During the three year period that followed FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1966) the staple Hammer horror output was beginning to look a little quaint. The relaxation of censorship both in this country and the USA saw an increase in sex and violence, both of which were being exploited in rival horror productions that appealed more to the youth market which had been Hammer’s target.
There was also a feeling that the studio needed to be less reliant on period gothic and explore more diverse horror genres to keep up with the changing market. The novels of Dennis Wheatley, still top sellers at the time, were considered as the basis for a new cycle of Hammer productions and two of them were filmed in 1968.
THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (AKA THE DEVIL’S BRIDE) looked a success on paper, its satanic grounding chiming with the film version of ROSEMARY’S BABY released the same year. However it did not share that film’s success, which is probably attributable to the modern urban location of ROSEMARY’S BABY speaking more directly to audiences. The aristocratic English drawing room setting of the Wheatley adaptation did not connect so well, particularly in America where it seriously underperformed.
The other adaptation of Wheatley’s UNCHARTED SEAS, retitled THE LOST CONTINENT, also failed to shine at the box office. Its scenario of a lost world filled with monsters fitted more with Hammer’s family fantasy adventures like ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966), but the film’s explicit horror and violence earnt it an X certificate and a potential paying audience was closed off.
Fortunately Christopher Lee’s third Dracula film released that year did do the business, and the American distributors let it be known they preferred Hammer to return to what they were best known for. The studio accordingly fell back on their other tried and trusted franchise, only with added spice to move it along with the changing market. The result was a fifth Frankenstein film which proved to be the darkest of the entire Hammer series, though one still highly praised to this day. It remains the last entry to achieve this.
FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969) had been slated for production in 1967 straight after FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN, but then held back while the studio concentrated on the aforementioned DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968). After that film was completed, Anthony Hinds was too busy with the Hammer TV anthology series JOURNEY TO THE UNKNOWN to write a screenplay and suggested to producer Anthony Nelson Keys that he should devise one himself.
The challenge was to come up with new direction for Baron Frankenstein to pursue, especially in the light of real life spare part surgery advancing in leaps and bounds. In the three years since the previous film there had been significant breakthroughs in transplanting heart, kidney, liver, and even bone marrow. In 1968 the first organ procurement organisation was established in America, and organ donor cards became a legal document of gift across the country.
However, any fears that fact was catching up with the fantasy of Frankenstein did not faze Keys at all. Prior to filming he told Tim Stout, editor of the magazine SUPERNATURAL:
“You see, we always set the plot way back in the past. Frankenstein is a man ahead of his time. Though a modern audience might feel that some of what he does is possible, the characters in the story never do. To them his experiments and surgery are completely fantastic.”
In trying to keep ahead of the audience, Keys redeveloped the plot device from the previous film which had the Baron retrieving the living soul of his recently executed assistant and transferring it to a new host body. This time, he would set about rescuing the brilliant mind of a colleague, Dr. Brandt, from the insanity in which it had been gripped.
Keys asked the film’s proposed assistant director, Bert Batt, to help him develop a screen story, which Batt himself wrote and submitted in December 1968. Although Hinds was free of his TV commitment by then it is unclear whether he was involved in the subsequent revisions that shaped the final shooting script, but one thing is for sure. The more sympathetic qualities that Hinds had invested Baron Frankenstein with in the previous two films were removed and he was back to being the callously immoral exploiter of the earlier entries, only more so.
This is immediately established in the opening scene, for which one may be forgiven for thinking had come straight out of a Jack the Ripper movie. A shadowy figure with a walking stick and hatbox in hand stalks a night time street and then quietly watches a top hatted gentleman (Jim Collier) disembark from a horse drawn carriage. Waiting as the man approaches, the figure strikes from the shadows with a hand held scythe and blood splatters a sign bearing the name Dr. Heidecke, identifying to the audience that he is the victim.
The killer returns to his lair where a burglar (Harold Goodwin) has just broken in. Hearing the figure approaching, the intruder retreats to the basement where he discovers a laboratory and is scared by the sight of a human body contained in an upright glass case. Attempting to hide around a corner, the burglar is discovered by the shadowy figure, a pock marked bald headed man who promptly attacks him. After a struggle during which the severed head of Dr. Heidecke coming rolling out of the hat box, the intruder escapes and his attacker pulls off a rubber mask revealing him to be an exasperated Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing).
This opening prologue admirably sets up the film with some darkly poetic sequences. The scythe with which Frankenstein despatches his victim suggests a grim reaper figure, and establishes him from the outset as a nastier personality who will stop at nothing to achieve his goal. The blood splattering of Dr. Heidecke’s sign, as opposed to actually showing the man being slaughtered, is another effectively impressionistic touch.
Frankenstein promptly disposes of the severed head and the prepared body via a trapdoor to a subterranean river below. Meanwhile, the blood covered distraught burglar is picked up by the police and brought in for questioning by the haughty Inspector Frisch (Thorley Walters) and his police surgeon assistant (Geoffrey Bayldon), during which news comes that Dr. Heidecke’s headless body has been discovered.
The police investigate Frankenstein’s lair to find their suspect has already absconded. They have no idea at this point who he is, only a description of a pock marked man. From the laboratory equipment, the police surgeon recognises this to be the work of a doctor but Inspector Frisch is not so convinced.
Frisch next interviews a local mortuary attendant who informs him the body of another recently deceased doctor has been mysteriously taken from its slab. The police surgeon suggests that this could be the body seen in the cellar, and Frisch now concludes their suspect to be a “medical adventurer.”
Meanwhile, Frankenstein rides to another town and takes a room in a boarding house run by the young Anna Spengler (Veronica Carlson) while her sick mother is away in a sanatorium. Registering under an assumed name, he remains aloof from the four other gentlemen staying there, which in itself draws their attention.
Anna has a lover in Dr. Karl Holst (Simon Ward) who works at the local asylum under Professor Richter (Freddie Jones). One of their patients is Dr. Frederick Brandt (George Pravda) who suddenly went insane and so withdrawn into himself as to be incurable.
In the drawing room of the boarding house, Frankenstein listens in as the other gentlemen discuss Dr. Brandt’s condition, concluding that research into brain transplants probably drove him mad. Their collective opinion is that the whole idea is insanity, one of them mentioning Dr. Frankenstein who was driven out of Bohemia for working on the same thing. Without revealing himself to be the man they are discussing, Frankenstein joins in the conversation to mock their ignorance.
Karl visits Anna and it transpires he has been smuggling drugs out of the asylum to sell on the black market and help pay for her mother’s care. While entering the house he accidentally drops a box of cocaine on the floor which Frankenstein finds and then overhears the pair discussing the situation. He confronts and blackmails them into helping him.
With no choice but to obey what Frankenstein tells her, Anna evicts the other residents while he and Karl set about stealing laboratory equipment. News of the robberies comes to the attention of Inspector Frisch who decides to follow them up.
During a warehouse robbery, Frankenstein and Karl are disturbed by the night watchman. In an ensuing struggle Karl accidentally kills the man which Frankenstein also blackmails him with, thus tightening his grip.
Frankenstein has Karl fetch him the plans to the asylum, stating his intention to get Dr. Brandt out of there and cure his insanity. He explains that Brandt had discovered the secret of freezing brain cells but went insane before he could share that knowledge. Frankenstein’s ultimate aim is to freeze the brains of brilliant minds upon the death of their bodies so that they can be transplanted into new ones and live on.
However, events do not go according to plan. After knocking out the night watchman, Frankenstein and Karl enter Brandt’s cell with a syringe to render him unconscious. Brandt struggles and Frankenstein is forced to knock him out, the pair carrying the unconscious man as the alarm is raised. Attendants find Brandt’s cell empty and the syringe on the floor, and immediately break out the dogs as Frankenstein and Karl drag him through the forest where Anna is waiting with a carriage.
Back at the laboratory, Frankenstein discovers Brandt suffered a heart attack during the escape. He tell Karl the only way to save his brain now is to transplant it into another body, to which he protests that would be murder. The Baron reminds him he should be used to that by now and proposes a surgeon like Professor Richter would be the ideal donor, for which purpose he conspires to kidnap him.
Meanwhile, Inspector Frisch and the police surgeon inform Brandt’s wife, Ella (Maxine Audley), that her husband has been taken. She confirms that he had worked with Frankenstein some five years earlier, but has no idea of the Baron’s present whereabouts.
That evening, while Karl is keeping up appearances at the asylum, Frankenstein passes Anna’s bedroom as she is changing into her night attire. Invading her room, he proceeds to rape her.
Frisch calls a conference to inform journalists that Professor Richter has been taken from his home and believes him to be in great danger. He calls on those assembled to keep a press blackout while he investigates the matter.
The brain transplant operation is a success, which Karl declares as “fantastic.” Frankenstein prefers the term “advanced” and informs him that organ transplant is the next logical step in medical science. They bury Brandt’s old body in Anna’s back garden, where it remains undetected despite a police house to house search the next day.
The game is nearly given away when a burst water main uncovers the body and a desperate Anna is forced to drag it out of sight before allowing the water board in. While all this is going on, Ella Brandt spots Frankenstein on the street and seems to recognise him. When checking some old newspapers, she comes across a cartoon depicting the notorious Baron and realises that it was him she saw.
Tracking him down to Anna’s house, Ella confronts Frankenstein and is shown her husband not realising the bandages around his face are disguising the fact he is in a different body. Frankenstein convinces Ella he can cure Brandt given time but, after she leaves, he forces Karl and Anna to help him relocate to a deserted country house just as the police are closing in.
Brandt recovers and awakens alone, feeling violent anguish when realising his face is unfamiliar. Anna finds him and panics as he tries to approach her. She stabs him out of fear, but not fatally and he manages to escape. When Frankenstein returns find Brandt gone, he angrily stabs Anna to death and then goes searching for him. Finding Anna’s body, Karl goes in pursuit of Frankenstein.
Brandt manages to make it to his former home where Ella, horrified he is no longer the man she knew, is unable to accept him as her husband. With this rejection, he decides to avenge himself on Frankenstein for the miserable existence he has condemned him to.
Knowing the Baron will follow him to the house, Brandt arms himself with a pistol and allows his wife to leave. Frankenstein soon arrives and is lured further in by Brandt hinting the secret formula he seeks is in a desk drawer. He suddenly begins setting the house on fire to entrap the Baron and shoots Karl when he arrives.
Frankenstein finds the papers and manages to escape, but Karl is alive and attacks him. Brandt emerges and knocks Karl out, before carrying a semi-conscious Frankenstein back into the burning house. He awakens and pleads with Brandt but it is too late as the building collapses.
This closure parallels the ending of THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1964), where the Baron is trapped in a burning building with his creation and the pair of them seemingly perish. The only real difference is that Frankenstein was trying to save the creature in the previous film, while this time he is pleading with his creation to save his own life.
FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED was shot at Elstree from January 13th to February 26th 1969, during which there was a brief pause in filming when the set was visited by the BBC for the documentary MADE IN BRITAIN to mark Hammer’s receipt of the Queen’s Award to Industry.
A less welcome intrusion came from the film’s backer, Warners, who wanted more sex to compete with rival productions taking advantage of relaxing censorship rules. They insisted on adding the scene where the Baron rapes Anna, which was announced to a shocked cast and crew on the studio floor by the head of Hammer himself, James Carreras.
Veronica Carlson later recalled how Peter Cushing, ever the gentleman, took her out to dinner to discuss how they were going to handle the sequence “within the bounds of good taste.” In the end Cushing could only implore her “Please remember, please remember it isn’t me, Veronica, it isn’t me.”
Indeed the scene was not him, and being inserted so late into the schedule made it even more incongruous given there is no lead up to the incident nor was it referenced after. Little wonder that when the filming of it was complete, Terence Fisher announced “I’ve had enough” and walked off the set.
The other act of brutality where Frankenstein kills Anna was in the original script, and underlines his attitude to both her and Karl. In a sense, their situation tracks that of Christina and Hans in FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN in that they are a young couple caught up in Frankenstein’s ambitions. While this was more circumstantial and well-intended in the previous film, Anna and Karl are deliberately forced into acting as Frankenstein’s instruments and he coldly treats them as such.
As Anna, Veronica Carlson acquits the character’s vulnerability with conviction and it is not surprising Hammer was keen to promote her as one of their new stars. Carlson had made her debut in DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE where she popularised the image of the heroine being pursued through a darkened forest while dressed only in her nightgown. And as in that film, she played a virtuous young woman in danger of being corrupted only this time by Frankenstein’s machinations as opposed to Dracula’s fangs.
Complementing her performance was Simon Ward as Karl, an actor fresh out of RADA who Terence Fisher had known for years having previously seen him in youth theatre productions. His role was more demanding than Hammer’s usual handsome young leads and ensured that Ward’s big screen debut would exemplify the measure of his talent. He was subsequently cast by director Richard Attenborough as Winston Churchill in the biopic YOUNG WINSTON (1972).
The part of tormented Ella Brandt was handled by Maxine Audley, a veteran of the Old Vic and Royal Shakespeare Company, and perhaps best remembered as the blind whiskey drinking mother in Michael Powell’s PEEPING TOM (1959). As it turned out, this was one of her last film roles though she continued in television until her death in1992.
In contrast to Anna and Karl is the film’s other pairing of Inspector Frisch and the police surgeon, played with comic chemistry by Thorley Walters and Geoffrey Bayldon. Walters had appeared in the previous Frankenstein film as the Baron’s skilled but rather absent minded assistant, and was wheeled back when it was decided this outing needed humour to offset its darker than usual aspects.
This time Walters is a bungling detective who is propped up by his sidekick, reminiscent of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce pairing of Holmes and Watson only with roles reversed. Like the rape scene, the characters were a late addition and some critics felt they unnecessarily lengthened the film. However they do fulfil the intention of providing light relief.
Despite the more unlikeable characterisation of Baron Frankenstein, Cushing stepped back into the role with his usual professionalism and commanding presence. And while the Baron is despicable in his bullying of Anna and Karl, the film still delivers those characteristic moments where he refuses to suffer fools gladly.
In the scene where Frankenstein overhears his pompous fellow lodgers dismissing the concept of brain transplants, he remarks “Excuse me. I didn’t know you were doctors.” One of them replies they are not doctors, to which he comments “I beg your pardon. I thought you knew what you were talking about.” When then accused of being rude, he adds “I’m afraid stupidity always brings out the worst in me.”
This was, in fact, Cushing’s first Hammer film since his last turn in FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN back in 1966, his absence from the studio due partly to caring for his sick wife, Helen, and taking a year out to play Sherlock Holmes for a 16 episode BBC TV series during 1968. For this he won the accolade of Pipe Smoker of the Year Award by The Pipe Smokers Association, who were evidently unaware Cushing disliked the habit and simply sucked his pipe unlit.
If Cushing ever had a serious competitor in terms of masterclass performance, he certainly got it this time in Freddie Jones as the Brandt/Richter creation. Like Cushing, Jones was one of those character actors who consistently made the best of any role he was given, especially when it afforded him the opportunity in draw on his own distinctively odd sense of melancholia.
Jones certainly imbued the body transplanted Brandt with this very quality and virtually steals the film as a result. He is actually closer to the rational, thinking being in Mary Shelley’s novel who hates the existence Frankenstein has made him. And just as Shelley’s monster desires the companionship of a bride, Jones’s character seeks to be reunited with his wife only to be rejected by her.
It is regrettable that the heart wrenching scenes between the two were cut down from the original script to fit the prescribed running time. With Jones at his disposal one can only imagine how much more Fisher could have explored this situation, particularly as he cited it as the reason why the film remained a favourite of his:
“Freddie Jones plays a man who has his brain transplanted to a new body by Frankenstein, and he goes to see his wife who fails to recognise him and rejects him. I loved that subject, which I think was a most difficult one to portray, and I thought more about that film more than any other I’ve done because of this element.”
In this sense, the film continues the theme of THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958) in how a living brain with memories and personality intact copes with waking up in an unrecognisable form. Terence Fisher even visually references the earlier movie in recreating its emblematic body housed in an upright glass case.
But whereas the subject of that film, Karl, welcomes the transformation into a new and perfect frame, Brandt’s reawakening inside a strange body has a darker psychological ramification and the resulting identity crisis which then ensues.
FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED premiered on 22 May, 1969, at the Warner Theatre in Leicester Square, and went on general release with SONS OF SATAN (1968), actually an Italian crime drama with Rita Hayworth. The British Board of Film Classification had insisted on a number of cuts before passing its X certificate, including the removal of the rape scene which they recognised as uncharacteristic of Frankenstein’s usual behaviour and irrelevant to the film. Despite an initial promise from Hammer it would be cut, it remained intact.
The film was not released in the United States until February 1970 where the offending rape was deleted by the American censor. An ironic turn out given it was included at the insistence of the American backer.
Despite its controversy, the film proved a success with critics and fans praising it as the most well staged of the Hammer Frankenstein series, thanks to its literate script, atmospheric cinematography and Terence Fisher’s tense direction. Keen to capitalise, the studio wasted no time in getting a sixth Frankenstein into production for the following year. However, plans were also drawn to deliver it the most radical reboot yet.
Words: Barry McCann