Thursday, March 15, 2012
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
Quick Plot Synopsis
A doctor is decapitated on the streets of London. A burglar breaks into a house, but finds inside a macabre lab. The decapitator comes back and finds him. They fight, trashing the lab. Burglar flees. The decapitator is Dr. Frankenstein. He quickly disposes of bodies and parts and flees. The police eventually follow up, but find the lab abandoned. Victor, under the pseudonym of Mr. Fennel, takes up lodging in the rooming house of Anna Spengler. He discovers that Anna's fiance, Karl, has been sneaking out cocaine from the asylum he works for. They sell it to pay for Anna's mother's nursing care. Victor finds out and blackmails them into helping him. Victor wants Karl to smuggle out a Dr. Brandt who has gone insane. Before insanity, Brandt had developed a process for freezing brains without damage. Victor plans to put Brandt's brain in a good body, cure the insanity and get the formula. Karl and Anna help, under duress. They steal equipment to make a new lab in Anna's basement. A night watchman is killed by Karl. Karl barely manages to get Brandt out of the asylum. A doctor Richter becomes the host body. They operate and transplant Brandt's brain. Victor also repairs the damage. Brandt's body is buried in the garden. Police search but find nothing. A water main breaks under the garden almost exposing the body. Mrs. Brandt recognizes Victor and finds him at Anna's. Victor, Karl, Anna and New-Brandt flee by carriage to an abandoned mansion. Brandt wakes up sooner than expected. He startles Anna who defends herself with a long scalpel. She stabs Brandt, who staggers off. Victor discovers Brandt's missing, and causes Anna to stab herself (dead). Brandt travels to his home to see his wife. She rejects him as a mad man. Victor, figuring where Brandt would go, follows. Brandt has, meanwhile, doused much of the house in lamp oil and gathered a bunch of lit oil lamps. Victor comes in demanding the formula. Brandt throws lamps creating walls of fire. Victor manages to get into the study and get the formula. He runs outside, but runs into Karl who fights him over the death of Anna. Victor wins, but Brandt knocks him out and carries him back into the well-engulfed house. The End.
There is far more horror than sci-fi in this hybrid. There is a bit of surgery, and the requisite brain in a tank of water. There is little of the massive electricity (sparky things). There is Victor's monologue about cryogenics -- his dream being to be able to save the brains of great people when they die, freeze their brains for later, and then transplant them into fresh bodies for the benefit of all mankind. FMBD has a background theme about the dispassionate march of "science" even if under the banner of altruism. Is killing men okay if it's for some supposed benefit for "mankind"?
Even though the stories of movies three, four and five do not closely follow that of movies 1 and 2, we do have a sort of overview image of Victor Frankenstein. He began as a young, idealistic, (if a bit ruthless) rich man. He had to flee his home for England, but was still apparently well-off. In movie three, he's less well-off. In movie four, he is penniless. Even then, in film three he had an able and idealistic cohort. In movie four, his cohorts are an alcoholic doctor and a peasant. By the time we find Victor in movie five, is alone as a penniless shadow in the underworld.
Hammer-dämmerung -- Some Hammer fans consider FMBD as the last great Frankenstein film. It is a very full film, and well directed by Terrance Fisher (again). Yet, within all the Wagnerian majesty of the tale, lurk the telltale traces of the twilight of Hammer's reign as the Kings of Horror. They could not compete in the market's race to the bottom -- explicit sex and violence movies and the rise of gore movies whose sole (apparent) motive was to gross out their audiences. Hammer tried to stave off their twilight by injecting more sex, violence and gore, but they couldn't compete. Two notable cracks in Valhalla are cited below.
The Rape Scene -- After most of the film was shot and in the can, Hammer executives decided they needed more sex and violence. (That was what they figured audiences wanted). So, they insisted that Fisher film a rape scene. Cushing and Carlson seriously disliked the scene, but did as their employers wished. It was quite a departure for a Hammer film. The scene adds nothing to the plot. In fact, in all subsequent scenes Anna acts like it never happened -- because in the original shooting, it hadn't. Ironically, the American release was said to have omitted that scene.
Gore For Gore -- The gore factor was ramped up in FMBD. We have a violently decapitated bloody head rolling around and lots of red paint splattering But, note how the sounds of grossness are cranked up. Victor cuts with a scalpel and there is quite the ripping-squishing noise. Then Victor saws open the skull with plenty of scraping gritty saw sounds. Fisher and Hammer were going for gross. This is a tough field to compete in. Many far cheaper films could be far more gross.
A Touch of Shelley -- The screenplay offers a touch of Shelley's novel, in that the "monster" is intelligent and articulate. He is not the customary mute and lumbering "monster." There is a trace of Shelley in the pathos of how Brandt (in Richter's body) can never return to his wife. He is doomed to a life alone. He is also aghast at Victor for what he's done and seeks to destroy him.
Comic Relief -- Interlaced within the very dark story of Victor and brain transplants, are scenes of the pompous police inspector Frisch, played by Thorley Walters, who played Victor's accomplice, Dr. Hertz, in the previous film.
Bottom line? FMBD has much of what Hammer fans enjoyed. As a film, there is plenty of action and some effective set pieces. The extra gore and rape scene tarnish an otherwise engaging film. Horror fans will find enough of what they like. Sci-fi fans will find far less.