Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

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A series of bizarre crimes involving beheadings, secret labs, theft of medical instruments and expert killing methods stump investigators. All they know for sure is that they are dealing with “a mad and highly dangerous medical adventurer.” Truly here there are three scientists along the spectrum of madness and nefarious intent. You have Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) and his former colleague Dr. Brandt (George Pravda), with whom Frankenstein collaborated on developing a method for transplanting brains. Frankenstein’s experiments failed, but Brandt found the key to a successful procedure. However, before Frankenstein learned that secret, Brandt was driven completely, incurably bonkers from stress and being ostracized by his peers.

Frankenstein kidnaps his old friend from the asylum and gets to work transplanting his brain into the healthier body of Dr. Richter (Freddie Jones), intending to awaken Brandt and extract that last key piece of knowledge (a backup hard copy of that secret formula is also locked in Brandt’s study). To secure a secret lab, Frankenstein blackmails a young doctor working at the asylum, Karl (Simon Ward) who has been trafficking cocaine to help his fiancé Anna (Veronica Carlson) finance her mother’s medical treatment. Now Frankenstein gets an expert assistant plus access to Anna’s massive boarding house. He also earns the couple’s resentment, which will complicate matters once the trio and Brandt are discovered and must flee to the country.

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This is one of my favorite Hammer “monster” films, and I use those quotes because this is the familiar tale taken in different, more realistic directions. Where most conventional versions look at the doctor assembling and giving life to his monster, who is then misunderstood and hounded by a fearful community, this version is about the villainous doctor and makes him a real human monster. His creation doesn’t get up off the table until the last part of the movie, when Brandt awakens, escapes and goes to visit his wife (Maxine Audley). Even then, Frankenstein’s thing is no grunting, mumbling half-wit, but a sympathetic, intelligent scientist trying to comprehend the terrible things his research has wrought. After seeing the horror of what they’ve accomplished, and the impossibility of returning to his old life, Brandt sets a trap for Frankenstein (one of those famous Hammer climactic fires) so that they both die and take their perversion of science with them.

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Detailed subplots involve rich characters, and are so nicely woven into the main events that every development holds interest and nudges the plot in unpredictable but logical and satisfying directions. There’s even some comic relief with Thorley Walters as the pompous and arrogant inspector. As with the best Hammer productions, there’s plenty to marvel at: lush colour, costuming, atmospheric scenery and sets, from musty cellars to Bohemian neighbourhoods. There’s a shocker of an assault on Anna, and plenty of suspenseful moments thanks to police searches, nosy neighbours, screaming mental patients, and a broken water main. The opening struggle finds a masked Frankenstein fighting with a burglar and hurriedly disposing of his latest victim, and during the brain surgery, the sounds of vigorous sawing and drilling into skulls will fool you into thinking you saw the whole grisly affair. Cushing sells it all with his single minded ruthlessness and smug superiority, and he makes perfect sense when you hear him talk about his goals. He’s being held back by ignorant neanderthals, and just wants to advance human knowledge, and enable genius to live on after the bodies that house great minds have died.  

This post is part of the Movie Scientist blogathon hosted by Ruth of Silver Screenings and Christina Wehner. Please check out all the movie scientists– the good, the mad and otherwise by clicking here.

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17 thoughts on “Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)”

    1. It is a great one, there are a few things I don’t love in it but overall one of my favourite Hammer movies. It’s out on that Warner set if you want to see. Thanks!

  1. This isn’t normally my thing, but the themes you’ve presented are intriguing. And Peter Cushing’s performance sounds great! (As always.) I can never get enough of a smug, ruthless villain.

    Thanks for coming to the Movie Scientist party – and for all your behind-the-scenes help, too! 🙂

    1. My pleasure! Hadn’t seen this one in a long time and enjoyed revisiting it, even better than I remembered. Thanks to you both for hosting!

  2. My problem with this one is always the drug-dealing college student couple. They are *clearly* a sop to 1960s horror audiences, and have no place in Victorian Gothic horror. Until they show up, the movie’s great. Then suddenly I’m jolted out of suspension of disbelief and have to fight my way back in.

    1. That, and I’m bothered by the rape scene. I know it’s to show what a villain the Dr. is, but it’s so out of character. Cushing hated having to do that.

  3. I’ve always felt that – as much as I’m a sucker for Frankenstein movies – having him create an uncomprehending monster was a bit of a cop-out, taking the focus off of what a crime it is for Frankenstein to play around with human lives the way he does, but this sounds like it deals with that very issue.

    Of course, I’m also a sucker for anything with Peter Cushing. I’ve loved him ever since Star Wars. 🙂 Does it matter if this is seen out of order? So far, I’ve only seen the first one, The Curse of Frankenstein.

    Thanks so much for your contributions to this blogathon…in many ways!

    1. Love Cushing too, and this is such a fantastic performance from him. You can totally watch this only knowing the basics of Frankenstein lore. I love the different direction it takes and how it looks at the implications on real people. Thanks so much for hosting this blogathon!

  4. Easily the best of the series with Peter. Still the rape scene boggles the mind and I know Peter and Veronica were dead set against it. Studio pressure. Freddie Jones should recieve much of the credit here as well. Love the arm and the sprinkler scene. I have to add Veronica one of the best of the Hammer girls and travels the fan circuit with some wonderful stories.

    1. Yes otherwise I love the movie, Freddie was super, in just those few scenes he packs in a lot of emotion and great action as he gets that fire going! Fabulous stuff, the water main in the garden was morbidly funny. So neat you got to hear her stories and have that kind of connection with these movies and stars 🙂

  5. Oh wow… I think this was the very first Frankenstein movie I ever saw in a theater. I must revisit this one.

  6. I used to track down everything Hammer made,
    but,for some reason this film always evaded me.
    I recently got the Warner Blu Ray and a lovely
    transfer it is too.
    The film that really disturbed Cushing was
    CORRUPTION which is an OTT “Slasher Movie”
    although there are moments of genuine quality
    among the carnage.
    Great write up of a very interesting Hammer Film.
    Cushing deserved a Knighthood which sadly
    he never got-a true English Gentleman if ever
    there was one.
    Wouldn’t Cushing have been aces as QUATERMASS-
    big mistake from Hammer not casting him in the third film
    in the series.

    1. Him being such a likable gentleman, no matter what the role, makes that assault scene so hard to take. But yes I love him and yes, he would totally have made a great Quatermass! I have Corruption but haven’t seen yet (so many movies sitting here crying out to be watched!).

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