This was the last of Hammer’s cycle of Frankenstein films, and in this humble fat man’s opinion, it’s one of the best of the lot. It (wisely) ignores the events of Horror of Frankenstein and returns Peter Cushing to the role of the Baron, as he is now doing his experiments in an insane asylum, where he blackmails the head of the building for a terrible crime he committed in the past. When a young doctor, Simon (Shane Briant), arrested for ‘practicing sorcery’, is sent to that asylum, Frankenstein finds a perfect young man to help with the creation of a new monster, made up of the parts of the inmates in the asylum. With the help of young Sarah (Madeline Smith), they create a gorilla-like monstrosity, who is in pain for returning from death after suicide. Frankenstein believes he has finally succeeded, but soon the inevitable happens and the creature’s brain starts to rot, transforming him into a more feral monster.
This was the beginning of the end for Hammer. Not only was it the last of their Frankenstein films, but also the last to be directed by the master, Terence Fisher, who died soon after finishing the film. Still, he was able to go with a bang, as the film looks as good as any of the early classic Hammer films. Setting it in an insane asylum was a wise choice, as it gives us plenty of gothic imagery without being force-fed upon us. Even in the most contrived of scenes, such as the burial of the artist where Victor suddenly pops out of nowhere and slowly closes the casket lid, are handled very well. Acting wise, it’s pretty damn good. Peter Cushing is the main attraction, of course, bringing the class and talent to a role he was already very familiar with. Here, he is not as sadistic or evil as he was in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, but he’s not exactly a good guy either. He ‘causes’ the deaths of the inmates he needs body parts from, and seems to be more concerned with letting the Monster practice complex mathematics than giving it food. Speaking of the monster, it was played by David Prowse, the same man who would soon be playing Darth Vader in the first three Star Wars films. He is able to inject a lot of personality and sympathy to the creature, no small feat considering the costume is one of the worst in the history of Hammer, even worse than the bat creature used in Scars Of Dracula. On the other hand, Shane Briant is as dull as many English actors of the time (think David Hemmings), and Madeline Smith seems to be there just to be quiet and look hot. At least in The Vampire Lovers she had some good dialogue, even if her pale nude body was on display!
I don’t know if it was a big hit or not, but it couldn’t have been considering that Hammer would release only a few movies after this, like Captain Kronos, Twins of Evil and To The Devil A Daughter. These are all good movies, don’t get me wrong, but I can understand that the air was dead for the company, considering the more realistic and visceral territories that horror was now heading into. Still, the movies are classics and I watch them every year two or three times each. Don’t be fooled by the fact that this is the last in a long running series, since it ended with a lot of class.