Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed represents one of Hammer's most delicately crafted productions. Production values are above par. Bert Batt and Anthony Nelson-Keys deliver an excellent script. Arthur Grant's photography, James Bernard's score and Terence Fisher's direction are all exemplary. The talented cast includes Peter Cushing in one of his greatest performances, an amusing Thorley Walters and an early appearance from Freddie Jones, as the screen's most tragic and pitiful Frankenstein's "monster" since Christopher Lee (1957) if not Boris Karloff (1931).
Central to the film is a pervasive irony: The irony of a man whose everyday manners are impeccable and gentlemanly, but whose total contempt for human life will lead him to murder and rape without a second thought; the irony of a man given back life only to be cheated out of the one thing in life he loves. Never is this irony more clearly captured than in the very first scene, in which a lilting ballad accompanies a beheading, or (a few scenes later) the quick cut from Anna's words, "You'll find it very quiet here," to a screaming patient in an insane asylum (a surprisingly effective shock moment).
Baron Frankenstein here is no longer the ambiguous anti-hero of sorts that he was in Hammer's previous Frankenstein outings (excepting The Evil of Frankenstein). In Fisher's Hitchcockian opening sequence the camera follows a pair of black and white shoes, suggesting a certain ambiguity, as they make their way through the Victorian streets, but when the owner of the shoes (having just committed one murder and an attempted murder) tears off his hideous mask, it is revealed to be none other than Frankenstein himself. Now the Baron is clearly the monster, and it is he who must be destroyed.
The Baron here takes on god-like dimensions like never before. In Fisher's series there were always clear allusions to the wrongness of the Baron's attempts to usurp the place of God; here Frankenstein's spiral of descent into degeneracy, tyranny and blasphemy is complete. With great command, he exerts an almost supernatural force over the two young lovers he blackmails into assisting him in his experiment.
The first hint of his demise is towards the end of the film when Karl (Simon Ward) watches him, unbeknownst to the Baron, and discovers his plans, which information he then uses to foil the Baron. Thus for the first time, the shoe is on the other foot: Frankenstein is no longer in control, and his destruction is imminent.
His destruction is one of the film's finest sequences. The shoe really is on the other foot now: "I fancy... that I am the spider and you are the fly," says the creature. Frankenstein is trapped inside a burning house with the police waiting outside. In the words of his creation, he must choose between "the police and the flames." The implication is clear: Even if Frankenstein manages to evade human justice, "the flames" (a symbol of divine judgment) are totally inescapable. In a finale that harks back to Mary Shelley's original novel, the embittered creature himself carries his creator with him to their shared fate.
Other fine sequences include the water-pipe bursting, forcing the cadaver of one of the Baron's victims to resurface, as well as the forceful scene in which Professor Richter, transplanted into the body of Freddie Jones, and hidden behind a screen, pleads with his frightened wife to believe his story.
Don't miss this now it has received a long-awaited DVD release.