Victor Frankenstein has become a monstrous creation, his scientific obsession giving birth to murderous intent. The fifth film in the Frankenstein oeuvre depicts the Baron as corrupted and tainted by his desire to create life, an inhuman morality that feeds his vices: it is not blood that runs through his veins but bubbling toxins and viscous fluids, like the beakers full of mysterious liquids in his laboratory. In contrast, the creature whose brain he replaces becomes the most human, his plea for compassion and recognition eclipsed by the foreign vessel he now inhabits, unrecognizable by his loving wife.
Director Terence Fisher sets the tone in the opening scene with a gruesome beheading: as Frankenstein escapes, the plot becomes a police procedural with a bumbling Victorian Era Columbo hot on his trail of murder, blackmail, and rape. The Baron soon descends upon a town haunted by the mindless lunatic that was once a brilliant professor; a man locked in an asylum who discovered the secret spark that eludes Frankenstein. Peter Cushing exudes an evil charisma, turning his usual gentlemanly charm into a psychopathic rage, resorting to blackmail of a young doctor then raping his wife. It is a despicably sincere performance and one of Cushing’s best, as he plays against type and suffers his poetic justice.
The story has some nice touches which create suspense and sympathy, such as the young wife who buries a corpse in the backyard, only to have the water main burst: the shot of the body exhumed by the torrent, its palsied hand seeming to point its delirious accusation is wonderfully realized. The creature becomes a sympathetic link in the narrative chain: though the brain of the professor, a one-time collaborator with Frankenstein, is awakened in a new body, he is expunged by his doting wife and seen as a monster. He didn’t ask to be cruelly transformed and he seeks vengeance upon the one responsible. But the plot has one major flaw: Frankenstein transplants the brain of the dying professor into the body of a murdered surgeon, because he needs this professor’s secret to allow him to complete the operation successfully. It’s circular logic, as Frankenstein does complete the operation thus he never needed the professor to begin with.
Frankenstein is a modern day Prometheus, but he is consumed by the fire he sought to control.
Final Grade: (B+)