Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed: A Worthy Sequel to the Hammer Original

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is the fifth film in Hammer’s Frankenstein series. Directed by Terence Fisher from a script by Bert Batt, the film continues the mythology that made Hammer Horror a cult favorite film factory. Peter Cushing plays the good doctor for the penultimate time. The movie came out in 1969, during the waning years of gothic horror. The film’s producers thought that the movie didn’t have enough explicit sex and violence, so after the film was already shot, they ordered a rape scene be inserted. Cushing and Veronica Carlson, who played Anna, the female lead, were both extremely uncomfortable with the gratuitous act, but complied anyway. Luckily, the scene is about as tasteful as these things go, although it makes absolutely no sense in terms of plot.

We begin as a thief finds Frankenstein’s lab, which has somehow remained a secret, despite being filled with bodies and a severed head. I suppose none of this made any noise or aroused any suspicion from the neighbors. Frankenstein attempts to kill the thief, wearing a weird and freaky bald-guy mask that looks as though it was made from wax. But now that he’s been discovered, Frankenstein has to get the hell out of the place, because the cops are sure to investigate. So, I guess, why not hide out in plain sight even though you’re pretty notorious as a mad scientist and murderer? Nobody will recognize you. But of course. Luckily, he ends up at Anna’s boarding house, which has a secret basement where he can do his experiments. Luckier still, Frankenstein walks by Anna’s room just as she’s talking to her fiance Karl (Simon Ward) about his nasty cocaine habit. No, Karl isn’t snorting or shooting the stuff. Instead, he’s syphoning off the drugs from supplies at the mental institution where he works so that he can help finance the treatment of Anna’s mother, who has some sort of nerve disorder. A worthy reason to steal cocaine, if there ever was one. But Frankenstein doesn’t understand compassion. He only understands weird science stuff. And, in a further coincidence, the asylum where Karl works houses a Doctor Brandt, who was once a partner of Frankenstein’s. They once worked together on figuring out how to transplant a brain. But, too bad for Brandt, he went insane shortly after, taking a valuable secret with him. I don’t remember what the secret was. The whole deal is quite convoluted. All that really matters is that Frankenstein needs to capture him and put his brain in a new body, which will somehow cure Brandt’s insanity. Then Brandt can tell ol’ Frankenstein that secret and all will be right with the world. Except Brandt isn’t too happy about having his brain in another person’s body. Revenge is sought. A new kind of monster is born.

This is good stuff, especially if you like movies about madness in one form or another. This is the first Hammer Frankenstein film where the doctor has totally lost his marbles. He was always sort of getting there, through his singular obsession with his work, but now there’s no reasoning with the guy. Also, Karl, Anna’s beautiful fiance, played wonderfully stiff by Simon Ward, teeters on the edge of madness trying to protect his secret drug trafficking. Karl’s shaky ethics regarding his fiance’s mother completely collapse after he kills a man in the process of helping Dr. Frankenstein. I mean, he could go to the police and turn himself in, but he’s a coward, and his fear drives him deep into irrationality as he becomes further sucked into helping Frankenstein execute his devious plan.

So what’s the endgame here? Frankenstein seems to have anticipated Nietzsche's idea of the ubermensch a few years early. The idea, ultimately, is that he will preserve the brains of the world’s great geniuses by giving them a new body when their old one stops working. I suppose people of weaker intellect will just have to step aside. The dummies of the world will sort of be body farms for smart people. Well, shit, I’m fucked. Let me go ahead and pack my bags.

So I have this pet theory about the Hammer Frankenstein movies. I think all the sequels take place in Frankenstein’s mind as he rots away in a jail cell. At the end of the first movie, Frankenstein is in prison after being convicted of murder. The final frames of the film show a guillotine as it comes down, implying that Frankenstein’s head is no longer on his shoulders. And so these sequels are just fantasies in which he relives his doomed experiments, in slightly varied form, over and over, failing again and again. A major bummer of a guilt trip that takes place in the mind of a madman.

Meh. Well, that’s fun enough as these things go. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is a very solid sequel to a classic film. And with a title like that, how could you go wrong?


FDW said…
This is great, PK!
Pat King said…
Glad you enjoyed it, Frank!

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