FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, sociological, psychological*
While I can appreciate the commitment Peter Cushing brought to the role of Baron Frankenstein, I’ve never liked any of the Hammer triflings with Mary Shelley’s creation. None of Hammer’s scripters showed any interest in pursuing the metaphysical and psychological ramifications of the “man-made man” concept. There’s a sociological theme in CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, in that Jimmy Sangster, reputedly following the orders of producer Anthony Hinds, chose to focus on the Baron as the ultimate aristocratic dirtbag. But the series as a whole was never consistent with even that dumbed-down characterization. MONSTER in particular de-emphasizes the seamy side of Frankenstein’s gory experiments, and almost makes him into a quasi-hero next to the lumpen-proletariat characters. Most hilariously, the script for MONSTER—written by Hinds under the name “John Elder.” though this time the producer was one Roy Skeggs—includes a line in which the Baron says, with an utterly straight face, “I haven’t killed anyone.”
Elder/Hinds and director Terence Fisher chose to recycle an element from REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN; that of the young aspirant to blasphemous experiments. This time a young medical student, Helder (Shane Briant), gets in bad with the local authorities for the crime of bodysnatching. For some reason he’s consigned to an insane asylum instead of prison. This works out well for the young fellow, since the Baron has hidden from the law at said institution, working under the pseudonym “Doctor Victor” (one of the few nice referential touches in the script).
In no time at all, Frankenstein and Helder are working on making new men out of old corpses. They receive a little feminine help this time out, in the form of a young girl nicknamed “Angel.” Angel, the daughter of the asylum’s corrupt director Klaus, cannot speak after her nasty dad tried to rape her, but she functions well enough as nurse to the big experiment—problematic as it is.
In the 1931 FRANKENSTEIN, the monster supposedly turned out badly because Frankenstein’s assistant stole the wrong type of brain. In MONSTER, the Baron almost seems to be setting himself up for failure, for he chooses to use the body of a murderous maniac as his template. Oh, the demented doc throws into the mix a pair of hands from a gifted violinist, perhaps hoping that the heavenly powers in the hands will supersede the hellish nature of the body—which, for reasons unclear to me, looks more hirsute and brutish than one would expect of a 19th-century German. The Monster (David Prowse) looks less like a cobbled-together amalgam of human parts and more like an escapee from one of Hammer’s prehistoric epics.
Though MONSTER was Fisher’s final film before he passed, it’s poorly paced and holds few surprises. The two avid experimenters can’t control their man-beast, which eventually breaks loose, kills various people, and gets torn asunder by the asylum-inmates. The rampage serves the purpose of doing what the Baron can’t do without risk to himself, for before the monster dies, he slays the corrupt daughter-rapist—and around that time, Angel miraculously regains her ability to speak again. Thus in MONSTER the Baron becomes Angel’s “good father” in contrast to her bad real father—though it’s hard to countenance Frankenstein as having a better nature after FRANKENSTEIN MUST BEDESTROYED, in which the Baron himself gratuitously rapes a younger woman. Clearly Fisher and Hinds had some concept of using this installment of their sage to put across a “rape-revenge” fantasy, but the execution proves too muddled to have any strong effect.
Since the Baron, Helder and Angel all survive unscathed, Hammer may have contemplated another episode in the series, only to terminate the series when MONSTER didn’t enjoy strong box-office. I suppose there are fans who would’ve liked to see more in the series, but I’m not one of them.