1958 saw the release of another major Hammer Films movie that also starred Peter Cushing: The Horror of Dracula. Just after that, in 1959, we got The Mummy. Both of of those films kicked off their respected franchises for Hammer. Basically, Cushing was the king of the Universal Monsters remakes in the UK.

Now this isn’t nearly as good as Curse but it isn’t the worst of the Frankenstein sequels either. I feel that the creative process was probably hindered by Hammer Films being spread too thin due to a bunch of films being developed at the same time.

The script is still pretty decent and the story works well in keeping Baron Frankenstein alive and his experiments going.

However, this actually plays more like a drama than a horror film. Sure, there’s a monster but he’s hardly scary and then there’s a man who has been experimented on by Frankenstein and goes mad, dying in the doctor’s arms, yelling his name in front of a bunch of people at a party.

While Baron Frankenstein now exists as Dr. Stein and practices in another town, the yelling of his true name, combined with his likeness, makes the townsfolk very suspicious.

Frankenstein’s assistant in this film is much more on his side than the previous movie and he assists the doctor in faking his own death, once again, so that he can escape, move somewhere else and continue his work. I actually love the final scene in this movie and it firmly establishes that this film isn’t just a sequel but that it’s now an ongoing franchise.

This is an interesting and well crafted chapter in Hammer’s Frankenstein series, even if it is short on terror. It’s carried by the great performance of Peter Cushing, who seems more comfortable in the role and looks like he’s really enjoying the character, which is probably the best role he’s played over his long career.

The Revenge of Frankenstein is a solid outing by Hammer and another good performance by Peter Cushing. I also really enjoyed the performance by Michael Gwynn as a victim of Frankenstein’s work. Gwynn worked in other Hammer films, as well and is probably most recognized as the priest from Scars of Dracula.

Additionally, Francis Matthews was great as Frankenstein’s sinister assistant Dr. Hans Kleve.

In the end, Terence Fisher directed a pretty good sequel to his predecessor that built off of it and set the stage for the chapters after this one.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

Film Review: Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

Also known as: Frankenstein Made Woman (Portugal)
Release Date: March 15th, 1967 (US)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Anthony Hinds (as John Elder)
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing, Susan Denberg, Thorley Walters

Hammer Film Productions, 86 Minutes (UK), 92 Minutes (US)

Review:

“Bodies are easy to come by, souls are not.” – Baron Frankenstein

I was working my way through the Hammer Films Frankenstein series but I had to jump ahead to this, the fourth installment, as it’s the only one I don’t own on DVD and I can only see it on FilmStruck, which is sadly closing up shop November 29th.

This one is a bit different than the three before it, as Baron Frankenstein actually seems pretty level headed and exhibits some empathy. While I prefer the mad scientist role for Cushing, he was never quite as mad as Colin Clive’s Frankenstein and he actually seemed fairly rational at times. I guess, he was less cartoony but at the same time, his evil nature felt more pure and less like a caricature.

I do enjoy seeing Cushing’s Frankenstein seeming to have learned from his past mistakes and shitty behavior. That doesn’t mean he’s stopped his work but he is more responsible and less reckless with it.

Also, his work has strangely evolved, as now he’s found a way to trap the souls of the recently deceased in an effort to put them in a new body and give them life again. It’s a really bizarre turn but I’ll accept it, as this is the fourth of these films and it allows for some creative freedom and not just a rehash of the standard Frankenstein plot.

The monster in this chapter is a young girl with a disfigured face. But before she becomes a monster, we see her and her father constantly bullied by three rich assholes from the village. The girl’s boyfriend is one of Frankenstein’s assistants but he is blamed for the murder of the girl’s father, which was actually committed by the rich assholes when they were trying to steal wine. The assistant is executed but Frankenstein is able to trap his soul and return it to his deceased body.

The girl is severely upset over the death of her boyfriend so she drowns herself. The body is eventually brought to Frankenstein, who is able to not only revive her but to cure her of her disfigurement and physical handicaps. But she loses her memory while Frankenstein and his assistant Hertz try to slowly bring her back towards a normal life.

As she starts to remember things, she is taken over by the vengeful spirit of her dead boyfriend. Possessed, she exacts revenge on the three assholes who killed her father, allowed her boyfriend to be executed and eventually drove her to suicide.

There are a lot of twists and turns and the plot is absolutely bonkers but it’s pretty exciting if you are a fan of Hammer.

Cushing gives a solid performance and I really liked Susan Denberg, as she had a lot of different angles and personalities she had to convey within the 92 minute run time.

This is not a great Hammer movie or anywhere near Terence Fisher’s best but it reinvented the wheel a little bit and for some, that might not work, but for me, I welcomed it, suspended disbelief and just accepted the insanity of the plot.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

Film Review: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Also known as: Frankenstein (Netherlands)
Release Date: May 2nd, 1957 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart

Hammer Film Productions, 83 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve harmed nobody, just robbed a few graves!” – Baron Frankenstein

It’s Halloween season and since it’s been a couple years since I watched through the Hammer Horror Frankenstein series, I felt that revisiting it was needed.

This is really the point where Hammer hit the right note, at the right time. The success of this film not only led to a slew of Frankenstein sequels, it also opened the door for their Dracula and Mummy film series and a bunch of other classic monster movies reinvented for the time.

This also sort of solidified the working relationship of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, who ended up doing nearly two dozen pictures together. Plus, they became best friends and were forever linked. This is the film that also gave them long lasting careers and established them as horror movie legends. Without this film Gran Moff Tarkin and Count Dooku may have never existed in the forms that we know. Not to mention, without the longevity that this gave to Lee’s career, we might not have ever gotten to see him as Saruman, a role he was absolutely perfect for.

The Curse of Frankenstein is a very important motion picture for the reasons I just mentioned and because it changed the horror genre going forward. Hammer would inspire other studios like Amicus in the UK and American International in the US, who probably took cues from Hammer’s movies when they produced their Edgar Allan Poe films of the 1960s.

However, looking at this film, apart from all that context and it’s importance in film history, it still stands pretty damn tall on its own.

This isn’t quite on the level of Universal’s Frankenstein or Bride of Frankenstein from the 1930s but after those two films, this is the best version of the story out there. It’s very different from the literary source material but I like the changes and that was Hammer’s thing. They often times rewrote the classics in an effort at keeping them fresh and not just rehashes of the same thing you’ve seen before. Besides, as a series, Hammer’s Frankesntein films are a better complete body of work than the Universal ones. This series did get really weird but it was cool because, at its core, Frankenstein is already a weird story.

The Curse of Frankenstein was a good foundation to what Hammer would build for a solid fifteen years after this with all of their iconic horror pictures. Sure, they took creative liberties but they always seemed to respect the material and to look at these classics from new and interesting angles.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

Film Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

Release Date: May 4th, 1959 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Peter Bryan
Based on: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing, André Morell, Christopher Lee

Hammer Film Productions, United Artists, 87 Minutes

Review:

“I warned him! What could have possessed him to come out here alone?” – Sherlock Holmes

The Sherlock Holmes franchise is possibly the biggest of all-time, as the character has had more literary stories than I care to count and an endless stream of movies and television shows going back to the invention of celluloid. Maybe there are more live action Dracula adaptations but one can’t deny that Holmes has owned pop culture before the term “pop culture” entered the mainstream lexicon.

It’s only natural that Hammer would take a crack at a Holmes story after their success at adapting Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, along with their versions of The Mummy and their other horror successes. Plus, they had the uber talented Peter Cushing at their disposal, who was definitely Hammer’s perfect man to play the world’s most famous detective. Add in Cushing’s best friend and the man he worked with the most, Christopher Lee, and you’ve got a solid cast. However, this also teamed the great duo up with Hammer’s third best male lead, André Morell. And then on top of that, this was directed by Hammer’s premier director, Terence Fisher. To put it simply, Hammer assembled their dream team to give life to the literary work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

What I most enjoyed about this film, is that even if it takes some liberties, it doesn’t do what you would expect Hammer to do. What I mean is that it doesn’t give the story a supernatural twist. It could have been easily turned into a werewolf movie or had a bunch of black magic stuff but it kept things grounded in reality and honestly, that made for a better picture than conjuring up some sort of unnatural threat.

While I always loved seeing Cushing and Lee together, Cushing spends more time with Morell, which is fun stuff to watch, as I love both men and wish that they got to play off of each other more often. Morell should have been in more films with Cushing and Lee, as the three men are sort of Hammer’s Holy Trinity.

This is a very straightforward Holmes picture that does the material some justice and is a nice experience, overall. It has that standard late ’50s/early ’60s Hammer visual aesthetic, which just makes this cooler and helps to make it fit within their catalog of horror titles from that time.

I love Holmes pictures and I love Hammer, so this is certainly a film I really enjoy and appreciate for a myriad of reasons.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Other early Hammer films starring Cushing and Lee. Also, the Hammer film with André Morell that deals with the undead: The Plague of the Zombies. I also like pairing this with another Hammer classic that stars the super cool Oliver Reed: The Curse of the Werewolf.

Film Review: The Devil Rides Out (1968)

Also known as: The Devil’s Bride
Release Date: July 20th, 1968 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Christopher Lee, Charles Gray, Niké Arrighi, Leon Greene, Patrick Mower, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, Sarah Lawson, Paul Eddington, Rosalyn Landor, Russell Waters, Eddie Powell (uncredited)

Hammer Film Productions, Associated British-Pathé, Seven Arts Productions, 20th Century Fox, 95 Minutes

Review:

“The Angel of Death was summoned. He cannot return empty-handed.” – Duc de Richleau

The Devil Rides Out is not a film that is widely recognized today but it is one of my favorite Christopher Lee pictures. It is also in the upper echelon of Hammer Studios gigantic horror catalog.

Lee’s Duc de Richleau is actually one of the coolest characters that he has ever played, which is pretty big considering that he generally played cool characters. For a guy that was Dracula, The Man With the Golden Gun, Count Dooku and Saruman, none of those characters felt as authentically Christopher Lee as this one.

The film also boasts a pretty amazing cast with Charles Gray, a man who has been in several classic James Bond pictures, as the sinister villain of the story. Gray is stellar as the evil Devil worshiping madman hellbent on shaping the world into the Devil’s playground.

Another really cool thing about this movie is that the Devil shows up in physical form. While he simply sits on an altar and disappears at the first sign of trouble, it is still a mesmerizing scene today.

This picture does have its share of hokey effects, like the giant spider and the evil knight on the winged horse but its coolness offsets its flaws. And that is what this is, a cool motion picture.

The film is dark, brooding but still lighthearted and adventurous. It has some good action, fun monsters and the sets are fantastic.

It was also directed by Terence Fisher, who was Hammer’s premier director and a longtime Lee collaborator. His films are considered to be some of Hammer’s greatest and with good reason. The Devil Rides Out isn’t as well known as Fisher’s movies featuring famous monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein or the Mummy but it is one of his absolute best.

Also, the script was written by Richard Matheson, the accomplished novelist who wrote I Am LegendHell House and a slew of old school horror pictures.

The Devil Rides Out is truly the most quintessential Hammer Studios films that doesn’t feature a famous monster. It has a strong and powerful atmosphere, really good cinematography, top notch acting for its genre at its time and is also a lot of fun.

Film Review: Island of Terror (1966)

Also known as: Night of the Silicates, The Creepers, The Night the Creatures Came, The Night the Silicates Came
Release Date: June, 20th 1966 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Edward Mann, Al Ramsen
Based on: an original story by Mann and Ramsen
Music by: Malcolm Lockyer
Cast: Peter Cushing, Edward Judd, Carole Gray, Eddie Byrne

Planet Film Productions, Universal Studios, 89 Minutes

island_of_terrorReview:

Without it being pointed out, one would most likely assume that Island of Terror was a Hammer Films picture. It stars one of their premier actors, Peter Cushing. It is also directed by one of their premier directors, Terence Fisher. In fact, I always thought of this as a Hammer horror classic until I just watched it again. Not only did I feel stupid, upon discovering this, but I guess my twelve year-old self should’ve read the opening titles better.

However, Fisher and Cushing’s involvement with this movie brought it close to that Hammer quality. And frankly, this is a pretty solid British horror film from the 1960s, in the same vein as many of their other classics.

Island of Terror takes place on a remote island off the coast of Ireland. A farmer and the island’s constable go missing. They are found dead with their bones missing from their corpses. There are no cuts or any other signs of the bones being extracted. A physician, a pathologist, a bones expert and his wealthy jet-setter girlfriend head to the island to investigate the strange case.

Once there, they discover a secret lab under a mansion. In the lab they ran some sort of strange experiments. They soon discover the tragic result of the experiments gone wrong. Our heroes come face to face with silicates, a biological sort of pod creature with a sole tendril that latches on to living mammals and liquefies their bones, in order to digest them. It is also discovered that each silicate splits in two, every six hours. The doctors suspect that the island will be overrun with them in days and therefore, they must act quickly in finding a way to destroy them.

The special effects in Island of Terror aren’t fantastic. They also aren’t bad. They are on par with what Hammer was doing at the time, so since this was made by a less successful studio, this is somewhat of an accomplishment. The silicates weren’t very exciting creatures and certainly weren’t too imaginative in their design but they served their purpose.

Peter Cushing was the only person to really have a true presence on-screen. Everyone else just felt flat and uninteresting. The rest of the male cast was just your standard generic boffin types. The girl was also fairly generic. While these types of films rarely have a full ensemble that is engaging, everyone here is pretty forgettable. And maybe that is where you can see that this isn’t a Hammer picture.

Despite my criticisms, Island of Terror is still a fairly good 60s British horror movie. It has the right atmosphere, features one of the godfathers of British horror and it is entertaining, overall. Besides, it is much better than some of the later Hammer pictures.