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Hammer Studios' last gothic masterpiece,
This review is from: Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell [DVD]  (DVD)
Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell was not famed Hammer Studios' final film, but it in many ways represents the swan song of the premiere maker of vintage gothic films. Not only does the film play well even today, it has an incredible number of fascinating facts surrounding its production that makes it particularly notable. Consummate actor Peter Cushing and director Terence Fisher can be viewed as founding fathers of Hammer Studios, and this film marks a return to the spirit of the early days. It stands as the final entry in the famed Frankenstein series starring Peter Cushing as Dr. Frankenstein, and David Prowse makes an unprecedented second appearance as a Hammer monster. Some wonderful actors appear in even the smallest of roles, the overall look and feel of the film is wonderfully dark and serious, and the story is allowed to tell itself, foregoing sex appeal for violence and intellectual passion. Despite its almost ridiculously paltry budget, Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell truly shines as Hammer's last truly gothic motion picture.
Baron Frankenstein is dead; there's a death certificate to prove it, and he's buried in the yard of the insane asylum where he spent his last days. One young researcher sets out to fill his shoes, however, eventually being arrested for "sorcery" and consigned to the same mental institution as his idol. Simon Helder (Shane Briant) inquires about Dr. Frankenstein as soon as he arrives. The story of the Baron's death notwithstanding, he quickly recognizes the asylum's Dr. Victor as none other than Frankenstein himself. Assisted by the mute and ever so lovely Sarah (Madeline Smith), known as Angel among the inmates, the doctor has continued his work. He explains to young Dr. Helder how he managed to "kill" Frankenstein and get himself appointed the medical doctor in the asylum, and soon the ever-curious Helder is an active participant in the doctor's ongoing unconventional medical experiments. Rather than resurrect the dead, Frankenstein is now working on making a new man piece by piece based on an existing flawed creation. With the help of Helder's surgical skills, the men have soon given an animalistic misanthrope the hands of a craftsman and the mind of a genius, but of course the newly created monster seems less than overjoyed with his new life.
I am an unabashed fan of Peter Cushing; he was the ultimate gothic actor, a meticulous perfectionist who demanded the serious commitment of everyone surrounding him on whatever project he was working on. In Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell, he makes one of his most memorable entrances and delivers a sterling performance. At this particular time, Cushing was in deep mourning over the recent loss of his wife, and he is as grim and emaciated as you will ever see him. This makes his obviously whole-hearted commitment to this role all the more amazing. This sixth and final Hammer-produced Frankenstein film offers yet more proof that Peter Cushing is the greatest horror actor to ever live. Madeline Smith is just beautiful and delivers an amazing performance almost wholly devoid of spoken lines, and Shane Briant, looking quite James Spader-like, makes young Helder an admirable and deserving new underling of Dr. Frankenstein's. The monster is played wonderfully by David Prowse, the man who would later serve as the man behind the mask of Darth Vader; his costume isn't that impressive, but it works well given the budgetary constraints this movie operated under. Doctor Who fans will no doubt note the presence of Patrick Troughton as Helder's bodysnatching accomplice at the beginning of the film; Troughton would of course go on to become the second man to play Doctor Who on the famed BBC television series.
Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell is vintage Hammer horror, a really quite extraordinary achievement given the monetary and personal constraints the production faced. Terrence Fisher and Peter Cushing make an unbeatable combination, even when both men are laboring under heavy burdens of their own. The DVD comes with a commentary by actress Madeline Smith, actor David Prowse, and horror historian Jonathan Sothcott, and this commentary ranks among the best and most interesting I have ever heard. The trio expound upon all types of things, oftentimes going beyond the subject of the film itself to relate fascinating stories about their fellow performers and about the very history of Hammer Studios as well. It is hard to believe Madeline Smith could play a mute character so well because she is completely wound-up and utterly fascinating in the included commentary. All of this adds up to a film that all Hammer fans simply must own.