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Oct 11, 2017

OCTOBER 2017 HORROR - FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969)






FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED is not a typical horror picture that one would expect containing the name Frankenstein in the title.  The focus of the picture is not the created “Monster” (as it is referred to in the 1931 Universal picture) unless you count Peter Cushing’s Doctor Frankenstein who is himself more of a fiend than any monster he could possibly create.  Don't get me wrong, the advertising materials show a vile creation and a vile creation indeed there is.  Yet the role he plays in the narrative is not one that you would expect making this a unique, engaging and smart film.


Peter Cushing as Frankenstein and Simon Ward perform some unauthorized brain surgery not covered by any HMO.

Under an assumed name, Frankenstein travels to connect with a doctor he wishes to collaborate with and continue his unholy experiments only to find that the man has lost his mind and is now a ward of a mental institution.  Frankenstein proceeds to blackmail a young couple who are smuggling cocaine, kidnaps the doctor from his cell, performs unauthorized brain surgery on him and perpetrates a vicious rape.  As far as the picture goes, the rape feels completely unnecessary, yet establishes how immoral and evil Cushing’s Frankenstein truly is.  It does have the effect of some added shock value yet feels tacked on and takes the viewer out of the picture for a brief time following. Indeed, it was added after the picture was shot, as the head of the studio believed the picture needed more “sex”.  Cushing himself hated the sequence, citing it as the most difficult he has ever had to shoot. Any way you look at it, it is an uncomfortable moment.


Peter Cushing blackmails Simon Ward and Veronica Carlson into being his unwilling accomplices.

Hammer horror pictures were “gothic” horror films made from the 50s though the 70s in England.  They relied primarily on a stable of actors such as Peter Cushing (Baron Frankenstein), Christopher Lee (who played Dracula) and Oliver Reed.  There were seven Hammer Frankenstein pictures in total, starting with THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN in 1957, six of which starred Peter Cushing as Baron Frankenstein.  FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED is the fourth sequel in the franchise.


Peter Cushing as Baron Frankenstein.  He also played Van Helsing in the Hammer Dracula pictures.

Cushing’s performance is so cold, so mean, so calculating even when he is carrying out the vilest of acts you feel he could go even lower if necessary to reach his goal. His performance is so convincing and terrifying it is more effective than any monster could be.


From the opening sequence of the picture.

An opening sequence involving a break-in acts as a red herring but sets a violent tone for the rest of the picture.  It's an unnerving and violent moment with a truly scary figure (picture above).  Also, the scenes within the mental facility, especially those involving a troubled young lady, do not fall into the typical "safe" standards of 50s horror pictures.  This is a film that goes out of its way to be shocking and grisly which is enhanced by the sound design.  Even though the audience never sees Frankenstein cutting into the skull of his creation, the noise has the effect of nails on a chalk board and is held long enough to make things extremely uncomfortable for the viewer. 


Frankenstein's latest "creation".

This being a Frankenstein picture, there is indeed a re-animated body, but it doesn’t follow any of the conventions that any other Frankenstein film (or the book) has outlined.  If it wasn’t for the stitches in his head, you’d have no idea he was a re-animated corpse.  I dare not go further for fear of spoiling the surprising and smart ending, but it is worth noting the different approach that sets this picture apart from the pack.  The scene is further enhanced by rich photography that brings out the intensity of a raging fire that surrounds and threatens to engulf the characters, and plays a vital role in the abrupt and savage ending.


Rich photography brings out the violence of the flames threatening Baron Frankenstein.

Part of a Blu-ray collection, HORROR CLASSICS, VOLUME 1, put out by Warner Home Video, the presentation here is outstanding with muted colors and deep shadows that enhance the gothic tone of the picture.  It’s a testament to the staying power of the Hammer Horror series, that this is picture – unlike many older horror films – still retains its shocking impact almost 50 years later.


Warner Home Video's wonderful Blu-ray release which includes Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed.