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Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell
Release Date(s)1973 (August 27, 2013)
Studio(s)Hammer Films/Paramount (Warner Archive)
More often than not, by the time a movie series gets around to its sixth sequel, the old creative gas tank is running on fumes. This seems to be particularly true of horror, which tends to recycle the same basic story over and over. So it’s a little surprising that Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, Hammer Films’ seventh and final entry in their long-running Frankenstein series, is by no means the worst film of the bunch. In fact, it’s pretty darn good.
Shane Briant plays Simon Helder, a young disciple of Baron Frankenstein replicating both his experiments and his air of intellectual superiority over everyone else in the world. When his work is discovered by the police, Helder is sentenced to five years in an insane asylum. As it happens, the asylum’s chief surgeon is none other than Frankenstein himself (played once again by Peter Cushing). Frankenstein has blackmailed the corrupt asylum director (John Stratton), faked his death and assumed the position under the name Dr. Victor. He takes young Helder for an assistant, using inmates to stitch together a new creature that inexplicably looks a bit like a troglodyte and is played sympathetically by David Prowse. Yes, it’s the first on-screen teaming of Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader.
The premise of putting Frankenstein in charge of an asylum is a great one and if the movie had run a bit further with that idea, this might have been one of the best entries in the series. Even if it doesn’t live up to its potential, this is still a lot of fun. Cushing still has what it takes and reminds us why his Frankenstein remains one of the best portrayals of the character. Briant is also quite good and I’m surprised he didn’t turn up in more Hammer films. He also appeared in Demons of the Mind and Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter before moving to Australia. The movie has some gory gallows humor, such as when Cushing accidentally kicks a spare brain across the floor, and Prowse’s monster is one of the more interesting creatures in the series. The movie is saddled with a low budget and some pacing issues in its saggy middle section. Even with these limitations, it’s still an entertaining, respectable entry in the series.
Paramount’s 2003 DVD has recently been reissued by Warner Archive with no changes or upgrades. As with that disc, this is still the edited, R-rated American release missing several minutes of gory footage from the international version. That’s hardly a surprise but it’s still disappointing. Video quality is fine if not spectacular, with some wear and tear on the print but nothing too distracting, and the mono audio does its job. The disc includes a well-done audio commentary by actors Madeline Smith and David Prowse with historian Jonathan Sothcott. It’s a good listen and worth the time for Hammer fans, whether or not you like this particular movie.
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell marked the end of an era for Hammer Films. It was their last Frankenstein movie, their last film from longtime director Terence Fisher, and Cushing’s final appearance in one of his most iconic roles. And while the movie isn’t a home run, it’s nice to see that they at least went out swinging.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke
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