Under the Hammer Films banner, Peter Cushing reunited with director Terence Fisher for one more go around as the Baron after the studio had departed from the original story line to produce The Horror of Frankenstein with a completely different variation of the Mary Shelley theme starring Ralph Bates taking over duties as the Baron in 1970. This was Peter’s sixth appearance in his most famous role and Fisher’s fifth as director having only missed out on The Evil of Frankenstein in 1964.
For the final film of the series that began in 1957 with The Curse of Frankenstein, Peter’s Baron will appear at the seventeen minute mark when a young doctor is found guilty and sentenced to a local asylum for committing much the same crimes as the Baron had been found guilty of years ago. Sorcery and stealing bodies for spare limbs and dissection. The youngster is played by Shane Briant who finds himself in the presence of his hero when finally meeting Doctor Victor aka Baron Victor Frankenstein who runs the asylum behind front man and degenerate director, John Stratton.
“No I haven’t given up. I never shall.
This quote in response to Briant’s questions concerning the Baron’s experiments and desire to create life. The arrival of the young surgeon seems to spark the Baron’s desire to push onward with his laboratory experiments. We’re to find out that the Baron’s hands are useless. Burned and disfigured in a fire. If you’ve seen the previous film in the series, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed then you’ll know why. Within the confines of this “Bedlam” type of hospital that Cushing oversees are the parts needed to create a not so perfect being. Under the giant rubber suit that looks more ape like than man like is David Prowse. Prowse had played the Monster in that other Frankenstein flick from Hammer in 1970 though he is best known as the man under the Darth Vader mask in the original Star Wars trilogy.
Bernard Lee? He has a set of sculptor hands that would nicely compliment the beast. Needing a much gentler personality than the killer who currently occupies the body, Cushing will see to it that a kindly inmate known as The Professor will take his own life so that Cushing and Briant can carry on the classic idea associated with most any Frankenstein film, the transferring of a brain from one body to another.
“To Baron Frankenstein. Creator of Man.” says apprentice Briant to which Peter states dreamingly, “If I’ve succeeded this time then every sacrifice will have been worth while.”
If I was Peter and knowing what we know from the previous entries in the series, I wouldn’t count on a smashing success with this Monster From Hell.
There’s no doubting that this final entry has a different feel to it and I believe a major part of that is due to the fact that this release comes off like it’s best before date had expired five years previously in 1969. The Exorcist changed the playing field for good when it came to the Gothic era thrillers that Hammer had been cranking out for the past seventeen years. From our vantage point it has a fairy tale quality to it. The use of models for the overhead shots of the asylum setting only add to the child like quality of the film.
I guess it’s because it is a Frankenstein Hammer Horror with Cushing that endears me to the film that also has the beautiful Madeline Smith as a key player in the proceedings. Amongst all the ragged lunatics within, her performance in mime and prim and proper dress offers a perfect contrast to the bloody goings on within the asylum walls. Her bright, expressionistic eyes are captivating. Cushing aka Props Peter never fails to delight me in his playing of these ghoulish plots. He never winks at the camera. Instead he plays them with a seriousness that can only be viewed as an advantage to most any production he signed on for. It should also be pointed out that the tone of the movie quite frequently leans to intentional dark humor. Something that wasn’t quite as prevalent in the previous outings.
I hadn’t seen this in quite some time and on my library shelf is the Paramount release on DVD from Paramount put out a number of years ago. Having recently acquired an all region blu ray player, I’ve been getting a number of blu’s sent over from England which prompted my revisiting this title. It also allowed me to see the film uncut for the first time so I’ve finally seen that clip of Cushing using his teeth to hold an artery or tendon or whatever the hell it was during the surgery scene where Briant attaches the sculptor’s hands to the hulking beast. There’s also a slightly longer clip of a bloodied throat in the uncut release versus the one I currently am in possession of. Another bonus is the fact that the overseas release carries bonus features on the making of the film and a featurette on Terence Fisher. Items like these are sorely missed on many of the releases we see on this side of the pond where Hammer titles are concerned and blu ray releases in many cases are still being wished for.
Sadly , this was to be the final go around for Hammer and Cushing’s Baron. Time had past them by but that shouldn’t deter anyone from seeking out the series today and enjoying them for Cushing’s iconic take on his arrogant upper class baron.