Saturday, October 15, 2011


This is certainly one of the best Hammer horror films, thanks to a better-than-average script, good acting, and some nicely unsettling shock scenes. It opens with one of those shocks: a doctor gets out of a carriage and walks up to his office door where a man in hiding uses a scythe to cut his head off, though all we see is gobs of bright red blood spatter against the doctor's door sign. Of course, Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) is behind the death. He is trying to transplant brains into dead bodies, but when a burglar breaks into his lab and discovers the above-mentioned head and a green (and naked) dead man in a large vat of preservative, the cops are on the scene. Frankenstein gets out of Dodge (or whatever Mittel-European town he was in), finds another town to terrorize, and blackmails Karl, a young medical student who has been dealing cocaine on the side to supplement his income, and his girlfriend Anna into letting him take over their boarding house for his experiments. His goal: to take the brain out of his once-brilliant colleague Dr. Brandt (who is currently in an asylum) and put it in a different body—he thinks that Brandt's insanity is due to physical pressure on the brain, and once it's in someone else's head, he'll be sane and can help Frankenstein with his work. Brandt's brain is successfully transplanted into Dr. Richter's body, but Brandt's wife stumbles into the middle of things, and though Brandt/Richter is no longer insane, things get emotionally complicated for him. By the fiery finale, almost the entire cast is dead, a gloomier-than-usual ending for the Hammer studio.

The problem with some Hammer films is not enough plot; here, there is almost too much, but it's nice for a change to have characters we care about. It's also interesting to have Frankenstein be an unambiguous bad guy. Cushing does a nice job as an arrogant bastard who doesn't care a whit about anyone or anything else except his own ends. Most startlingly, he rapes Anna (Veronica Carlson) in a scene which seems to exist only for exploitation. Simon Ward (who later played Winston Churchill in YOUNG WINSTON) is OK but rather emotionless as Karl, but along with Cushing, acting honors go to Freddie Jones (at left) as Brandt/Richter; the subplot involving his wife has real emotional power, something rare in a Hammer film. There is lots of blood and gore (for the late 60s) and several good setpieces, including the burglar in the lab at the beginning, the dead body of Brandt bursting out of the ground during a water pipe break, and the destruction at the end. It doesn't have much that comes directly from the Frankenstein mythos, but it's still a grand Hammer horror. [Streaming]

No comments: