Peter Cushing's Baron Frankenstein Takes A Turn For The Terrible....And Must Be Destroyed
Peter Cushing's run as the mad doctor and amoral Baron in the Hammer Frankenstein series reached an apex of evil in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969). The character always had an amoral edge and aspired to grandiose madness through a twisted desire to create life anew. In the debut classic The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), the Baron was an evil, murderous man. His evil nature would remain in the sequel The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958). In The Evil of Frankenstein (1964) and the cult classic Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), the Baron's demeanor softened somewhat.
With Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, the Baron returned to the selfish, vindictive persona that appeared in the first film. Colin Clive was the wretched absentee father who abused and neglected the Monster in the original Universal Frankenstein (1931), but he did redeem himself marginally in The Bride of Frankenstein (1932). Cushing's Baron Frankenstein seemed to turn the proverbial corner on villainy in The Evil of Frankenstein and developed into a well-meaning (albeit misguided) scientist.
In the fifth outing, Baron Frankenstein has been driven mad by his previous failures. He becomes an extortionist, a sexual abuser, and a neglectful man who aspires to be a god. If anyone deserved "to be destroyed," it would be the Baron portrayed in this exception Hammer film, a man "more monstrous than the monsters he created."
More Monster Than Monstrous
The opening sequence is among the grimmest and unnerving of all the Hammer Frankenstein films or, for that matter, all Hammer films. Watching the scene play out on television or in the theater during the original run or the 1970's broadcasts truly did catch the viewer off-guard. The violence is cruel and unexpected, a perfect prologue to set up Cushing's Frankenstein as a truly horrible and monstrous person.
A man of some means - respectable doctor -- walks down a London street. He stride is confident at first, but something leads him to feel a bit on edge. The physician should be concerned. A mysterious stranger is walking around with an equally mysterious basket. The stranger is hiding unseen in the doorway of Dr. Otto Heidecke's office..., and he is holding a hand-scythe. The doctor doesn't see him until it is too late, and the scythe flies horizontally and decapitates the doctor.
As blood flies against the wall and stains the doctor's business sign, the garish opening sets the tone for this brutal Hammer outing.
The twists in the opening continue as the stranger reaches his hideaway only to discover a burglar has been rummaging through it. The hideaway is a lair - a mad scientist's lair housing a body soon to be reanimated. And the stranger, a stranger hiding his identity behind a ghoulish mask, turns out to be Baron Victor Frankenstein. With his hideaway discovered, the Baron must dump the corpse down a trapdoor and into the river.
After fleeing the scene, Baron Frankenstein must start all over. The plan leads him to the boarding house in which he will launch his new experiments.
Baron Frankenstein Unbound in Selfishness
The events of the film play out at a rather fast pace.
Upon arriving at the boarding house, Baron Frankenstein learns Anna, the owner, has a paramour named Karl. Karl is a doctor at the local asylum and is selling injectable cocaine to assist Anna financially. Frankenstein uses this information to blackmail Karl to help him with his nefarious plans.
Karl: What sort of help for God's sake?
Baron Frankenstein: Don't invoke the almighty....I should think he is very angry with you at the moment.
The "help" in question reveals itself as the Baron and his unwilling assistant venture to the asylum to kidnap the committed Dr. Brandt. Now hopelessly insane, only the deep recesses of Brandt's memories hold the secrets to performing successful brain transplant operations.
Brandt dies, but Frankenstein can figure out a crude way to perform a brain transplant placing Brandt's brain another body. The cured Brandt finds himself trapped in a new body - sane, but unable to return to his former life.
At his core, Baron Frankenstein is hideously selfish and, yes, destructive. Baron Frankenstein has to be destroyed to put a stop to the awful nets his experiment cast, nets that capture innocent people used for the Baron's vices. The nobleman is hardly noble. He cares about nothing and no one but himself. Frankenstein remains a destructive force that ruins the lives around him ends up destroyed once they come in contact with the Baron, and his awful experiments and plans. Venturing into territory "man was not meant to know" and trampling on the area of God has long since been the sins Dr. Frankenstein is continually guilty. Overlooked is the sin of selfishness he embodies.
Frankenstein is single-minded in focus and desires nothing more than to conduct his experiments. He is obsessed with arriving at his long-sought goal of conquering death. What may have started as a noble goal, a goal with intentions of helping humanity does nothing but ruin and destroy any life that comes in contact with Frankenstein.
Anna and Karl suffer mercilessly, but no one seems to suffer more than the anguished Brandt. He has become another in a long line of "monsters" created by the Baron.
The Torment of the Unlikely Frankenstein Monster
"I sometimes wonder if we are not all wasting our time. A man has an abscess, we cut him open, and we see the abscess. But a sick brain, we open the skull, and all we can see is the brain, of the sickness there is no sign."
A doctor muses this while standing outside the cell of the committed Dr. Brandt. The "sickness" of Brandt's brain connects to the "sickness" of Baron Frankenstein's desire to possess it. Tragically, Frankenstein's theft and transplant of the brain restores Brandt's sanity in a new body - and awakens a horrible sense of loneliness.
In Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, the "creation" is not truly a monster. He is the victim of a medical procedure - a successful one. Brandt found himself saved from death by having his brain transplanted into a host body. Sadly, his humanity is stripped from him even though he remains a human, a survivor of an experimental operation. Brandt is no monster, but what was done to him is monstrously cruel.
The very human Brandt wishes for a reunion with his wife. Troubling the reunion is Brandt occupies another man's body. Trying to convince his wife he, "a stranger," is who is says he remains a dubious and challenging task.
The scene in which Brandt sneaks into his wife's bedroom is a painfully sad one.
"I am your husband...you'll not recognize my voice because it is the voice of a different person."
The pain in Brandt's voice, the aforementioned voice of a different person, maintains a tragic sense of sadness. Brandt tries to convince his wife he is still alive and lives in the body of another person, but this is pure madness.
Brandt knows this is an insane thing to do but, as he tragically notes, "he has nowhere else to go."
All of this is made worse by his complicity.
"I have become the victim of everything Frankenstein and I ever advocated."
Brandt's desire to push science and medicine's abilities beyond the norm have ensnared him in Baron Frankenstein's web and set a path for destruction.
Frankenstein Has Already Been Destroyed
Baron Victor Frankenstein does not need to be destroyed. He is already destroyed. Physically, he does need to be stopped by way of total destruction - something Brandt achieves at the film's conclusion.
What is most sad about Baron Frankenstein is his selfishness, and his obsessive desire to complete his mad experiments has turned him into a misanthropic, narcissistic, self-centered madman who lives a friendless existence. The only thing that drives him forward is success with his experiments because he has nothing left. The Baron's worst nightmare would be experiencing the success of achieving his goals. Success would finally reveal the empty life he truly lives.
"Frankenstein" is commonly used to describe both the doctor and the monster. In Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, there is a tragic irony present. Both the scientist and the monster have been destroyed. Brandt's life was destroyed by a descent into insanity and then made worse after the transplant. Frankenstein destroyed his own life and now exists solely to destroy the lives of others. Both Brandt and the Baron -- the "collective Frankensteins" -- must be destroyed. The former must end his own life after being cheated from death, and the other must die to stop the horrors he continues to inflict on others.
The bizarre and thrilling ending features a murder-suicide between creation and creator, a thrilling and unforgettable conclusion. The horrifying image of Brandt carrying Baron Frankenstein back into the burning house remains one of the more memorable -- and harrowing -- finales to a Hammer film ever. An appropriate one for such a bleak feature. The self-destructive Frankenstein's mad plans have led to his doom. Again.