This fifth entry in the Hammer ‘Frankenstein’ series sees Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) blackmailing a young doctor, Karl (Simon Ward) and his fiancée Anna (Veronica Carlson) into helping him kidnap the mentally incapacitated Dr. Brandt (George Pravda) and perform the first ever successful brain transplantation.
It is always difficult to make a fair and accurate assessment of a Hammer horror production, particularly one with such superlative qualities as this particular film. ‘Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed’ is something of a change in pace for the series as the character of Frankenstein differs somewhat significantly from previous outings, having fallen into madness rather than practicing misunderstood and unethical medicine for the greater good as he had in the previous installments. His methods are still unethical, that cannot be debated, but there is a noticeable emphasis this time around on the Baron’s work being for his own advancement rather than for the benefit of man. Despite assertions to the contrary, this Frankenstein is far more narcissistic than he had previously been presented and consequently both more fearsome and loathsome.
This new direction for the character is coupled with a monstrous personality that continually dictates that nobody matters as long as the Baron gets what he desires. Frankenstein is willing to go to any lengths necessary in order to accomplish his goal and little distracts him from this pursuit. The Baron’s deterioration into lunacy is exceedingly well portrayed during a particularly violent (but short) rape sequence, uncommon to a Hammer film. Peter Cushing, who despite his roles in the macabre is often regarded as a gentlemanly actor, sells the scene impeccable with such intensity on his face and the image is so powerful that it could linger in the viewers mind. This gives the movie a new, raw and brutal edge.
Peter Cushing adapts his acting style to fit the new persona of the Baron and offers a remarkably visceral performance rather than the calculated, cerebral performances of the past. As with almost every movie that Cushing participated in, his on-screen presence is powerful and commanding. The film follows the archetypal pattern for Hammer horrors. The film starts off powerfully with two predominantly memorable sequences, the most sensational of which is the entrance of the diabolical Baron when he terrifies a petty thief. From there, the film moves towards the mechanics of the Baron’s actions and his resolution to accomplish all that he seeks out to undertake. It is during this `mid-section’ of the film that everything slows down while the emphasis is no longer on scares or action.
Through some very proficient direction from Hammer stalwart Terence Fisher, the pacing and structure of this movie is superb and makes ‘Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed’ a standout in comparison to other movies of the era. Without a shadow of a doubt, ‘Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed’ should be held in the highest echelon of excellence within the Hammer family if only for its superb composition alone. The movie reaches an exhilarating climax yet the viewer could feel cheated by the abrupt nature in which the film ends. The hasty ending is one of the few faults in this movie but in retrospect serves the series well as it does leave certain questions unanswered and we all know what unanswered questions lead to.
The other faults with the movie are so intermittent that although they are noticeable, they rarely detract from the viewing experience. A handful of scenes seem to be unnecessarily prolonged, temporarily staggering the otherwise smooth, flowing feel that the movie has. These scenes represent the very few moments where a viewer’s concentration is tested. However, even considering the prolonged nature of the scenes in question, the pacing of the film suffers little as Terence Fisher‘s direction shows impressive capability and he makes these scenes fit into the movie almost seamlessly. Even with the sporadic lapses in quality ‘Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed’ is fundamental viewing for any serious horror movie fan. This is a movie based around great performances, stunning visuals, a haunting and atmospheric soundtrack as well as quintessential Hammer-style horror.
Theatrical trailer on YouTube.