Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell Blu-ray Review
Directed by Terence Fisher
Written by Anthony Hinds
1973, Region B, 93 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
Blu-ray released on 28th April 2014
Peter Cushing as Baron Victor Frankenstein / Dr. Carl Victor
Shane Briant as Simon Helder
Madeline Smith as Sarah
David Prowse as The Monster
John Stratton as The Asylum Director
Michael Ward as Transvest
Elsie Wagstaff as The Wild One
Norman Mitchell as The Police Sergeant
Clifford Mollison as The Judge
Patrick Troughton as The Bodysnatcher
Prison, Hammer horror style. When an upstart young scientist's experiments go too far, he is sentenced to serve time in a grand gothic insane asylum. It's a case of the patients running the asylum, however, as the resident doctor there is none other than Baron Victor Frankenstein himself, as portrayed by definitive screen Frankenstein Peter Cushing.
Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell is the last of Hammer's Frankenstein films, as well as being the last by director Terence Fisher. Starring the likes of Peter Cushing, David Prowse and Patrick Troughton, it certainly feels like Hammer through and through. With the studio's recent resurgence in Let Me In and The Woman in Black, it's surprising that they haven't made more use of their back catalogue. This Blu-ray release is a fine start, The Monster From Hell being one of Hammer's better seventies horror films. At the very least, it's not The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, which is a mercy.
Incarcerated in the asylum where he works, fresh-faced young admirer Simon Helder wastes little time in befriending The Baron, eagerly taking a job as his assistant. Although Frankenstein appears to be hard at work for the asylum (under the alias Doctor Carl Victor) he secretly hoards the body parts of his murdered patients, using them to build his latest experiment – the titular Monster from Hell. Given the mess he causes any time he attempts to build anything, we have to admire Victor's tenaciousness. The man is certainly dedicated to his cause, even as he unleashes yet another angry mob upon himself and his monster.
Cushing is typically great as Frankenstein, oozing class for every moment he's on screen. Even when he's doing something utterly ridiculous – like holding his monkey-man's vein in his teeth during surgery – Cushing shines. David Prowse plays the creature, lending his impressive 6ft 6in frame to the role. The makeup is daft (like a balding Chewbacca) but Prowse's sheer physicality manages to make him seem imposing nevertheless. If only he had a brain – which is next on Victor's shopping list.
The story unfolds at a typical Hammer pace, which might put off some viewers. There's not much in the way of action or scares, although there is a little gore in the film's comically gruesome surgery scenes. The prison environment, while largely underused, is a nice touch, giving the characters plenty of dim corridors to run about in and a lovely laboratory for Victor to conduct his experiments in. It's a story that worked so well they told it all over again in Beyond Re-animator, albeit with much less class.
Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell may have aged imperfectly, but it's tremendous, colourful, unsubtle fun. Featuring a great performance from Peter Cushing and a sympathetic monster in David Prowse, this is a wonderful release of an old not-quite classic.
Video and Audio:
It looks beautiful, just as seventies Hammer should. The colours are bright and vivid, the blood spatter gloriously red. The Blu-ray isn't particularly sharp, but the colours come up nicely. The film is also available in standard definition on the accompanying DVD. The film sounds appropriately melodramatic and atmospheric throughout. There are even violins, just so you know when to sympathise with the monster. Subtlety? Who needs it?
There are two cuts of the film included – theatrical, and a slightly longer version with more surgery scenes – as well as a DVD version, in standard definition. The special features include an animated stills gallery and two short documentaries. Taking Over the Asylum is an informative making-of feature which horror history buffs should enjoy. It's too arch at times (suggesting we watch The Exorcist instead) but is detailed enough. Charming Evil is a touching tribute to director Terence Fisher and his Hammer exploits. I'd rather watch this than The Exorcist anyway.