Revisiting a Monster

And here I am, falling behind already. To my credit, it has been a roller coaster lately. In the last week I:

  • endured a seismic shift at work
  • endured another one
  • got hit by two enormous migraines, more or less related by above, which took me out for two days
  • spoke on a panel of writers about writing because people think I’m a writer
  • made pretty cupcakes for a birthday

Oh! I also, watched a lot of movies. Let’s talk about that. A partial list:

  • Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)
  • Fascination (1979)
  • Nightmares (1980)
  • The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine (1974)
  • Baron of Blood (1972)
  • Kill, Baby…Kill! (1966)
  • Crucible of Horror (1970)

There were others, but I think they’re lost in the migraine black hole.  Most of these I found via Netlifx streaming, and most were really, really not good. Is there some rule that the only horror films from before the 1980s that Netlflix will stream are incredibly crappy ones?  I watched Jean Rollin’s Fascination (1979) last Monday and I still don’t know what happened. There were boobs, and blood, and blood on boobs, and a chick carrying a scythe, and a gang of murderous thieves and some stabbing and ennui and english subtitles. Very confusing and not so much scary.

The Hammer Studio entry here, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hellwas not bad. And yet, it was not very good. A quick search reveals that I wrote about this film five years ago:

Last night I settled into bed with my codeine and Hammer Studio’s Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1973), a really solid production and the last of Hammer’s Frankenstein flicks. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, actually. Peter Cushing puts in an incredible performance, as usual, as the mad doctor F., and makes you go right along with his plan to experiment on the sad denizens of an asylum/prison, twisted sense of ethics or no, because how could you not? It’s Peter Cushing and there’s just no arguing with his methodical passion. Even if he’s wearing a bad wig here that he purportedly said made him look like Helen Hayes…Add to these choice performances some really icky gore, a tacky yet affecting monster, and an excellent score and you have one fine movie, indeed.

True, yes, Peter Cushing is marvelous in this movie. But he is always marvelous. Always. And on this viewing, his bravura performance wasn’t quite enough for me. I have to respectfully disagree with 2008 Megan here because this movie just makes no sense. I forgive films from Hammer a whole heck of a lot, largely because of the generally sensitive, creative direction and very fine performances in them. They are also always well-scored and meticulously art directed. The sets, the costuming, the cinematography – all generally gorgeous. But. But. There are a few Hammer films – many in the early to mid 70s – that stretch even my generous goodwill.

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell has a plot that requires several gymnastic leaps of logic: In a gritty-looking Victorian era London, a young surgeon (Shane Briant) is arrested for performing experiments involving bodies and body parts (including a jar of really convincing* fake eyeballs), and sent to the local asylum. The asylum is run by an embezzling rape-y bureaucrat who can’t or won’t control the sadistic behavior of his guards. Soon, however, we learn that the place is really run by the asylum physician, Dr. Victor (Cushing), a man with some big secrets. Which I will tell you because are you going to go watch this? Anyway you can figure out in a second that he is (spoiler!) the previously “deceased” Dr. Victor Frankenstein, who apparently faked his own death and is in collusion with this asylum director for some reason. Soon enough, our young surgeon and Dr. Victor figure out that they have a lot in common, and are hanging out, bro-style (aka, experimenting on patients). Dr. F has created a pieces-parts creature out of a dead patient and some spare hands he totally cut off a guy found, and they begin working on him like he’s a ’62 Corvair, adding new eyes and shiny new brain and hooker headers and thrush pipes. Fun trivia: the creature is played by David Prowse, but (spoiler!) Grand Moff Tarkin is going to come out better in this one.

There’s also a beautiful mute girl who assists Dr. Victor, several tragic patients who meet predictable very tragic ends, and so much tacky gore, I started laughing at it. Come on, Hammer! The brain surgery scene alone was just beyond cheap looking, especially for Hammer. And when the mute girl suddenly spoke for no reason, and the young surgeon got sort of ethical for no reason, I was a little bit done with this one. I wanted to love it, but it just wouldn’t let me.

Although, Cushing gave me one final gift. In the last scenes (also completely gory for no reason), he has a moment of reaction to the (spoiler!) death of the creature that is so eloquent and riveting, that just for a moment, he tricked me into thinking I was watching a better film. Okay, Hammer. You win.




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