*. Frankenstein . . . not destroyed but rather reinvented. Again. Because there’s no Christopher Lee here to play the Monster, and indeed no Monster to speak of. Instead Dr. Frankenstein, still the urbane and drily unbalanced Peter Cushing, has gotten into the business of brain transplants. That’s not quite the same thing as reviving sewn-together corpses.
*. Things begin with a shock, specifically a splash of blood sprayed against the metal plaque on the wall of a medical office when a man with a sickle decapitates someone on the street and steals their head. Now that’s a way to grab the audience’s attention!
*. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to that opening, though I do give the Hammer team credit for trying to do something new. This was their fifth Frankenstein film, and to be honest there’s never been a lot you could do with this story in the first place.
*. The idea here, and it’s a stretch, has it that a former associate of Frankenstein’s by the name of Brandt has been committed to an asylum but Frankenstein wants to break him out so that he can (1) cure his mental illness, and (2) get him to reveal a secret formula he’d been working on. Brandt dies though, so Frankenstein, with the help of a young, unwilling accomplice (Simon Ward), has to transplant Brandt’s brain into the body of another guy (Freddie Jones). Brandt doesn’t like what Frankenstein has done and determines to kill himself and take the mad doctor with him.
*. Despite the opening bit of splatter, this isn’t a terribly gory movie, and the most upsetting moment is the transplant scene, with its clinical use of the drill and saw. I wonder if people actually thought brain transplants could work like that in 1969. Doctors probably knew better, but maybe a general audience would buy it.
*. But let’s give a shout out to the general audience here. Frankenstein blackmails the younger Doctor Holst into helping him with his ghoulish scheme and tells him at one point “Dr. Knox had Burke and Hare to assist him. Think what they did for surgery between them. Now I have you.” In 1969 I think Burke and Hare would have been, if not household names, familiar enough to make a line like that in a movie like this work. Today I doubt many people, at least outside of Scotland and the north of England, will get the reference.
*. Frankenstein has another great line that comes when Holst says that he’ll continue to help him but that he should let Holst’s fiancée go as Frankenstein doesn’t need her. To which Cushing responds with the clipped pronouncement “I need Anna to make coffee!”
*. Coffee and other things. This film is notorious for a scene where Cushing rapes Anna (Veronica Carlson). Apparently it was a scene nobody wanted to film but that the studio insisted on as a way of livening things up. I think it plays as very awkward, but it’s not totally out of character for Cushing’s Frankenstein, as we’d already seen how he’d treated women in his first outing in the role a dozen years earlier, The Curse of Frankenstein. It does give some idea of the way these movies were slapped together though. All the stuff with the police investigation was also bolted on later, and it shows as it has no direct connection to the rest of the movie and is totally superfluous in terms of plot.
*. Even without these unwanted additions I still don’t know how good a movie this is. As I’ve said, it’s certainly different. This may be the saddest version of the Monster ever, in large part because he isn’t a monster. It’s just Freddie Jones with big puppy eyes and a shaved noggin with a scar going round the top. Nevertheless, his (that is, Dr. Brandt’s) wife still can’t bear the sight of him, no matter how delicate he is about preparing her by telling her in advance what has happened. Not a lot of understanding there. And indeed, the climax is all pretty downbeat, with even poor Anna being killed in a fashion that might have been meant as symbolic of her rape. It’s all a bit grim. But there is a great fire scene. Say what you will about the cheap horror films of yesteryear, but they really delivered when it came to burning men and buildings.
*. Hammer fans, and Frankenstein aficionados, rate this entry pretty highly, I think for the way it gives us a unique variation on the Monster as the victim of a medical experiment that, surprisingly, mostly goes right. The overall effect was akin to what I felt watching Hitchcock’s Frenzy, with its mix of grubbiness, sleaze, gore, and gruesomely effective and darkly comic thrills. The reveal of the body by the burst water main, for example, is pure Hitchcock, and done reasonably well in that style. Overall, however, this is too gloomy a movie for me to return to all that often. It’s a worthy entry in a storied franchise, but not an experiment anyone found worth repeating.