Friday, June 1, 2018

The Great Hammer-Amicus Blogathon: FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED

This is my contribution to The Great Hammer-Amicus Blogathon.

FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969) was the fifth film in the Hammer Frankenstein series. In the groundbreaking THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1956), Peter Cushing first portrayed the Baron as a Byronic anti-hero who was willing to do everything including murder to further his scientific experiments. THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN was a direct sequel to CURSE, with the same director (Terence Fisher), same writer (Jimmy Sangster), and the same leading man, as Cushing's Baron became the main focus of the series, instead of any monsters he might have created. THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1963) was something of a reboot, as the Baron's more vicious tendencies were tamped down a bit, and Freddie Francis took over as director. FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1967) saw the very welcome return of Terence Fisher, while the Baron was still more misanthropic than murderous.

The series took a very dark turn with FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED. It's as if after years of failed experiments, bungling assistants, misunderstanding villagers, and just plain bad luck, the Baron decided to go totally rogue. The movie begins with the Baron (in what may be Peter Cushing's best performance in a Hammer film) literally chopping a poor doctor's head off in the street. The Baron is trying to perfect a "brain-freezing" process this time around, but he has to go on the run again after his secret laboratory location is broken into by a prowler. The Baron, under an alias, rents a room at a boarding house run by the young and beautiful Anna Spengler (Veronica Carlson). Anna's fiancée Karl (Simon Ward) just so happens to work as a doctor at the same asylum where a Dr. Brandt is incarcerated as a patient--the same Brandt who found the secret to the brain-freezing process that the Baron is desperately seeking.

The Baron finds out that Karl has been smuggling cocaine out of the asylum, in order to sell on the black market so to raise funds to take care of Anna's mother. Frankenstein uses this information to blackmail Karl and Anna to help him kidnap Dr. Brandt. The Baron wants to operate on Brandt to cure his insanity so he can gain access to the man's medical secrets. Brandt suffers a heart attack during the kidnapping, so the Baron transplants his brain into the body of another esteemed doctor named Richter. The "new" Brandt wakes up in his new body and immediately plots revenge against Frankenstein, leading to a fiery climax.

FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED is nowhere near being a cheesy monster flick. It's a grippingly effective adult Gothic thriller, expertly directed by Terence Fisher. The Baron truly is the monster this time around. His statements about how his experiments are meant to benefit humanity ring rather hollow here. In this entry the Baron comes off as the ultimate elitist. He uses everyone he comes into contact with (that is, when he's not killing them or cutting them open). Nattily attired, and icily correct in manner and speech, the Baron acts as if he's better than everyone else, because he thinks he really is. Despite his excuses that he's trying to help humanity, the Baron cares nothing about the individuals that make up that humanity. It's Cushing at his most coldly calculating, and the actor's magnetic vitality prevents the character from being unwatchable.

One of the many famous scenes in the film has the Baron (still using his alias) engaging in a debate about progress with the other boarders in Anna's house. The scene provides an all-time Cushing moment ("Your lapels are rather greasy") but it also shows how arrogant the Baron is--why would he go out of his way to attract suspicion from these noisy men? Frankenstein is so obsessed with his experiments it's as if the outside world doesn't even exist for him. His lack of humanity does him in at the end, just like it does in all of his Hammer adventures.

How the Baron treats Karl and Anna is very telling. In all of the Hammer Frankenstein films the Baron has a high-handed way about him, but here he seems to particularly relish having the young couple under his thumb. (Is it because the Baron is jealous over the fact that Karl and Anna truly love one another, and he himself has never known this?) Karl falls even further under the Baron's thrall after he kills a night watchman. The young doctor tries to get the Baron to let Anna go, but Frankenstein's dismissive reply to that is, "I need her to make coffee". (He apparently also needs her for other things as well--I'll get to that in a moment.)

Usually if there is a young romantic couple in a Hammer horror film, they suffer from very little character development. Here Simon Ward and Veronica Carlson, despite having very little movie acting experience, make Karl and Anna engaging and sympathetic. Veronica in particular is not just a typical decorative Hammer girl--her naturally appealing manner makes the viewer care and worry about her plight. I think this is by far Veronica Carlson's best performance in a too-brief film career that gave her very little opportunities to show her talent. Anna Spengler goes through the ringer here, most memorably in a scene where, after Dr. Brandt's body has been buried in her garden, the water pipes burst and the unfortunate young woman has to pull the body out and hide it while getting drenched. Anna then emotionally breaks down in front of a neighbor, and it is one of the most harrowing things in the film because it is all too real. Even more chilling is a supposedly simple scene of Anna sitting in her once cheerful parlor while the Baron and Karl are performing the brain transplant below. One can't help but be moved as this beautiful, kindly young woman realizes that her life is now in ruins.

And now it is time to discuss the rape scene.

I'm sure even the most casual Hammer fans know about the legend of the FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED rape scene. The story goes that near the very end of shooting, Hammer executives demanded a rape scene be inserted involving the Baron and Anna, in order to supposedly sex up the film. The scene was shot against the wishes of Terence Fisher, Peter Cushing, and Veronica Carlson.

For several years, the scene was not included when the movie was shown on American TV. I first saw FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED on "Son of Svengoolie" back in the 1980s, and it wasn't until sometime in the 1990s that I saw the movie with the rape scene intact. Was the scene all that vitally important? In my opinion, no. The scene crops up about halfway through the story, and it is never referred to again during the rest of the film. Veronica Carlson, to this day, believes the scene hurt her performance, because the scenes involving Anna after the rape sequence had already been filmed. Veronica was also distressed by the fact that it was Peter Cushing who was supposed to be attacking her, since she had so much respect and admiration for the man. I must admit that even though I am not a fan of the sequence, Terence Fisher did not use it for titillation, and he didn't go through the motions while directing it--he staged it in a suspenseful and brutally impactful manner.

I have to digress here a moment and go into a bit of personal history. I have met Veronica Carlson a number of times, and I got to know her even better a few months ago during the filming of Joshua Kennedy's HOUSE OF THE GORGON, in which she plays a leading role. I reveal this not to brag, but to explain that due to my association with Veronica, it is very hard for me to see the things that she goes through in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED--especially the rape sequence. The sequence does have its defenders--there are those that feel the sequence merely reinforces how evil the Baron has truly become. It is my belief that the movie didn't really need it, and yes, I have a personal bias toward that opinion.

One of the most famous Hammer publicity stills of all time was taken for FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED--and my copy is autographed

With or without the rape sequence, FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED is one of the best Hammer films ever made. Terence Fisher was a master of tightly edited notable sequences, and there's plenty of them to be found here, such as the opening fight between the Baron and the prowler, the scene where the Baron and Karl kidnap Dr. Brandt from the asylum (enlivened by a patient who starts to scream when she thinks she sees spiders), the already-mentioned water pipe break sequence, and the climax, where Brandt-in-Richter's body uses his former home to set a fiery trap for Frankenstein. 

Freddie Jones as the "new" Brandt deserves considerable mention, since he gives one of the best supporting performances in any Hammer film. Jones' reactions as Brandt begins to realize his situation, and starts to understand what has happened to him, are superb. He's not a raging monster-he's a pathetic creature who has undergone the full "benefits" of Frankenstein's treatment. Brandt's attempts at trying to communicate with his wife (Maxine Audley)--a woman who cannot understand why a bizarre-looking man she does not recognize insists on calling himself her husband--are infinitely touching. (Maxine Audley deserves plenty of kudos as well.)

There are many other things that make FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED a classic--the doom-laden music score by James Bernard, the fine production design by Bernard Robinson, and the wonderful costumes. These above-average elements were usually a given in a Hammer film, but that wouldn't be the case as the company moved into the Seventies.

Some have even gone so far to say that FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED was the last truly great Hammer horror film. It is one of the company's best overall productions--but it is also one of the company's most bleakest films. The Baron's attempts to serve humanity only result in pain, agony, death, and destruction. Nothing is gained, nothing is accomplished--a sense of waste and sadness pervades throughout. It is one of the most truly horrifying English Gothics.

My original 1969 U.S. poster for FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED


  1. Thank you for this wonderful review and adding it to our blogathon. Its a shame that they felt the need to sex up this movie, if it didn't add anything to the film and it is hard to see Cushing in this kind of scene. Thanks again for joining us!

  2. Great post! This to me is Hammer at the height of their power. Your right, very very dark.

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. It's clear that you have a strong affinity for this film, and it was interesting to read your take on the infamous scene in question. Thanks for being a part of this blogathon!

  4. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is definitely one of the better films in the Frankenstein series. I do have to agree with you about the notorious rape scene. I do think it was entirely unnecessary and adds absolutely nothing to the film.