Frankenstein Month: 'Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed' (1969)
Once again, the Hammer Frankenstein series throws out continuity for its latest installment, which gives Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing, great as always) some new back story, a new obsession and a new town in which to conduct his experiments. Last time around Frankenstein was focused on the transference of souls, and he ended up kind of sidelined in his own movie. In Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, he's back at the center of the action, and closer to a complete psychopath than he's ever been. Instead of souls, he's now focused on transplanting brains, a much more scientific pursuit that nevertheless doesn't quite connect to the original Frankenstein story, since he seems to have no interest in reviving dead bodies.
Even so, returning director Terence Fisher and screenwriter Bert Batt come up with some entertainingly nasty situations for Frankenstein to get involved with, starting with the movie's excellent opening, a tense cat-and-mouse game between a robber and someone who may or may not be Frankenstein himself. The double reveal of Frankenstein, first appearing to be a disfigured monster and then removing a mask to show his true face, is a creepy and triumphant moment, since by now Cushing's mere appearance as Frankenstein promises something nasty and entertaining to come. The movie never quite lives up to that opening scene, as Frankenstein packs up following the robbery and heads to a new town, where he conveniently discovers his old colleague Dr. Brandt (George Pravda) locked up in a mental institution.
Determined to get Brandt to tell him the secret to successful brain transplantation, he engages in a ridiculously convoluted plan, blackmailing a young doctor at the asylum and his fiancee for help in breaking Brandt out, then transplanting Brandt's brain into a new body (another doctor, whom Frankenstein just casually murders) and reviving him, cured of his insanity and ready to give Frankenstein the info he needs. Of course, things go awry, partially because Frankenstein's two assistants are only helping him out of fear, partially because they are all pretty incompetent at hiding their crimes, and partially because the police from the previous town are still on Frankenstein's trail (led by an exasperated inspector amusingly played by Thorley Walters, who played Frankenstein's drunken associate in the previous movie).
Even if the plot is a little scattered, it deals more directly with the themes of mortality and playing God that are at the center of the Frankenstein mythos. Cushing really pushes Frankenstein's nastiness this time, in a way that is mostly very effective (the exception is an unpleasant rape scene that is totally out of character and was added by the producers over the objections of Fisher and the actors). Not only does he kill, blackmail and steal with impunity in the name of his work, but he also kills people simply for being inconvenient or in his way. Eventually the movie kind of loses sight of the point of Frankenstein's experiments, and it ends abruptly with a big conflagration that seems tacked on in order to have an intense horror climax. Overall, though, the movie brings Hammer back to the most compelling elements of the Frankenstein story, and provides another welcome showcase for Cushing's talents.