Frankenstein & The Monster From Hell (1973) Restoration Premiere
I’m having a bit of a fractious time with the BFI these days. Whilst it’s been plain sailing getting tickets to the likes of Superman II and tonight’s entertainment I have lost out on a few other events, namely an imminent Q&A with current box office maestro Joss Whedon, Edgar Wright recently introducing a screening of An American Werewolf In London and there’s also an upcoming screening of Psycho and Q&A with James Franco whom has selected it as one of his favourite movies. Now I’m not frustrated at the lack of tickets from any sort of fanboy perspective you understand, it would just be nice to cover these events for the sake of the blog, but it appears that these events sell-out during the roughly 5 minutes between the time the email / twitter notification is circulated into the screaming void and the time it takes to make a call into the South Bank Box-Office – welcome to the world of social media I guess. Still we do have quite a programme ahead of us over the next couple of months as I get my teeth into the Werner Herzog season, alas there doesn’t seem to be an appearance scheduled from the great man himself which seems like an oversight unless he’s shooting of course, in any case to whet your appetite here’s a pretty good write up of the Teutonic tyrants life and work to date. On a much more of a genre themed front I attended a special screening at the BFI last week, as Hammer films unleashed a fully restored and renewed digital print of 1974’s Frankenstein & The Monster from Hell, a world premiere which was commissioned as part of the centenary celebrations of the titanic Peter Cushing’s birth. Never let us forget that he is one of the unknown all time badasses of cinema given that he single-handedly dispatched Dracula numerous times as well as being the only creature to bitchslap the nebulous Darth Vader and live to tell the tale, but enough of that overexposed franchise, as a ridiculously attired MC once said it’s Hammer time;
The plot is thinner that the beasts clearly cardboard manacles, as in the dying dregs of the 19th century an arrogant and elitist Dr. Simon Helder (Shane Briant) is sentenced to a spell in the local insane asylum after he is discovered experimenting upon the dead. Ensconced amongst the sanity deprived Helder stumbles across the suspicious Dr. Carl Victor (Peter Cushing, magnetic), a certain Dr. Frankenstein whom is hiding behind this alias in order to continue his perversions of science unmolested, Victor soon takes the promising student under his wing and soon the pair are gleefully carving through cadavers of the institutes unfortunate wretches quicker than you can say god complex’. When one of the inmates with a genius level intellect is found hanged in his cell under suspicious circumstances Frankenstein embarks on his most ambitious affront to decency, to transplant the still warm brain into the jigsawed husk of numerous other victims, in an effort to see if a marriage of intellect and mortal flesh may yield his scientific immortality. As the wardens mute daughter Angel (Madeline Smith) looks on in silent despair the foul experiment is afoot, but will the monster react to his new life with a acquiescent piety or pummeling brutality?
Released in the dying twilight of the Hammer cycle I have to say that the film really isn’t that good, it is deeply hamstrung by stodgy plotting and a distinct lack of production values. The special effects are especially waning, at the very least you can usually enjoy Hammer films for their bloody British carnivorous charm, but even this is sorely lacking in Monster From Hell with an especially egregious sighting of exterior shots of the asylum which look like they’ve escaped from a Blue Peter toilet roll and sticky back plastic Halloween Special. The digital scrub however is a treat as the aging and distress have been incrementally washed away, with extra gory footage inserted for completests to devour in all their rabid fury, as they are really the key audience for this ripening resurrection. It’s a shame that house director Terence Fisher couldn’t have exited his career and left the iconic studio with a legacy on more of a high, he was after all the man responsible for the original 1958 Dracula which effectively established the studio and its subsequent beloved twenty year cycle of chills and carnage, critics look at the film, as a kind of final statement on the studio and the final position of its cycle of films – tired, overexposed, budgetary lamentable and needing to put out of its misery. Nevertheless Fisher is unquestionably one of the great UK horror figures along with Hitchcock and arguably Val Guest, I’m particularly fond of his mist-drenched, gothic take on The Hound Of The Baskervilles from 1959 which alongside The Devil Rides Out, Countess Dracula (Ingrid Pitt had quite the pulsing effect on a prepubescent Mint) the 1958 Dracula and To The Devil A Daughter are probably my favourite Hammer atrocities.
Cushing in his sixth incarnation as the mad scientist as usual gets all the good lines, and to the films credit they try to lurch out from the Universal iconography of the monster to try something different in terms of creature design and temperament, even if the end result looks like a particularly mangy George from Rainbow rather than an accursed behemoth from beyond the borders of sanity. Prowse tries to invest the monster with a sense of pathetic pathos and for the most part he succeeds, and the film has a smattering of a theme with an intellect versus bestiality dichotomy occasionally gnawing on the narrative , but it hardly electrifies the screen as Frankenstein roars his cackling intonations, so this is one for horror hacks and abominable aficionados only – the skull sawing and brain splattering scene was quite funny though.
Still it was fun to see a rather frail Dave Prowse take to the stage, that’s another Kubrick survivor down in terms of my own obsessions with the departed, I must get cracking on those Stephen Berkoff and Adrienne Corri sightings as they’re both still knocking around London, in fact I think Berkof lives in Limehouse which is our mutual manor. The brief Q&A highlighted the now blatantly obvious fact that this was Cushing’s and Prowse’s first appearance together, and they would both eventually go on to star together in a rather successful SF movie that was also shot in London a mere four years later which you may have heard of which I think they’re remaking or something. It was also great to see Madeline Smith on stage which some of you Hammerhounds will recognise from The Vampire Lovers and Taste The Blood Of Dracula, not to mention a small part in Moore’s debut Bond Live & Let Die, they were all very respectful and in awe of just how caring and wonderful Peter Cushing was, as is always the way these murderous and lunatic screen presences seem to be genuinely gentle and sensitive souls off-screen. Cushing was renowned for investing great stock in getting his costumes and accents historically accurate, which seems a little pointless considering the alleged quality and source matter of th lowly insignificant horror movies, however you cut it he is one of the iconic faces of the horror genre alongside Lee and Lugosi, Karloff and Chaney;