HomeFilmHammer's 'Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell' Blu-ray review

Hammer’s ‘Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell’ Blu-ray review

Released concurrently with ‘The Mummy‘, Hammer Film Productions’ ‘Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell’ is being given the limited edition Blu-ray box set treatment by Second Sight Films.

From completely the other end of Hammer’s long-running and highly-successful run, as well as being the seventh and final Hammer film depicting Frankenstein, ‘Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell’ (1974) is something of a final hurrah for the British horror franchise. Perhaps purposefully, it returns to its origins and gives fans a nostalgic treat, throwing every available ingredient for a successful Hammer film into the mix. There is Peter Cushing as Baron Victor Frankenstein, a beautiful leading lady (Madeline Smith), a whole host of fabulous British character actors, stylised Gothic sets, a madhouse setting, period costumes and a horrible monster prowling around. Hammer regular Terence Fisher, who was behind the camera for ‘The Mummy’ and several others, returns to direct this one.

A young doctor Simon Helder (Shane Briant) uses a grave digger (Patrick Troughton) to bring him body parts so that he can continue the work of his scientific hero Dr Victor Frankenstein from his home laboratory. Following his arrest by the police, he is sectioned in an asylum for the criminally insane. There, he makes himself known to Dr Carl Victor (Peter Cushing), who is secretly Dr Frankenstein. Realising that Frankenstein is continuing his experiments from within the asylum, Helder sets about winning over his hero in the hope he will be taken under his wing.

One of the inmates was a homicidal maniac who committed suicide. Frankenstein has brought him back to life and continues to experiment upon him, using his mute assistant Sarah (Madeline Smith) to stitch on body parts. Once Helder has persuaded Frankenstein to make him his protege, the work accelerates. However, Frankenstein is hiding a dark secret, and the monster in the laboratory is, unsurprisingly, not as easy to control as the doctors playing God originally imagined.

The preposterous story is the kind that only works within the kitsch and heightened reality of the Hammer universe. As is so often the case with the films, it’s Peter Cushing’s dead straight and intense performance that sells everything else that happens around him. There are superb cameos by a dizzying array of British acting luminaries. Patrick Troughton (‘Doctor Who’, ‘The Omen’) returns to Hammer, having previously appeared in ‘The Gorgon’ and ‘The Scars of Dracula’. A creepy and inebriated gravedigger is the kind of part he could have played in his sleep, and he makes the most of his gift for shifty sideways glances in his fleeting appearance. The original ‘M’ from the James Bond films, Bernard Lee, gives a surprisingly sensitive performance as one of the mad inmates. John Stratton, who cornered the market in playing repulsive and seedy authority figures, is perfectly cast as the perverted director of the asylum. Three years later, bodybuilder Dave Prowse would achieve cinema immortality with his performance as Darth Vader in ‘Star Wars’. Here, he plays the monster, and throws himself into the role. The hirsute make-up is genuinely repellent, even if the enlarged features around the face haven’t dated quite as well. Although Madeline Smith (Live and Let Die), playing a mute, doesn’t have much of an opportunity to make a mark, she conveys a lot using a physical performance, and is especially effective in her scene with Bernard Lee.

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell
Credit: Second Sight Films

As ostensibly the lead in the film, the young and handsome Shane Briant (who sadly died last year) is decent and easy on the eye, though somewhat unremarkable. He lacks the gravitas of veteran Hammer actors such as Christopher Lee, who is absent from this film. Despite that, ‘Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell’ is a full-blooded entry into the Hammer canon. Some of the special effects, such as a close up of brain surgery, are effective and suitably nauseating. The limited heavy grey sets comprising the insane asylum and the accompanying bars on the windows lend the action a sense of claustrophobia. In terms of audiences’ expectations, ‘Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell’ perhaps exceeds them. For Peter Cushing fans, the horror legend delivers another in a long line of chilling and memorable performances.

This ultimate collector’s edition comes with a whole host of extra features that provide a deep dive into the origins of the film, its standing among others in the canon, and its place in the Hammer chronology. The film is presented with the option of viewing it in 1.66:1 or 1.37:1 (full frame). There is a new commentary by academic Kat Ellinger, as well as one from the archives featuring actors Shane Briant and Madeline Smith along with cult British TV and film author Marcus Hearn. David Huckvale presents ‘An Appreciation of Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell’, and there are features on the making of the film as well as ‘Charming Evil’, an overview of Terence Fisher’s not inconsiderable contributions.

The disc is presented in a card slipcase with artwork designed by Graham Humphreys. Packaged inside is a booklet containing essays and production photographs, and five art cards complete the physical extras. If you’re a fan of the Hammer films, then Second Sight Films’ limited edition release of ‘Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell’ is an essential part of your collection.

Cast: Peter Cushing, Shane Briant, Madeline Smith, David Prose, John Stratton, Patrick Troughton, Bernard Lee Director: Terence Fisher Writer: John Elder Certificate: 15 Duration: 91 mins Released by: Second Sight Films Release date: 29th August 2022 Buy ‘Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell’

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Greg Jameson
Greg Jameson
Book editor, with an interest in cult TV.

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