Review: Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell / Cert: 15 / Director: Terence Fisher / Screenplay: Anthony Hinds / Starring: Peter Cushing, Shane Briant, Madeline Smith, Dave Prowse, John Stratton, Patrick Troughton, Bernard Lee, Charles Lloyd Pack / Release Date: April 28th
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell is just another Hammer Horror. Of course, that’s exactly what it is, but it’s actually a rather interesting one in the context of the Hammer canon. Neither fondly nor well remembered, and seldom seen on TV even in the days when an old Hammer was Saturday’s post-pub viewing of choice, this humble horror movie actually represents something of a last hurrah for a much loved genre.
It was released at a time when most Hammers were unrecognisable from the Gothic origins of Curse of Frankenstein (1957). The studio was dabbling in (lame) comedy and (rather good) thrillers. All the horror output seemed to consist of was the sexed-up Karnstein trilogy and Big Chris’s Dracula travails transplanted to groovy '70s London. So the Curse trio of Hinds/Fisher/Cushing were going back to basics with a Frankenstein set in a 19th century lunatic asylum. Dear Lord, there was even less sex in this one than a '50s Hammer. So was it any good? Well, up to a point, yes.
The recently-bereaved Cushing might not look too chipper but he’s still in fine form in the role he created and even manages a bit of Van Helsing-esque physical heroics, while Shane Briant is disturbingly good as the handsome yet appropriately-odd Frankenstein acolyte. Madeline Smith doesn’t get to do too much except stand around looking demure (this reviewer will watch anything with Madeline Smith in it, nevertheless) but there’s even a cameo from Patrick Troughton as an alcoholic grave robber in the cracking cemetery opening. And while we’re on the subject of stock Hammer-types, both the asylum staff and inmates are excellent with a good dose of dark humour (even if it’s all a bit politically incorrect by today’s standards). But it’s not perfect Hammer.
There are those of us who reckon the whole Frankenstein story is, frankly, a bit limited and the twists here (brain of a genius; hands of a craftsman; body of a psychopath, in case you’re wondering) had all been done before. Furthermore, the traditionally minuscule Hammer budget shows with an unrecognisable Dave Prowse in a rubber suit as the rubbish monster. Why did he keep getting these weird gigs? The body parts and “Kensington Gore” look good (along with the inexplicable-yet-ever-present spinning-wheel thing in the lab) but the long shots of the asylum use a cardboard model that looks like it was made by the kids in year 3. That wasn’t like Hammer; they were always good at hiding the cheapness.
But on balance, it’s engaging, fun and it really got the atmosphere of classic Hammer at a time when that was often sadly absent. In the end, you really have to love it despite the total absence of Michael Ripper who, one assumes, was unwell that day.
Extras: Taking Over The Asylum – The Making Of Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell / Charming Evil – Terence Fisher at Hammer / Audio commentary by Shane Briant and Madeline Smith, moderated by Marcus Hearn / Animated stills gallery