I went to a screening of the restored print of Hammer’s Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell at the British Film Institute last night. This was the first Hammer Horror that I ever saw on the big screen when I snuck into the Odeon Wood Green at the tender age of 14 back in 1975. It was also the last Hammer Frankenstein and marked the final time that Peter Cushing would wield a scalpel and bone saw as the Baron. It was also the final film of director Terence Fisher, the director who had done more to define Hammer horror than any other having helmed all three of Hammer’s monster reboots in the 1950s with The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy.
The film was introduced by a panel featuring Cushing’s former secretary , Dave Prowse who played the Monster (and of course was also Darth Vader and the Green Cross Man) and female lead Madeline Smith, who all spoke about what a nice man Peter Cushing was. This was especially relevant as Cushing was born 100 years ago this month on 26 May and has recently been featured on a stamp to mark the occasion.
Hammer made the film on the cheap, by confining all the action within the confines of a lunatic asylum, where the Baron had assumed the role of the asylum doctor. Well it wasn’t long before he was knocking up a creature out bits of dead inmates with the aid of his disciple Dr Helder (Shane Bryant) and the mute Sarah (Madeline Smith). I won’t spoil this for anyone by giving away the plot, but the lunatic asylum set makes this the most intensely claustrophobic Frankenstein movie that Hammer ever made. Still reeling from the recent death of his beloved wife Helen, Cushing gave the film one of the most intense performances of his career and this combined with the atmospheric music score by James Bernard and a John Elder script that wasn’t afraid to throw in the odd self mocking gag, make this film a pure British Gothic delight.
Once the panel had finished the introduction they joined us in the audience. Imagine the thrill when I realised that Dave Prowse was going to take the empty seat next to mine. As the film ended I thanked him and shook his hand. I have been truly touched by the Dark Side Young Jedi