Film Reviews

Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell (1974) – Limited Edition Blu-ray Review

Frankenstein is one of the most adapted stories in modern media, with dozens of different interpretations of the characters appearing across all mediums. He’s even one of the most used characters in Hammer Horror, with Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell being the seventh outing for the series, and the sixth time that Peter Cushing played the role. And now, thanks to Second Sight Films, fans of this iconic series are able to add this film to their collection in a stunning new set.

Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell begins in an unnamed city, where a grave-robber (played by Patrick Troughton) digs up a corpse and delivers it to a young doctor, Simon Helder (Shane Briant) who’s been collecting body parts in an attempt to emulate the works of Baron Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing). When Helder’s home is raided, however, he is arrested and sent to the same insane asylum that Frankenstein was sent to years before.

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Arriving at the asylum, Helder is told that Frankenstein died years before, but is shocked when he comes face to face with the facility’s doctor, Doctor Karl Victor, and sees that it is none other than Frankenstein. Helder learns that Frankenstein discovered some dark secret of the asylum’s director, and used it to force the man to help fake his death and appoint him as the head doctor. Helder begins to work with his idol, and when he discovers that Frankenstein has been continuing his experiments, assists in helping to create a new monster.

Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell was not just the final Frankenstein film for Hammer, but one of the last horror films produced by Hammer in the later days of the 1970s. Despite this being the end of an era of sorts you can feel the sense of history around this film, in particular in the performance given by Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein, a role that he’d embodied many times before to great acclaim. He instantly becomes the most important, most powerful figure in any room he’s in, and commands the attention not just of the characters, but the audience as well. And whilst the other actors do decent enough jobs, with some great performances scattered throughout, Cushing is by far the main draw.

Shane Briant makes a decent foil for Cushing’s Frankenstein, and you can see how the studio were prepping him to become the next generation going forward. Despite knowing that Hammer didn’t do much after this film, at the time the studio were planning to keep going, and hoped to revitalise certain properties with new lead actors. Briant’s Helder was one of these, and despite this film telling a decently contained story you can really see how this is designed to be the first chapter of something more. Helder goes on a journey whereby he sees the mistakes of Frankenstein, where he sees how dangerous that path is, yet doesn’t get off it. It’s easy to see how perhaps more of his story was yet to come, and how perhaps he believed he would be able to emulate the professor but avoid his mistakes.

The rest of the cast are made up from strong British actors who were regulars in film and television at the time. The first person we see on screen is the body snatcher, played by Patrick Troughton who’d have been well known for his role in Doctor Who by this time. The asylum is also populated by faces that long time Hammer viewers will recognise from other films, as well as Bernard Lee, who was well known for playing M in the James Bond series. The result is a film that’s populated with familiar faces who are able to bring strong, memorable performances to roles with limited time on screen.

The film’s titular monster is played well by long time creature and suit actor Dave Prowse, who would work alongside Cushing again a few years later in Star Wars, where he would play Darth Vader. Whilst Prowse would be praised for bringing Vader to life years later, his work here will probably be little remembered, due in large part to the poor quality of the creature make-up, which look more ape-like than human.

As this film was from the latter years of Hammer, there’s also an increased amount of gore on show here, with blood pouring out of wounds, real brains being pulled out of skulls, and a pretty gory end for the titular monster. If you’re used to the earlier days of the studio, where they were under stricter censorship rules, you might be surprised by some of the moments in this film, and whilst it is pretty bloody at times it’s never gratuitous, and helps to add to the Gothic feel of the film.

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This new edition comes with a load of special features that are sure to interest fans. There’s a pair of commentaries for the film, one with film academic Kat Ellinger, and another with the films actors Shane Briant and Madeline Smith, alongside film historian Marcus Hearn. There are also behind the scenes documentaries that include interviews with the actors and crew, a feature that takes a look at the musical score, and one that documents the career of director Terence Fisher.

Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell isn’t your average Frankenstein movie; it tries to do some new and interesting things, in part because it’s the seventh film in a series. Because of this it ends up being more interesting that people would give it credit for, with an intense and entertaining performance from Cushing in the title role. Even if you haven’t seen the other parts of this series, this film is sure to keep you entertained throughout.

Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell is out now on Limited Edition Blu-ray from Second Sight.

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