The fifth installment of Hammer’s Frankenstein franchise finds Peter Cushing in fine form as the Baron. The film sees Victor in need of safe haven after his former lab is found out and so he lands at a boarding house, ready to keep a low profile until he finds out that one of his colleagues is in the local asylum. Blackmailing his landlady and her boyfriend, they break the doctor out and transplant his brain into another body so that Victor might glean the information he needs, information that will allow him to continue on with his future experiments. The movie might feature an almost standard formula, especially for a Frankenstein film, and once again featuring no monster other than the Baron, but it is what goes into this film that makes it so good.
The film is a fairly dramatic one and it does have its fair share of horrific moments in the picture, committed by not only Cushing’s Frankenstein but also his accomplices played by Veronica Carlson and Simon Ward. All three of our players would commit a murder or two during the film whether intended or not, though, in Victor’s case, it was. Cushing would give his character a little more zeal than what was normally portrayed and as such, the Baron was more frightening this time around. He turns into a man that you do not want to cross for you have no idea just what he will do. It is here that he almost resembles the madness seen in Colin Clive’s version of the Baron and it gives you chills to see that calculating mind at work. Starring opposite the man would be Simon Ward who plays Dr. Karl Host and he does a great job in the film, though at certain times he seems lost, almost as if he is a little intimidated acting across from the man. Ward was by no means terrible, but he could have been just a bit better. On the other hand, Veronica Carlson was quite good as Anna Spengler, holding her own against the men while adding a nice dynamic with her presence. When all was said and done though, it would be Cushing who would steal the show with his disturbing performance.
Once in a while though, there comes a point in a film where your belief in what is happening suddenly breaks. It could be anything from a bit of dialogue, to a particular scene or even something a character does. Such an event happens in this film, and while it does not completely ruin the movie, it seems strange that such a scene was even made as it goes against everything you know up until this point. The scene in question calls for Victor to rape Anna. It is just a short, very momentary thing, but it seems extremely out of place in this film. Frankenstein would come to this event and reach this diabolical level of malevolence thanks in part to writer Bert Batt. Batt understands Victor and his obsession and because of this, it is one of the few times where we see some real character development happen with Frankenstein. In the previous installments of the series, Victor was fairly status quo, never really advancing from when we first saw him in those first two movies, but here, Batt gives the man a deeper psychosis. Whether it is actual madness or whether Frankenstein was simply evil deep down all along, the things he does in this picture are worse than ever before. One of those things is the aforementioned assault upon Veronica Carlson’s character. While it seems to fit the actions of the leading man in this picture, it also goes against everything we know of him simultaneously. He is supposed to be a proper gentleman, and while it could be blamed upon the madness that seems to rise within him, it also makes you wonder if it truly is madness or if the man was simply evil all along. Frankly, the scene was unneeded and added nothing to the overall story.
Terence Fisher would return to direct this installment of the franchise and he would paint this portrait of madness with a flair that seemed to have been inspired by it. What was also quite interesting was that the pace of the film would increase ever more slightly with each terrible act that Victor made until that amazing, climactic scene. It is frantic and frenetic watching the Baron face off against the man he tried to save amongst a burning house and when he is offered his heart’s desire and the flames or to live, yet face the police outside, you wonder just which choice Victor might make. Fisher’s gradual build to this scene is perfect and it is one of the most exciting moments to take place out of any Frankenstein film.
With five entries in the Frankenstein series up until this point, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is definitely one of the best to come out from the studio. You could watch this film by itself, but to fully see Victor’s decline, it is recommended to watch them all. This film could have fallen off its feet with the stumble it took, but it continued on strong and it is one of the best films to come from Fisher, Cushing and even Hammer itself.
4.5 out of 5