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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell: The Ends Justify a Monster

Even if Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974[i]) is a bit of a sleeper – I like it.  I like it partly because it’s a hammer film – produced by the British film studio Hammer Film Productions, and partly because it was directed by Terence Fisher, director of numerous horror films, and, what is more, it stars Peter Cushing and David Prowse[ii] – who would later embody all that is evil as Darth Vader (though you see about as much of his actual face in this film as you do in Star Wars.  It might be a little slow, but it does have its moments.

Monster from Hell was the seventh of Frankenstein movies produced by Hammer Films – and the sixth to star Peter Cushing as Doctor Baron Victor Frankenstein[iii]

The film opens with the young doctor Simon Helder following example of his hero Baron Frankenstein, attempting to recreate some of his infamous experiments.  He is soon arrested for sorcery. It’s appropriate then that he’s named Simon, like Simon Magus in Acts chapter 8.  (The Dutch word “helder” means bright, clear, lucid… is that relevant too?)  For his crimes, Helder is committed to an insane asylum, where, as these things go, he soon meets his hero, Baron Victor Frankenstein, who was thought to have been dead for many years. 

And, as you would expect, the two of them begin trying to perfect Frankenstein’s procedures.  Using parts “donated” by the inmates of the asylum they create another horrific monster.  Helder is increasingly disgusted by the work and by the callous attitude of his mentor.  And this I think is the important part of the film. 

As it begins, Helder claims that he is working for the good of mankind – so it’s okay that he violates the law and societal taboos.  The end justifies the means; because he intends to do good he’s allowed to do terrible things. But he sees this same attitude taken to horrifying – but logical – extremes in Doctor Frankenstein and he is disgusted. 

The obvious monster in Monster from Hell is ugly and cruel – but so is the “good” doctor.

[i] 1974 also saw the release of another great Frankenstein movie - Young Frankenstein staring Peter Boyle as the Monster.
[ii] This was actually Prowse’s second portrayal of the monster.  He was in the Hammer Films 1970 production of The Horror of Frankenstein – a sort of parody of the Frankenstein mythos.
[iii] In Mary Shelly’s novel Victor Frankenstein is neither a Doctor (he’s a medical student) nor a Baron…

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