Director: Terence Fisher
Cast: Peter Cushing, Shane Briant, Madeline Smith, Dave Prowse
Length: 99 min
Disks: 2 (1 BD, 1 DVD)
Release Date: Oct 2th, 2013
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio: English: LPCM 2.0 Mono
- Taking Over The Asylum: The Making Of Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell
- Charming Evil: Terence Fisher At Hammer
- Commentary Featuring Shane Briant, Madeline Smith, Marcus Hearn
Slowly but surely, Hammer Films’ back catalog of Gothic horrors is being restored in HD and released on blu-ray throughout the world by various companies, mostly with the participation and/or endorsement of Hammer themselves. This Australian release of Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell (1973) is just such a case. According to Hammer Historian, Marcus Hearn, the restoration was done from Hammer’s own CRI print, (a Color Reversal Intermediate, made directly from the cut negative). The print predates the film’s submission to the BBFC and is therefore the most complete version ever seen. Fans will be happy to know that all the gory bits that were cut from the various theatrical and home video releases are here fully intact.
Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell stands as an anomaly of sorts. On the one hand it’s a throwback to the old days of Hammer, when Terence Fisher’s stately, Gothic direction and James Bernard’s dissonant, melodramatic soundtracks ruled the day. On the other hand, this is one of the goriest films to ever come from the independent British film studio, which just 16 years earlier touched off what became known as the “Silver Age of Horror,” with their very first Gothic production, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957). With Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell, the Gothic Horror costume drama had effectively come full circle, to be replaced by gorier, more modern, more visceral horrors of the 70’s, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).
That Hammer conceded this much to the demands of the gore-hungry 70’s marketplace, all the while trying to recapture their Gothic glory days, reveals a production company in decline, trying this way and that to stay relevant to its audience. And indeed, Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell exudes a valedictory feeling from first to last, with Peter Cushing doing his best to make logic out of the moral ambiguity of the title character, in the face of an uneven script. Hammer’s own Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) a film to which …From Hell’s plot is often compared, develops Frankenstein’s moral duality with greater consistency. It is a bit of a jolt to hear Frankenstein proclaim, “I’m not a murderer, Simon.” Didn’t anyone watch the previous sequel?The sets by Scott MacGregor are appropriately dreary—the film being set in a mental asylum—but frankly, I always thought his art direction in general lacked imagination. Certainly, he couldn’t hold a candle to Bernard Robinson, Hammer’s long-time art director who passed away after completing work on Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969). That film also had many dreary-looking sets, but Robinson’s artistry was on an altogether different level, filling every shot with visual interest.
Terence Fisher was nervous about returning to the director’s chair after a 4-year hiatus, but he gives us his vintage best in telling, what is essentially a rather static story. Shane Briant is perfect as Frankenstein’s young admirer, intent on following in the good doctor’s footsteps. His laid-back arrogance in the face of the law is a nice touch. Bond Girl and “Vampire Lover,” Madeline Smith, as Frankenstein’s mute assistant, gets to act for a change, instead of being used as window dressing, and she is really rather good. Her character’s hidden traumatic past is a nicely Gothic touch and she conveys it with admirable restraint. No doubt she would have been even better had the script allowed us to get to know her character beyond just what is said about her. David Prowse as Frankenstein’s monster is much more convincing here than he was in the same role in Horror of Frankenstein (1970), and the rest of the cast, (playing mostly asylum lunatics), is filled with the best British character actors of the day, including Hammer veteran Charles Lloyd Pack, and a brief but very touching performance by Bernard Lee, on a break from playing M in the Bond films.
Composer, James Bernard’s latter day style had grown a bit less bombastic than it was in the late 50’s / early 60’s, but his ability to convey Gothic melodrama and tragedy had not diminished, and he was still at the height of his powers.
Happily, this is one of the best HD restorations of a Hammer film I have seen so far—on a par with StudioCanal’s Quatermass and the Pit. The improvement in sharpness and clarity are striking, compared to all previous DVD incarnations. Yet there is no sign of artificial sharpening. Most importantly, there is no sign of DNR filtering. Natural film grain is present, but is wholly unobtrusive. Contrast and color saturation are both excellent. The 35mm print seems to be in excellent shape as well. In terms of pure cinematography, this is not one of Hammer’s better-looking films, but the HD restoration conveys the film honestly and organically. The only downside to the new clarity is that it makes all the more obvious the limitations of that preposterous miniature model pretending to be the asylum exterior. Why they couldn’t shoot a real building is anyone’s guess.
Likewise, the sound is an improvement too, if not quite as strikingly. The LPCM 2.0 Mono track is pleasingly full and clear, allowing Bernard’s dramatic score to expand fully. Tape hiss and crackling are not an issue.
There is a nice set of extra features, my favorite of which is a new audio commentary with Shane Briant and Madeline Smith, moderated by Marcus Hearn. The trio reveals a surprising amount of behind-the-scenes information, with both actors obviously nostalgic about their experience working on the film. Next is “Taking Over the Asylum: The Making of Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell,” a making-of documentary directed by Marcus Hearn, and starring the regular slate of Hammer experts. As per their usual standards of excellence, the doc is well directed and produced, and provides a wealth of information. Next is “Charming Evil: Terence Fisher at Hammer,” a second documentary from the same team. Again, this is very well directed and produced, and sheds light on the career of Hammer’s most respected director. Interestingly, Micky Harding, the director’s daughter is one of the interviewees. It would have been nice if the theatrical trailer was included as well, but that’s a small omission.
Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell may not be one of Hammer’s best Frankenstein films, but it is well worth watching and forming an opinion on for anyone interested in the genre. If you’ve never seen a Hammer film before, this is not where I would start. But, if you are already a Hammer fan and are able to play region B blu-rays, then I would urge you to not be put off by the rather pedestrian cover art. The contents are what counts, and with such a superlative HD transfer and enjoyable extra features, this set is self-recommending. It is certainly the best this film has ever looked on home-video. At present, this release is only available in Australia, and it’s unknown if or when it will be available in other territories. If anyone has further information on this, please comment below.