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Paramount Studios presents
Helder: You are Baron Frankenstein, aren't you?
DVD ReviewThis rather slow-moving 1974 Hammer entry in the Frankenstein mythos is most affectionately remembered as a title that marked the end of an era, with this Terence Fisher-directed film serving as the last of six films the studio produced about the monster-building Baron, here again played magnificently by the legendary Peter Cushing. Cushing was the kind of hip and commanding actor who could elevate a mundane genre film to an entirely new level, and even though the Anthony Hinds script (here writing under his Hammer alter ego, John Elder) doesn't offer him much to do, Cushing could always make any film he is in worth a look.
In the opening sequences, a handsome young doctor named Simon Helder (Shane Briant) is busy emulating the works of his idol, the late Baron Victor Frankenstein, including the demand for fresh corpses for experimentation. After he is arrested and convicted of "practicing sorcery", he is sent to an isolated asylum for the criminally insane, in fact the very same one where Baron Frankenstein served a sentence and died. But considering this is a Hammer film, it should come as no surprise that Victor Frankenstein (Cushing) is very much alive, having blackmailed the asylum director into a position as the hospital doctor, under the name Dr. Carl Victor. The aging Baron takes young Helder under his wing, and the pair begin radical and secret experiments on a savage creature (played by Darth Vader actor David Prowse) who is in desperate need of a brain.
Fisher, the talented director responsible for the wonderful Hammer classics The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), all of which starred Cushing, is left simply going through the motions this time around. The screenplay takes a frustratingly long time to establish itself, and Prowse's furry creature never seems as menacing as all of the characters consider him to be. The few stabs at traditional genre moments, like the obligatory brain transplant, the jars of errant eyeballs, or the standard issue Hammer babe (this time the lovely Madeline Smith), are plopped in between long passages of dialogue that vaguely hint at what could have been, but somehow was never given the structure needed to fully develop.
A sad irony to Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell is the film's lamely open-ended conclusion, one that will likely leave a poor taste in the mouth of most Hammer fans. It is bad enough that the creature is sorely underused as anything but a medical experiment, but after a string of great performances as Baron Frankenstein, Cushing is denied a proper sendoff, as Fisher and screenwriter Hinds (who borrows liberally from The Revenge of Frankenstein) laid the groundwork for a potential sequel that never materialized. Instead, he is left to spout a tired "we'll get it right next time" speech that in hindsight makes him appear more dottering than dastardly.
Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C
Image Transfer Review: Paramount has issued Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell in a more than tolerable 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The print does have a patina of soft grain throughout, though colors are reproduced nicely; fleshtones look accurate, and black levels are decent for an early 1970s film. A few small white nicks are evident during the film, as well.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: A fine Dolby Digital mono track is provided, and it is hiss and distortion free. Dialogue is clear, and the beauty of Hammer vet James Bernard's score is never compromised.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by David Prowse, Madeline Smith, Jonathan Sothcott
Extras Review: Cast members David Prowse (The Creature) and Madeline Smith (Sarah), along with genre historian Jonathan Sothcott offer up a commentary track that delves nicely into an oral Hammer history, and as such should appeal greatly to fans of the studio. Prowse and Smith have plenty of interesting recollections about the Hammer heyday (more interesting than this film), and Sothcott keeps things on track.
In fact, I suggest you bypass the film, but rent this one just to check out the commentary track.
The disc is cut into 12 chapters, and includes subtitles in English.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsThis uneventful entry in the Hammer library features not just Peter Cushing, but Darth Vader himself, David Prowse, as the hairy monster with a smart guy's brain. Cushing is undeniably cool as usual, and the set dressings ooze Hammer's classic gothic vibe, but as a horror film this is remarkably dull.
The informative Hammer history commentary by cast members Prowse and Madeline Smith, led by genre historian Jonathan Sothcott, is the real treat here.
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