In this 1974 Hammer film production Peter Cushing and David Prowse star as master and monster when Baron Frankenstein creates artificial life in an insane asylum.
Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell
Directors: Terrence Fisher
Producers: Roy Skeggs
Writers: John Elder
Features: Widescreen Version Enhanced For 16:9 TVs, Commentary By Actress Madeline Smith, Actor David Prowse And Film Historian Jonathan Sethcott, Dolby Digital, English Mono And English Subtitles.
Baron Frankenstein...Peter Cushing
Simon Helder...Shane Briant
Adolf Klauss...John Stratton
The Monster...David Prowse
"Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell" is the type of horror film not made anymore. It was a film made by the Hammer studios of England that had its' glory days from the late fifties to the start of the seventies. Back in the fifties when the American horror film was using mutated monsters created from atomic radiation or space aliens, Hammer studios started a resurgence of the old style forgotten monsters from the thirties. Christopher Lee almost single handedly helped lead this comeback with his portrayal of Dracula which attained a status to that of Bela Lugosi. In these vampire films, Dracula was constantly hounded by his arch nemesis usually played by Peter Cushing. They were a team not unlike a warped Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson except they were blood enemies. Each actor did films on their own and "Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell" is one that Peter Cushing did starring as Baron Frankenstein. Many people equate the monster with the Frankenstein name, but Frankenstein was the creator not the monster. In this film, David Prowse who later went on to fame as Darth Vader of "Star Wars" fame is the monster underneath makeup. This was Prowse's second time to portray the monster of Frankenstein, his first was in "The Horror Of Frankenstein." Later in "Star Wars" Cushing and Prowse would be reunited, but most people are unaware of their earlier teamup for the Hammer studios.
This movie starts out with a man stealing a body from a grave and getting caught by a constable. The man gives up the name and address of the person for whom he procures the bodies, a surgeon named Simon Helder(Shane Briant). Arriving at Helder's residence, the constable examines a laboratory containing human parts and arrests young Helder. In court Helder is sentenced to five years in an asylum for the criminally insane; the crime being the practice of sorcery. This is the same asylum that years before a Baron Frankenstein had been sentenced. Once he is inside, Helder discovers that it is really Baron Frankenstein under the assumed name of Dr. Victor who is in charge using the head administrator, Adolf Klauss(John Stratton) as a titular puppet. Impressed with young Helder's knowledge of medicine, Dr. Victor makes him his assistant. Up to this moment Dr. Victor had only the nonmedical assistance of Angel(Madeline Smith) a mute girl from the asylum. Though Baron Frankenstein has confined his life to the asylum, Helder soon realizes that the doctor is still trying to create life using the inmates as his source for body parts.
If anything a Hammer film had a gothic atmosphere. Stone walls usually of a dark castle filled many Hammer movies. Strange misshapen creatures would inhabit whatever terrain the movie was set. The common people would look rugged and the type to have missing teeth. The distance between the gentry and the peasant reflected the times. Even in the asylum Baron Frankenstein and Simon Helder ascended to the top with the administration and the inmates below. It was this distance from their lessers that could allow men like these to gather human specimens with no pangs of guilt. Perhaps because he is young and was not born into rank unlike Baron Frankenstein, Helder still has a semblance of conscience. Maybe it is his love for Angel that Helder is eventually able to push himself away from the evil of Frankenstein because by the end of the movie Helder comes to the conclusion that he and the doctor are not that similar after all.
Peter Cushing as Baron Frankenstein was especially gaunt when he filmed this movie. Cushing's wife, Helen, had recently died and he did not handle her passing very well. He had lost a great amount of weight and was never a large man to start. This gauntness gave the appearance of Baron Frankenstein a death like pallor that only enhanced his small frame's menace. His eyes looked much larger, but he still carried himself with a grace and haughtiness that was Peter Cushing's trademark.
The monster itself, did not have a look that would inspire terror today. In this seventies time period, the Hammer studio was in financial disarray. The films they produced were no longer a hot commodity. Hammer movies had been supplanted by more sophisticated films like "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Exorcist." Hammer's style of film was over, yet they still kept making the same product. The budget for later films was reduced and so David Prowse's monster looked bulky and not fluid moving. This monster had an extreme amount of hair which was used to conceal seams in the costume. Still, Prowse's eyes were still able to do a remarkable job underneath the layers of makeup.
Despite a few letdowns such as the quickness of the monster's demise, this film is one of Hammer's better made pictures. Terrence Fisher, was a veteran Hammer director and knew how to get the best out of his cast and budget. The acting by Cushing and Briant make this film. Each appears to be a clone of the other, yet each still maintains those certain differences that make them unique. In the audio commentary with Jonathan Sethcott; David Prowse and Madeline Smith talk about how Shane Briant was being groomed by the Studio to be the next Peter Cushing. Briant had a three picture deal with Hammer, but maybe because of Hammer's failing fortunes Briant never took the throne. The commentators remark how Shane Briant was a 'pretty boy' with a David Bowie androgynous look. Then it is mentioned that Briant is now a very successful novelist in Australia.
David Prowse remarks in the commentary how with his six foot seven inches muscular frame he had gone down to Hammer Films in 1966 and tried to become an actor, but was shunted away. As it worked out the Studio came to him three years later with a job offer. Prowse tells how on the "Star Wars" set, Peter Cushing would wear house slippers because he found the boots he was supposed to be wearing uncomfortable. Then both actors talk about how Cushing would wear white gloves when he took a cigarette break so as not to stain his hands with nicotine.
In this audio commentary the speakers don't pay too much attention to what is going on in "Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell." Rather, they treat this as a sort of class reunion and talk about the joys and tribulations of acting and their peers. I found this conversation fascinating. It was like being able to listen in on gossip about other British stars. They talk about the actor Ian Hendry who wasn't in this film as being a total drunk. Then they gossip abut Bernard Lee('M' in the early James Bond films) who took a very small part as an asylum inmate because he had financial problems. Madeline Smith talks about being required to do nudity(though there is none in this movie) for the Hammer studios that would be used for foreign editions of their movies. She adds if you didn't take your clothes off you didn't work. The actors mention that when this movie was released in the United States it was double billed with another Hammer film, "Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter."
Though the commentary barely stuck to the film I would have it no other way. These actors appeared very free with their gossip of things that occured in that era, at and around Hammer Productions.
The DVD of "Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell" has a very sharp picture. I was worried that Paramount would just throw this movie out into the clutter of the DVD market hoping to make a quick buck with no attention to production values. Though the DVD has no extras other than the commentary, I am very happy with the clarity of the picture. The sound is Dolby Digital mono and sounded great.
This DVD Of "Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell" might seem outdated by today's movies, but I think it retains what made the Hammer studios a giant in their day. If you are curious about the horror movies of the sixties and seventies this is an excellent starting tool.