Terence Fisher, 1969
Starring: Peter Cushing, Freddie Jones, Simon Ward, Veronica Carlson
In this fifth entry in Hammer’s Frankenstein series, the Baron has relocated to a boarding house run by a lovely young woman, Anna, who secretly works with her fiancé, a young doctor named Karl, to steal and sell drugs to support her dying mother. Baron Frankenstein slowly begins to blackmail them into assisting his latest experiment: he wants to replace the brain of an esteemed colleague who has gone mad and who is languishing in a nearby asylum. While the surgery is a success, things don’t go as planned. The man’s devoted wife suspects that Frankenstein is up to something and begins to interfere, while his associate is horrified to find his brain in a new form.
Hammer was at the top of their game in the late ‘60s, riding high on a lofty reputation and making the most of laced censorship standards when they churned out this fifth Frankenstein film. It’s a surprisingly strong sequel, and I would rank it just after the fourth film, Frankenstein Created Woman. Much like that film, this marks the return of director Terence Fisher, one of Hammer’s masters, and, as in that film, the issue here is not about creating a creature from reanimated dead tissue, but the successful preservation (and relocation) of brains from an unhealthy body into a healthy one. Baron Frankenstein had actually already performed this procedure at the end of the second film, the equally enjoyable The Revenge of Frankenstein, in order to save his own life.
And Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed actually unites some of the themes in Revenge and Frankenstein Created Woman. For starters, Frankenstein’s “monster” at first looks quite human and the monstrous aspect is more in the Baron’s intentions, the manipulation of science, and the effects on his test subjects. This is a plot element that actually directly parallel’s Shelley’s novel: Frankenstein believes he is making incredible strides for sciences, but his desired end result a ghastly concept with potentially horrifying moral ramifications. And like Shelley’s intelligent monster, which is so often passed over in cinematic adaptations, the Baron’s melding of two scientific figures — the superb brain of Dr. Frederick Brandt (George Pravda) and the useful body of Professor Richter (Freddie Jones) — results in a being conscious and intelligent enough to realize the horror of what he has become, hate his maker, and actively seek the Baron’s death.
And like Frankenstein Created Woman, this one does live up to its title — Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed — as here he becomes almost totally evil. The typically charming Peter Cushing looks older, gaunter, and more sinister, and his actions here — aside from killing his mistress in the first film — are at their most diabolical. It’s a shame the series’ worst entry took the title The Evil of Frankenstein, because that would have worked perfectly here, where in that film he is actually a heroic, sympathetic character. This film’s horrifying moment in question is a shocking a rape scene, a sequence that was added in at the very end, apparently to please American distributors looking for more sex and violence. Despite the protests of Fisher, Cushing, and co-star and Hammer regular Veronica Carlson, the scene was included, though it’s not again addressed by the characters, so it doesn’t make a ton of sense. It does sort of fit in with Anna’s mental deterioration and the Baron’s embrace of evil, as the rape is a blatant act of cruelty and control meant to terrorize Anna into complying with the Baron’s will. Whether it totally works or not, it’s certainly one of Hammer’s grimmest moments.
This is also one of the most violent films in the series. There’s an almost krimi-like opening where a doctor is decapitated with a sickle on his walk home. Just after this the killer — Baron Frankenstein — is interrupted by a would-be thief (Harold Goodwin of The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb), who discovers the Baron’s secret lab and just barely manages to escape. He dashes off the inform the police, so Frankenstein, wearing an absurd mask to conceal his identity, destroys the lab and flees. He goes on to blackmail and manipulate a young couple into participating in his crimes and this human element — in the form of Veronica Carlson’s Anna and Simon Ward’s Karl — provides a necessary human element.
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed comes highly recommended and, for anyone skeptical about a series of ‘50s and ‘60s era Frankenstein films, there are far more hits than misses. This is definitely a success thanks to a combination of effective violence, strong performances, a grim tone, and a well-written script. Pick this up on Blu-ray, just be prepared to witness the bleaker side of Peter Cushing, whose Baron Frankenstein truly becomes a monster.