Frankenstein Must Be Annoyed

Well, he’s forever losing his patients (sorry).

This one DOES have a nice singalong theme tune by James Bernard.

So, some clever people on the IMDb have worked out that maybe the best way to make sense of the Hammer FRANKENSTEINs, leaving aside HORROR OF, which substitutes Ralph Bates for Cushing (how do we feel about this? I’d say it’s an interesting alternative in theory, in keeping with the Baron’s history of sexual ambivalence, beginning with Colin Clive. I’m renting HORROR, because I quite enjoyed FEAR IN THE NIGHT, which HORROR helmer Jimmy Sangster also directed). According  to Elsa4077  you need to swap 1967’s FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN with 1969’s FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED, and regard EVIL OF as a dream. This allows the firey climax of DESTROYED to serve as the missing explanation for the Baron’s burned hands in CREATED WOMAN. It’s a pretty good theory, especially since Cushing’s hands are fine throughout DESTROYED, but damaged again in FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL, the last in the series. which makes no sense if the stories run in the order they were shot in.

It doesn’t explain what became of “Dr. Franck’s” Harley Street practice or his partnership with Francis Matthews, though. I propose an exercise in fan fiction, dealing with the London-centric mad science that brings about Dr. Hans Kleve’s death, amid welters of Kensington gore, and leads to the Baron fleeing back to the continent. Let’s call it FRANKENSTEIN HAS RISEN FROM BELGRAVIA, and have the London experiments result in the mysterious figure known as Spring-Heeled Jack. Douglas Noble, AKA Stripforme, suggests that the Baron could end up as Jack the Ripper, but he CAN’T, silly! We all know that Jack the Ripper was really Martine Beswick in DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE.

We first meet the Baron this time in a natty spats and latex monster mask combo (his cheek bones still show through, says Fiona), decapitating a doctor in order to supply his latest creation with a suitably educated brain. An intruding burglar leads to the destruction of this monster-to-be, and the discovery of the Baron’s secret lair. Plus an impressively nasty moment when, fighting with the baron, the burglar is knocked over and finds himself touching the severed head. Jeepers!

In his memoir, Rungs on a Ladder, production manager Christopher Neame (son of Ronald) reports that the actor playing the burglar was so distressed by the rushes, he was found pacing a corridor clutching his head to ensure it was still attached.

This opening, and the rest of the film, is considerably more energetic than the previous entries in the series, with series regular cameraman Arthur Grant using wider lenses, getting in closer, and moving the camera sharply in nearly every shot. Terence Fisher’s increased liveliness behind the lens is all the more remarkable considering he was walking with the aid of a stick after recently been seriously injured after drunkenly wandering into traffic.

Next we meet incompetent Inspector Thorley Walters, playing a quite different kind of idiot from his kindly assistant in CREATED WOMAN — officious, and in a perpetual state of umbrage. He’s a bit like Raymond Walburn’s apoplectic authority figures in Preston Sturges’ films. Assisted by long-suffering police doctor Geoffrey Bayldon (another veteran of these things) Walters is lots of fun, although the investigative part of the film fails to really catch up with the rest of the narrative. But the comic dialogue is surprisingly sharp (screenwriter Bert Batt was an A.D. who had never written a film before) and the acting by everybody is just DELIGHTFUL: Robert Gillespie as the dry-witted mortuary man — “I last saw him on the day I slid him into the drawer,” — Allan Surtees as the sergeant, reporting as if it were a mere formality, “His head’s been cut off.” Priceless.

The Geoffrey and Thorley Comedy Show.

Needing a new place to set up shop, Baron F moves into Veronica Carlson’s lodging house. I suggested last time that having used up the pseudonyms “Stein” and “Franck”, he would have to start calling himself “Dr. En”, and he almost does — he’s “Dr. Fenner” now. Mad genius that he is, he’s soon blackmailing Veronica and her doctor boyfriend, Simon Ward, who’s been dealing coke on the side to support Carlson’s ailing mother (another plot thread that goes nowhere, but let it pass). This strand of the story shows Frankenstein at his most unsympathetic (and he’s not exactly the most warm-hearted fellow in the other films), forcing Carlson to make him endless cups of coffee, then raping her. Then getting her to make more coffee, which I thought was going a bit far.

The controversial rape was added in at the behest of the distributor, supposedly, and everybody was compelled to go through with it even though subsequent scenes had already been shot. It’s a pretty appalling insight into British cinema circa 1969 that a gratuitous rape scene was considered a way to bolster the entertainment value and commercial appeal of an already pretty gory horror film. Terence Fisher shot the scene under protest, and both Cushing and Carlson found the experience mortifying. Cushing, ever the pro, throws himself into it with gusto, and interestingly the sequence is the most dynamic in the film, with a powerful subjective camera track in on Cushing ominously offering the door-key to Carlson, and then a flurry of violent handheld camera as he wrestles her on the bed. Now, Fisher HATED handheld photography: “The camera never stops moving, and the audience quite rightly wonders why,” and he uses it just once elsewhere in this film, so there’s a suggestion that it’s use here was a gesture of contempt for the offensive material. But it works, making the scene properly ugly, rather than the titillation the distributor had wanted.

There’s a serious question about whether this scene (damnit, these are SERIOUS FILMS!), tacked on late in the day, damages the Baron as a character. We know from his liaison with the French maid in CURSE that he’s not solely dedicated to his work. He’s a lusty kind of fellow (as was Cushing). But he’d always behaved like a gentleman, of sorts. If we take the films to chart a descent into depravity, this scene shows the Baron having become even more heartless than ever, and it’s in keeping with his committing a gratuitous murder later on, just because his plans have been thwarted. For all his Man Of Science act, the Baron is a rather headstrong, emotion-driven guy. And also evil as fuck.

The plan this time is to abduct Frankenstein’s crazy partner, Dr. Brandt (the skin care specialist?) from the asylum where Simon Ward works, and cure his madness with a groundbreaking trepanning procedure. But the mad scientist suffers a heart attack, and Cushing is forced to transplant his brain into the body of Freddie Jones, as you do. This film is very big on brain transplants, with everyone acting as if they’d never been done before (REVENGE is all about brain transplanting, with even Cushing joining in himself), but remembering the recent work of Christian Bernard transplanting the first human heart in 1967, it’s easy to see why this stuff was of special interest at the time.

Gurgle.

Freddie spends much of the movie in a comatose state, having his head drilled and milksyphoned into him, which is no way to win an Oscar, but then he wakes up and gives what Fiona suggests is THE BEST GUEST-STAR PERFORMANCE EVER IN A HAMMER FILM. Desperate to be reunited with his wife — the great Maxine Audley from PEEPING TOM — who believes him dead (she’s seen his old body) he escapes from the Baron’s HQ andclimbs in her window. What follows is a wooing-by-proxy scene, with Jones speaking from behind a screen, that practically echoes CYRANO DE BERGERAC, and is the certainly most emotional material in any of the Frankenstein films.

It turns out the Baron only brought Brandt back to life and sanity in order to get from him an important MacGuffin formula which is raised rather late in the proceedings and never explained, but at least it’s clear that Frankenstein is acting in the interests of science, not charity, which is consistent with his M.O. Cushing arrives at chez Brandt to get the formula, but the brain-transplanted Brandt is waiting for him…

Things then erupt in what I can only call a fiery denouement, expertly staged and cut (Fisher was a former editor who had a real mastery of building scenes from simple but effective blocking). It looks like it’s possibly be done with multiple cameras, a necessity considering the special effects involved, but it doesn’t rupture the carefully designed shooting style of the film. There’s a rhythmic quality to the slamming and opening of doors and hurling of lanterns, and Cushing’s work here, particularly stylish in longshot, reminds me of the reason Scorsese gave for his gang’s enthusiasm for this actor: “We admired the precision of his movements within the frame.” They must have had some great 42nd St cinephile discussions, those boys.

Freddie can sling a lantern with the best of them.

Well, a real, honest-to-God fiery denouement is exactly what one wants in a Frankenstein film, and they pull out all the stops here, throw them on the floor and burn them. The credits pop up as Freddie’s house goes up, just like at the end of APOCALYPSE NOW. The horror! It’s never explained exactly how the Baron escapes cremation to ride again, but at least this acts as a belated explanation for his singed mitts.

All in all, this seemed like both the most dynamic film in the series to date, as well as the best-written, with comedy relief brought in early enough so that it doesn’t jar, unlike in the Sangster scripts, and a reasonably solid structure and controlled pace, unlike those written by John Elder. If it doesn’t have the cerebral and metaphysical qualities of CREATED WOMAN, it benefits from keeping it’s brain on the subject at hand — demented surgical mayhem — and not being distracted with stuff about souls and force fields. A shame Bert Batt didn’t write more.

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18 Responses to “Frankenstein Must Be Annoyed”

  1. I’m really enjoying this series, despite having only seen one (1!) Hammer film (Dr. Jeckyll and Sister Hyde, on TV after a late night out with London friends). You’ve almost convinced me that Peter Cushing is a genius.

  2. The rape scene is indeed unusual. But the Baron is Evil Personified ! and therefore “capable of anything.” Consequently in such a context mere narrative progressional logic means little.

    He’s quite a Sadean figure in this and would not have been out of place in Pasolini’s Salo — that most extreme of horror films.

  3. In my defence – Hammer did return to the Ripper well, what, three times? Not only did Ms Beswick slip out of her customary furs to slice up the night a bit in Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde, but there was Hands of the Ripper from the same year, and Room to Let way back in 1950. I’m almost certain that there was a Ripper versus Dracula film planned, though for the life of me I can’t remember where I might have heard about that one.

    I still think Jack the Ripper would make a lovely fit with Frankenstein, though what I really want to see is the baron chased further northward after his London adventure. I’m imagining him clattering down the Grassmarket with Burke and Hare at his heels – now there’s a movie to be made! “My name was Frankenstein… yes. But you can call me Doctor Knox!”

  4. Right. (Rolls up sleeves)
    Levi: Cushing is an amazing actor. Despite feeling decidely squeamish about the rape scene, he just goes at it with grim vigour, and is truly horrifying. He makes no apologies for Frankenstein’s excesses, but convinces totally as a driven man devoted to science above all.
    His work in the BBC 1984 (watchable on YouTube) shows the other side of his immense range.
    David E: What’s most surprising is the Baron committing a crime that has nothing to do with the advancement of his experiments. Even his arranging the maid’s death in the first film can be seen as him protecting himself so he can carry on his work.
    Douglas: You’re right of course about the other Ripper films. Hands is a particularly slick cod-Freudian take on the subject. The ending of Revenge is indeed a shocker, and should have been explicitly forbidden by standard crime-must-not-pay morality in the censorship of films at that time. Bava’s Black Sabbath has been cited as the first horror with an unhappy ending (in fact, three), but this predates it, and even more unusually, it’s presented as a HAPPY ending in which evil wins! This is pretty out-of-keeping with standard Hammer practice. Cushing and Lee liked to defend the films as morality plays, but this doesn’t seem to apply here. Sadean indeed.

  5. Wait a minute – no mention of the body in the garden? The hideously flapping arm in the burst water main was the highlight of the movie for me, and genuinely horrifying. I think this one has the greatest moments of any of the Frankenstein films, though I confess that it’s EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN that remains my favourite, despite the shoddy monster.

    Oh, and one other thing – this is the only one of the Fisher’s where the title can conceivably be aligned with the contents of the film. He must be destroyed in this one. Fair enough.

  6. Yes the flapping arm with the water main break is quite fetching. And yes there’s no “reason” for that particular crime of the Baron’s. But by now he’s (Victor Spinetti voice) Dare I say it? (end Victor Spinetti voice) Beyond Good and Evil.

    Well at least that’s what he’d say of you were have a nice chat and a cuppa with him.

    His corruption of Simon Ward is most enjoyable — Ward having one of those faces that was Born To Be Corrupted. And in this the Baron resembles Highsmith’s Ripley (in the later books, not The Talented Mr.) getting his jollies out of getting some “ordinary” soul to do his dirty work.

    And yes the fiery finale is a ripping good show on the part of all Hammer hands.

    As for the Ripper and its progeny don’t forget Straight On Til Morning with Shane Briant and “Tush.”

  7. Christoph Huber Says:

    Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed remains a Fisher favorite, it certainly advances the dark myth of the doctor furthest; actually it makes for a great downside to his masterpiece The Devil Rides Out (easy fever dream double feature?). He sure was on a roll in ’68/69.

  8. Once upon a time, back when I was a Youth Waiting To Be Corrupted, I owned a British paperback containing “novelizations” of five Hammer horrors. At least one of which was a Frankenstein story (add italics) narrated by the Baron (end italics). The Baron was a rotter, and singularly unapologetic about his rip ‘n’ plunder deeds.

    (I read such things when I wasn’t looking at Famous Monsters of Filmland.)

    This would be a fairly trivial fact, *except* … I believe that such Hammer-connected books were reasonably popular as a source of saucy thrills. They could be said to reinforce the notion of Baron Frankenstein (or whatever he’s called this week) as a Sadean figure. They also might’ve been a factor contributing to audience expectations.

    I certainly enjoyed it all. Then again, I also watched things like George Blair’s “The Hypnotic Eye” without a qualm in evidence …

  9. Yes, I should have mentioned the flapping arm. It’s great, but over too soon, that bit. Some Torn Curtain style overextension would have been good. And Veronica shows superhuman strength, hauling the chubby Brandt out of the earth like a carrot. Fiona says that people DO show superhuman strength in moments of crisis, but then how could the Baron overpower her? Perhaps he was having a crisis too and they cancelled each other out.
    The hand bit reminds me strongly of Sjostrom’s The Wind, and the body that comes back.
    The title totally makes sense, and they celebrate it with a singalong theme.
    Me: “Simon Ward hasn’t quite grown into that face yet, has he?”
    Fee: “Or that hair.”
    Me: “Well, WHO COULD?”
    Straight On is lined up for viewing SOON. And Shane Briant will be popping up tomorrow, of course. I seem to have sourced a little-known Briant, Dan Curtis’ Dorian Gray…
    Must tell you about Fiona’s Devil Rides Out mushroom experience sometime.
    The novelisations sound fascinating, I’ve never seen one. I’m still searching for a ghastly horror comic I glimpsed as a kid, in which the Baron has been reduced to a severed head in a hatbox, but still alive. The evil Pretorius type who has him in his grasp “suspects” that the Baron may have given himself some of his creation’s immortality. I remember the head getting a cleaver through it, but remaining, horribly, alive…

  10. Christoph Huber Says:

    Devil Rides Out on mushrooms? They should charge for that!

  11. I’m not sure it’s a very good idea. When Christopher Lee yelled “Don’t look at his eyes!” Fiona kind of freaked out, inside. “What’s wrong with his eyes?” she thought, frantically. The other main effect of the shrooms was they made the plot utterly incomprehensible.

  12. Have Must Be Destroyed and Monster From Hell ever played on British television? I keep waiting for them to be shown like the others but they haven’t turned up in the schedules for the last decade and a half at least.

  13. I’m certain they have been on more recently than you suggest, since that’s how I saw them last. But it’s certainly been a while. Thankfully, both are available to buy or rent now, in good quality DVDs.
    Having now watched all five Fishers, I heartily recommend getting the set and watching them in fairly quick succession (with Destroyed and Created swapped around).

  14. You are probably right, I haven’t been following satellite channels until recently but in terms of the ‘big five’ I’ve got screenings as follows:

    The Curse of Frankenstein shown in 1992 and 20.12.1995 on BBC1

    The Revenge of Frankenstein on 15.11.1996 and 10.7.1998 on C4, then 26.7.1999, 31.12.2000 and 11.5.2001 on C5.

    The Evil of Frakenstein – not shown on terrestrial since at least 1994

    Frankenstein Created Woman on 13.6.1997, 11.6.1999, 28.7.2001 and 29.10.2003 on C4.

    Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed – not shown on terrestrial since at least 1994

    The Horror Of Frankenstein on 26.11.1997, 17.2.2000, 12.1.2001, 29.3.2002 and 30.8.2003 on ITV Granada.

    Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell – not shown on terrestrial since at least 1994

    Just had the thought that maybe the other two Frankenstein films were shown on other ITV regions? Either way The Horror Of Frankenstein seems to be the most popular in terms of TV screenings in the last decade!

  15. The other regions’ film screenings don’t vary as much as they did in my youth, but it’s possible they screened in Scotland. Or maybe I saw the films on Sky.

    As a kid I would tune my b&w portable bedroom TV to pick up a fuzzy signal from Grampian TV, often toggling between that and STV if there were two good horror films on.

    Larkin and Kingsley Amis would trade letters about regional variations in programming, particularly with regard to Hammer film screenings. “We’re starved of tits and fangs up here,” Larkin would whinge.

  16. Although I’m logged in as dcairns I am in fact fwatson. After I failed to make him coffee as he requested the good doctor killed me then transplanted my brain into David’s body. (I’ve attempted to suck my own appendage but no joy so far) Anyway, here is the full story behind The Devil Rides Out on shrooms.

    I was living in Aberdeen in the mid to late 80’s and for some reason this misbegotten city was one of the first in the country to get cable tv. I went round to a friend’s one Sat and a magic mushrooms soiree was in full swing. Since I’d never had them before, I was given a very small amount. I tried to instigate conversation with several people, but was unable to as they were all off their faces in their own little worlds.

    Bored, I switched on the TV and was confronted with The Terminator. I watched it for half an hour then realised I couldn’t understand what was going on. I couldn’t actually put the content of the scenes together to make any sense. Then I made the grievous error of switiching to another channel. The Devil Rides Out appeared at the scene where the beturbanned, floating fellow arrives. “Don’t Look in his eyes!” growled Lee, and I was suddenly gripped by terror. “My God, he’s right!” I thought. “He’s the chubby, hovering embodiment of all evil! Worse still, I’m STILL looking into his eyes!”

    It took hours for me to return to normal. (I use the word ‘normal’ advisedly)

  17. Christoph Huber Says:

    Very funny. I sympathize. Shrooms and films make for strange experiences. I remember being in awe at the complexities and unexpected reversals of the late Joe Pevney’s utterly straightforward cold-war submarine yarn Torpedo Run!. Of course I was probably soothed since it had that chubby beacon of reliability, Ernest Borgnine, instead of the embodiment of evil.

  18. Yes, but had you seen Robert Fuest’s The Devil’s Rain (which makes little sense even viewed straight), in which Borgnine sprouts horns and essays a satanic laugh, it might have been a very different story. It turns out to be THE ROLE HE WAS BORN TO PLAY.

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