Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell (1974) – Film Review
Director: Terence Fisher
Cast: Peter Cushing, Shane Briant, Madeline Smith
By Sarah Morgan
They say that all good things must come to an end, and that was certainly the case with Hammer’s cycle of horror films.
The studio enjoyed a run of incredible success, beginning with The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957, which was soon followed by Dracula.
Both featured iconic characters who were resurrected several times in sequels of varying quality. While Christopher Lee continually grumbled about being tempted back to play the Prince of Darkness, Peter Cushing seems to have been more relaxed about portraying Frankenstein, the crazed scientist obsessed with creating the living from the dead – he famously often chose roles he felt his army of fans would enjoy.
“A lot to get excited about”
In the 15 years between his first outing as Frankenstein and his last (Monster from Hell, his swansong, was made in 1972 but not released until 1974), Cushing’s appearance had changed dramatically – he was no longer a virile young man, but an almost skeletal presence, prematurely aged by the death of his beloved wife Helen in 1971.
Had he been famous as a matinee idol, that might have been a problem, but those sunken cheeks and hollow eyes merely add to his performance here, helping him add extra chills and terror to his clearly unhinged alter ego. What’s more, he’s still as athletic as ever, leaping onto a table and onto the back of his creation (played by Dave Prowse) in a hectic climax.
The Frankenstein cycle itself had peaked with Monster from Hell’s predecessor, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, but there is still a lot to get excited about here.
Shane Briant, then touted as a successor to Cushing, plays Simon Helder, a fan of Frankenstein’s work who, after being confined to a lunatic asylum due to his penchant for trying to emulate his hero, discovers the scientist is alive and continuing his experiments inside the institution.
Helder becomes his assistant, joining the gentle mute Sarah (Madeline Smith) at his side, but even he becomes increasingly disturbed by his mentor’s obsessive quest to succeed.
“Genuinely strong moments”
Not only was this Hammer’s final Frankenstein film, it was also the final directorial credit for Terence Fisher, who had made many of the studio’s most memorable movies, including the aforementioned Dracula and The Curse of Frankenstein, as well as The Devil Rides Out and The Curse of the Werewolf.
As ever, he delivered a fine piece of work. On its release, the film was criticised, with many believing that Hammer was now old-fashioned – remember, this was released the year after The Exorcist changed the face of horror forever – but time has been somewhat kind to it.
It’s not a masterpiece by any means, but it’s a must for completists, and there are some genuinely strong moments too – including one in which Frankenstein, whose damaged hands are no longer any use for surgery, helps Helder by holding an artery in his mouth. It’s a pretty gruesome moment – these days, health and safety would have a field day!
● Main feature presented in original UK Theatrical aspect ratio 1.66:1 and alternative full frame1.37:1
● New audio commentary by film academic Kat Ellinger
● Archive audio commentary by Shane Briant, Madeline Smith and Marcus Hearn
● An Appreciation of Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell by David Huckvale
● The Music of Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell
● Taking Over the Asylum
● Charming Evil: Terence Fisher at Hammer
● Stills Gallery
Limited Edition Contents:
● Rigid slipcase with new artwork by Graham Humphreys
● Soft cover book with new essays by Kevin Lyons, Kelly Robinson and Emma Westwood plus production stills
● 5 collectors' art cards
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell is released on Blu-ray by Second Sight Films, £24.99