This oddball entry was the last movie in Hammer Films’ Frankenstein cycle that starred the incomparable Peter Cushing as the most infamous mad scientist of all. Judging by the sets and the sketchy monster makeup, it was certainly a low-budget affair, but for sheer audacity and inspired lunacy, Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell deserves a place alongside better-known examples of Hammer/Cushing greatness like Curse of Frankenstein and Evil of Frankenstein. Seriously, give it a chance.
Young surgeon Simon Helder (played by bored Sting lookalike Shane Briant—by far the most emotionally blasé mad scientist that I can recall) is sentenced to an insane asylum for experimenting on corpses and discovers that the man in charge is none other than his mentor in madness, Victor Frankenstein (Cushing). Together they make use of body parts donated by expired inmates and fashion a creature that resembles a simian drag queen version of George “The Animal” Steel. The pitiful “monster from hell” does very little to earn such a fearsome sobriquet, and it’s really up to Cushing in a foppish blond wig to carry the movie—which he does admirably.
Seldom has this dignified and methodical actor behaved in such a delightfully giddy, unhinged manner. When his plans for the monster—which include mating it with his beautiful mute assistant (Madeline Smith)—come to light, even the normally listless Helder is forced to acknowledge, “But surely you’re mad.” To which Cushing’s doctor replies without missing a beat, “Yes, perhaps. But I’ve never felt more elated.”
Despite the low horror quotient, veteran director Terrence Fisher doubles down on the atmosphere, including a fairly excruciating brain-transplant sequence that gives Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell some much-needed shock value. It’s no triumph, but for acolytes of Cushing and the Frankenstein oeuvre, it shouldn’t be missed.
Note: The monster is played by none other than David Prowse, who would ascend to immortality as the man in the Darth Vader suit in a series of films conceived by George Lucas.