31 Days of Halloween 1: Frankenstein and the monster from HELL
Frankenstein and the Monster from HELL (all caps) (1974) starts my October Halloween review season. This 1974 movie is underrated, but has the worst reputation of any Hammer horror film I’ve ever read about. It is Peter Cushing’s last role as Dr. Frankenstein and it is a mixed bag. Hammer films in the 70s weren’t all that different than those in the 60s, except now the stars were older and the usual routine was dated, thanks to big budget horror films like The Exorcist that did things a lot better. Even small budget films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre did more with less and made Hammer movies feel campy and silly. This film tries to buck that trend and I watched it to see if it succeeded.
This movie follows the continuity established by Curse of Frankenstein, which was directed by the same guy, Terence Fisher. Fisher was the leading horror director in his day, although was later usurped by younger guys like Tobe Hooper and Roman Polanski. This was Fisher’s very last film he ever made. He died in 1980. He was only critically acclaimed in Britain after his death, which is a shame.
Although he directed many horror films, Horror of Dracula is probably the best. Frankenstein and the Monster from HELL feels like an old hat. It has the same tone and eerie music as classic Hammer films from the 60s, and is traditionally shot. The problem is that the dialogue in this film is the same stilted, wooden dialogue as in the Hammer classics, and the pace feels a little slower.
The film begins with Shane Briant, not Peter Cushing, and the story gradually intersects Cushing as Frankenstein at an insane asylum. Briant plays Dr. Simon Helder, who is our key to discovering what’s become of Dr. Frankenstein. It is convenient then, that Helder is convicted and sentenced to the asylum, where Frankenstein is hiding out under an assumed name. Briant was 26 at the time of the filming, and looks young. He plays Frankenstein’s assistant and insists on exploring Frankenstein’s old experiments. You know what that means.
After Baron Frankenstein discovers Helder is a surgeon, he recruits him to perform corrective surgery on their first victim. Helder does his best with the walking corpse, but needs help. Unfortunately, Dr. Frankenstein’s hands were burned in a fire, so he can no longer perform surgery. He is forced to use his mouth to hold two wrist tendons together while Helder stitches them. It is the most hilarious thing I’ve ever seen. Peter Cushing bends over and puts the tiny little thing between his teeth while Helder goes to work. Not the last of the idiotic scenes, I’m afraid.
David Prowse plays the Monster in this movie and his performance is nothing special. His make-up doesn’t allow him to actually perform, as the Monster mask doesn’t seem very pliable. The lips barely move and the entire thing looks plastic. It looks decent enough when he’s just standing still, but when the Monster has to actually react or show emotion, the mask doesn’t work. It’s just silly. The concept is outstanding, so at least they had their hearts in the right place.
The rest of the movie’s make-up and set design is average at best. AT BEST. Peter Cushing’s wig is embarrassing. The miniatures look worse than what they use in Godzilla. Frankenstein’s workshop looks good enough, but it is small. Where they spent the rest of the budget, I’ll never know.
Peter Cushing pretty much holds his movie together, because Shane Briant gets less to do as the movie goes on. Cushing doesn’t have very many people to actually hold a discussion with, as his female assistant is a mute and the prisoners are insane. The mute is played by Madeline Smith, though she turns out not to be a mute at the end. She must be trying not to speak about this movie.
All in all, this movie is pretty average, but has many weaknesses that stand out and ruin it overall. The make-up is very poor and the story is pretty much the same one Hammer has done for years. It’s not even very compelling. It is gory in parts, and I did chuckle when Peter Cushing almost stepped on a brain accidentally. In the end, I’m not sure where this movie would rank without Peter Cushing, though it reminds me that there are other films that do the same thing, only better. To answer my own question: no, this movie does not succeed in my opinion in comparison to more modern horror films, which is probably why Hammer went out of business.
Do not let this crap movie deter you! There will be other movies in the October Halloween series coming soon:
31 Days of Halloween Movie Marathon
1 – Frankenstein and the Monster from HELL (1974)
2 – Dracula has risen from the grave (1968)
3 – The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964)
4 – Evil Dead II (1987)
5 – Dawn of the Dead (1978)
6 – Les Diaboliques (1955)
7 – The Howling (1981)
8 – Friday the 13th (1980)
9 – Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
10 – Hellraiser (1987)
11 – Let the Right One in (2008)
12 – Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1984)
13 – House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
14 – The Strangers (2008)
15 – The House of the Devil (2009)
16 – Psycho (1960)
17 – The Orphanage (2007)
18 – The Amityville Horror (1979)
19 – The Raven (1963)
20 – Blue Velvet (1986)
21 – Repulsion (1965)
22 – Dementia 13 (1963)
23 – The Vanishing (2008)
24 – Halloween (1978)
25 – Shaun of the Dead (2004)
26 – The Silence of the Lambs (1988)
27 – An American Werewolf in London (1981)
28 – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
29 – The Exorcist (1973)
30 – The Ring (2002)
31 – Night of the Living Dead (1968)