This Warner Archive release is a Manufacture-On-Demand (MOD) DVD. It is made to be played in “play only” DVD devices, and may not play in some DVD recorders or PC drives. This DVD, however, played with no problems in the Toshiba DVD recorder used for this review. This title is available directly from WBShop.com by clicking here.
Dr. Simon Helder (Shane Briant) is sentenced to an asylum for the criminally insane after being caught raiding graves and experimenting with the dead. In the asylum, however, he finds the one person who inspired his work, a man long thought dead: Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing).
Directed by Terence Fisher.
Hammer horror films were famous for delivering atmospheric, Gothic horror delivered by some of Britain’s finest actors. Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, the 1973 film that marked the last of the Hammer Frankenstein films, delivers on fans’ expectations with an excellent final installment. This film has been out of print on DVD for a decade, but Paramount has re-released it through Warner Archive’s manufacture-on-demand DVD label.
Set in an insane asylum, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell was an attempt to “pass the mantle” from Cushing to Shane Briant, a younger actor who Hammer hoped would extend their series of monster/horror films. It didn’t quite work out that way; even though he did do Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter the next year, it bombed and the fall of Hammer Films was in full swing. In this film, however, it is easy to see why Hammer was so high on Briant. He’s got great screen presence, and he perfectly captured the tortured genius of Dr. Helder.
The film begins with Dr. Helder being sentenced to an asylum after he is caught experimenting on the dead. While there, he finds that one of the former prisoners there, thought to be dead, is actually still alive. It also just happens to be Dr. Frankenstein (Cushing), the man who inspired Helder’s obsession with experimenting on the dead in hopes of reviving them. Of course, Frankenstein is still trying to perfect his plan, and Helder becomes an eager understudy.
Using the best parts from assorted inmates, Frankenstein and Helder succeed in reviving a dead man. However, the brain they use remembers his former life, which drives the creature to the brink of insanity.
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell certainly captures the necessary Gothic atmosphere, and it delivers well in the horror department. If there’s a problem with the film, it is with the monster itself. The makeup just isn’t very good, and while most Hammer fans overlook the blatant low quality with nostalgia, I found it far too much of a distraction. David Prowse (who went on to play some character named Darth Vader in some space opera with Cushing a few years later) does a commendable job with his performance as the monster. His soulful eyes come through the makeup and give the character some life. It’s just too bad it looks like he is wearing a bad Quasimodo mask the whole time.
Cushing, of course, is perfect as Dr. Frankenstein, a character he portrayed in no less than six Hammer films. Rather than take the “mad scientist” route, Cushing made Frankenstein a brilliant, driven soul who believed the ends justified the means. While he sees no value in the prisoners he harvests for his experiments, he shows enough compassion to take care of Sarah (Madeline Smith), his mute lab assistant with a secret from her past. For a generation who only knows Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars, the Hammer films are an opportunity to discover just what a fine actor he was.
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell isn’t the best of the Hammer Frankenstein films (1957’s Curse of Frankenstein can hold that claim), but it stands as a great final tribute to Cushing and the studio that redefined horror. While there is some gore, it’s strength lies in the performances of Cushing, Briant, and Prowse, who explore the psychological horrors of the experiments. It is smart and scary, and an excellent film.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
The video transfer is solid, using a clean print with only the slightest hint of debris. While the video quality is very good, very fine detail is a bit soft. Colors are subdued but consistent. Film grain is visible but not too distracting, unless there is smoke on the screen. There are very minor video compression issues. The audio is a simple 2.0 mix from the original mono, but it is free of distortion (except for some occasional minor hissing) and exhibits good clarity.
An impressive audio commentary is included, with Madeline Smith (Sarah) and David Prowse (The Monster) recalling their experiences. Horror film historian Jonathan Sothcott also participates, but he’s smart enough to let Smith and Prowse dominate the discussion. Both have great stories, talk about Cushing at length, and even discuss their other Hammer films (Prowse only gives passing references to Star Wars, however). No other extras are included, which, given the Hammer fan base, is a shame.
THE BOTTOM LINE: BUY IT OR NETFLIX IT?
Ratings (1-10 scale)
Overall score: 6
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell delivers less on the monster and more on the madness of Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Helder. It is classic Hammer, and if you are a fan of the genre, a worthy watch. Fans will want to jump on this release, which has been hard to find before now.
Release date: August 27, 2013
Running time: 93 minutes
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Special features: None
Audio commentary: Participants include Madeline Smith, David Prowse, and Jonathan Sothcott.
Label: Warner Archive