Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
Review by Mike Finkelstein
So, in case you were wondering, Frankenstein is still alive and still doing that mad science thing. After having to flee from the old house he was working in (due to a meddling snooper, too many deaths, and then curious police), the mad doctor found a new city to live in and a boarding house with which to take up residence. As it so happens, another doctor who was researching the field of life-after-death lived in that city as well. Downside: he was driven mad (probably due to all the mad science, naturally).
Thankfully (kind of), Frankenstein knew how to fix the madness -- he just needed access to the man, no easy feat as the doctor was being held in an insane asylum. However, with a little dirt on another doctor, Dr. Frederick Brandt (played by George Pravda), Frankenstein was able to get access to the nut house (and gain a little extra help with his mad science). Of course, this being a Frankenstein movie, it's only a matter of time now before someone dies, a body has to be brought back to life, and everything goes tits up...
As I've commented before, there's a certain formula to Hammer Frankenstein movies -- the doctor shows up, have some new theory about science he wants to try, a monster is born, and then people start dying. And sure, this fifth movie in the series, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed doesn't stray that far from the set plot of the series, but it certain attacks the material with relish.
Firstly, it must be noted that once again Cushing crushed it at the mad Baron Frankenstein. He always brings a certain cold calculation to the malevolent, bat shit insanity of the title character, and this time it really felt like Cushing brought his A game.To a certain extent (at least with hindsight) he may have already known (or suspected) that this could be his last performance as the mad doctor -- the next movie in the series, The Horror of Frankenstein, was a comedic reboot with an entirely new cast and, had it not bombed, Hammer likely wouldn't have made another Frankenstein starring Cushing (the seventh and final flick in the series, Frankenstein and the Moster from Hell).
Now, true, no one else in the movie is able to bring the kind of performance that Cushing did. Sure, Freddie Jones find a certain sad pathos in his character (as the experimented upon "monster" that we won't spoil) which makes the climax of the movie work, but both Pravda and Carlson (as the Baron's unwilling assistants) fade in the background whenever the Baron are around, and are completely boring when the scenes focus only on them. No one could outshine Cushing when it came to Frankenstein movies.
Thankfully, there's not a lot of time spent away from the mad Baron. Sure, there's a plotline about the police slowly trying to track Frankie down... but it fades to the background right when the mad science really picks up, and we don't really think about it again. The rest of the story is focused on the doctors and their monster.
Plus, without spoiling too much, it's nice to see one of the doctor's experiments work exactly as he intended. Sure, shit still blows up in his face, but that's due a ludicrous number of back-and-forth crosses and double-crosses (that at least all feel earned). The story moves at a good clip, keeps itself focused, and each new development in the story is well earned (and not just thrown onto the pile, like so many of it's predecessors would do).
It is also worth noting that the mad science actually seems half-way plausible this time around. Frankenstein isn't trying to transplant a soul, or having an old brain change a new body into it's previous host because of metaphysics (both plotlines that happened in previous movies). It all hinges on healing brains and doing some transplants -- it works (if you don't think too hard). And because it's believable, the movie actually manages to pull off a trick the others never did: there's actual tension. This is a thriller that actual thrills.
In the end it all adds up to a Frankenstein that's actually worth watching. Fans of classic horror will be pleased, while newbies to the series have a good starting point -- so long as you know the Baron makes monsters, you're set on any inconsequential backstory you might have missed. Give this one a watch and enjoy the bat-shit intensity of Cushing. He's well worth the price of admission.