Saturday, 27 February 2016

'Friendly' rival

Amicus, the studio whose name means ‘friendship’, was Hammer’s most notable competition in the British Horror film industry.

The brilliant documentary analysing Amicus horror, film by film, by fan Derek Pykett.

Hammer has instant brand recognition - Kate Bush never wrote a song about Amicus.  My experience of their films, as I suspect is many other film fans’, is reading about a Hammer film I once enjoyed only to discover it was actually made by their main rival.  

Having an even smaller budget than most Hammer productions, Amicus founded the concept of hiring actors on a by-day basis, rather than on contract for the entire film.  This meant that they could afford some impressive names - many of Hammer’s main players including the unholy duo of Cushing and Lee - and well-established British performers appeared to have no issue with filling in a free day here and there on an Amicus film.  The shorter segments of the studios many anthology films presumably also made this system so workable.

So the similar casts and genre meant it is often easy to confuse the output of the two studios.  In actual fact, there are many fundamental differences between the methodology and product of the two. 

One can only imagine how Milton Subotsky felt when his concept for remaking Frankenstein was rejected by Hammer studios, only for them to release their own version which propelled the studio to international horror film stardom.  The fact that he then set his own studio up in direct competition with them is perhaps a good indication.  
But my impression is that this rivalry was probably a one-sided affair, more of an issue for Amicus than it was for the Hammer juggernaut.

My own introduction to Amicus films came via two strong Doctor Who connections:
Their Daleks films from the mid-sixties, and a vampiric Jon Pertwee in The House that Dripped Blood.
I have room in my heart for both British Houses of Horror, but many insist on playing the two off against one another.  Sweeping statements are made when the two studios are inevitably compared (listen to Matthew Sweetman's expertly made but very Amicus-centric documentary here: but having seen a lot of the output of both, I thought I’d analyse the oft-repeated ‘received wisdom’ for myself:

1. Unlike Hammer, Amicus specialised in anthology films

That's some cast , Amicus, and not an anthology film.
This one is true, although Amicus didn’t solely produce portmanteau films.  Milton Subotsky was strongly influenced by the first british horror anthology, Ealing studios Dead of Night, and after Amicus films first successful venture in this genre, Doctor Terrors House of Horrors, many more were to follow.  Their final horror anthology was From Beyond the Grave, coming full circle with once again featuring Peter Cushing as the innocuous seeming, but sinister, link between the different stories.  

Perhaps the closest Hammer came to the portmanteau form was an early and aborted American-made television anthology Tales of Frankenstein and their two 1980s British TV series.

2. Unlike Amicus, Hammer specialised in Period and Gothic settings

Stephanie Beacham in contemporary Hammer film Dracula AD 1972 and
 (inset) Period Amicus film And now the Screaming Starts.
Broadly, but not completely, true.  Hammer set their thrillers and comedies in contemporary times, and towards the end of their run Christopher Lee’s final two appearances as Dracula and the Valerie Leon vehicle Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb were all in a ‘modern’ setting.
Likewise, Amicus trod onto Hammers period pitch with their Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde adaptation I Monster, and 18th Century horror: And now the Screaming Starts.
In my opinion, they were all successful productions.

3. Amicus got bigger names than Hammer

Before he was a shonky animatronic puppet, the Crypt Keeper was played by
knighted British thespian Sir Ralph Richardson.
Possibly true. casting Sir Ralph Richardson, Joan Collins, Denholm Elliot, and the coup of having Cushing, Lee and Vincent Price appear in the same film, were all Amicus achievements.
Hammer tended to rely more upon an established repertory of accomplished performers, some of whom, like Christopher Lee, Stephanie Beacham, Oliver Reed and Joanna Lumley, became famous after their horror breakthroughs.

4. Hammer offered glamour, whereas Amicus was more about the uncanny amidst the everyday.
Many believe that Hammer can be distilled into sex and horror, flesh and blood which is a blunt, but difficult to deny, analogy.  In fact, Hammer stylishly presented these fundamental aspects in the form of an adult fairytale, morality plays where lines are clearly drawn and expertly performed.
By virtue of Amicus films' mainly contemporary settings, there is far less fantasy and stylisation in late '60s and early '70s decor and apparel. (But this can possibly be balanced against the casting of exotic screen beauties like Ingrid Pitt and Britt Ekland). 

5. Amicus gave (arguably) the leading man of both studios, Peter Cushing, more opportunity for range in his roles.

Tales from the Crypt: Peter Cushing certainly never got to play a zombie for
Hammer (or win an award for it!)
Given the wonderful character roles Amicus offered Cushing, including his award-winning performance in Tales from the Crypt, this is difficult to deny.  An actor of his skill can delineate Baron Frankenstein from Doctor Van Helsing, but it is far more subtle than the differences between Doctor Shreck, Arthur Grimsdyke and the Temptations Ltd Proprietor for Amicus.  To say nothing of his delightful Doctor Who.

6. Amicus ended with successful family-friendly fantasy adventures, whereas Hammer foundered with attempting to establish ‘Action Horror’.
This is a tragic example of bad timing on both sides.  It’s true that Amicus successfully managed a reinvention in the face of the decline of British horror films, turning instead to popular Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations for the school holiday market.  In some ways, this was a return to the feel of their mid-sixties Dalek films. Sadly, the perhaps inevitable parting of the ways between Amicus partners Subotsky and Max Rosenberg ended the company and cut this resurgence short.

Hammer, in the meantime, more or less invented a combination of Gothic horror and action adventure with The legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter and the sadly unmade Vampirella, failing to find its audience at the time. The studio could not compete with the new wave of expensively-produced horror from the US and wound down. 
Four decades later, however, it’s sometimes hard to find anything else but big budget action horror at the cinemas!

Action horror is everywhere now, but Hammer invented the genre decades ago.

So let’s not fight, as viewers we will be the only losers in the end.  Better to open your heart to both - there’s no reason not to love the films from the Hammer House of Horror, and Amicus - the Studio that dripped Blood.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Fifty shades of Age

I know it’s just a number, but the day I reached my half century was pretty special.

Being weird means you might get weird presents on your birthday....
I have a happy, fulfilling and probably somewhat-sheltered life.  I’m quick to acknowledge those I owe my contentment to - fiercely-loving, brave, pioneering parents who came halfway across the world in search of a better existence, an incredible woman sharing my life who is probably the best thing about me, and a few, long-suffering friends who enrich my life in ways they’ll never know.

I turned fifty this week, an occurrence which both astonishes and pleases me at the same time - like reaching a far-off destination in good time and on less fuel and monetary expenditure than you expected.
But last year, I had a pretty wretched birthday - choosing to spend it at work and by sheer bad luck having a ‘lousy day at the office’.  On top of this my Facebook privacy settings somehow decided to conceal the fact that it was my birthday, and anyone who might have cared remained blissfully unaware that the day was significant to me.

I wasn’t about to repeat this mistake for my fiftieth and so took the day itself, and those either side, off (and re-checked my Facebook settings).

Rose began her schedule of ‘secret’ events by inviting nearby friends and neighbours for pre-birthday drinks on Sunday afternoon.  I think I’m a much more relaxed guest than host, but having so many familiar faces give their time to gather for my benefit is something you can’t help but enjoy.  Bringing them all together also gave many an opportunity to catch up, and it was heart-warming to see so many friends in animated conversation with each other, on our deck,  on a perfect summer’s afternoon.

My birth date itself dawned hot, with the traditional opening of cards in bed.  
Rose’s card came with the message : “This is a day full of clues which need to be solved…” and proved to be the case at each stage of an unforgettable birthday.
I steadfastly failed to decipher the clever and rhyming clues which came with a new gift at each destination, but was very happy to be led by the nose through the day.  

Clues and itinerary, one of the best organisers on the planet
made no exception on my birthday
Beginning with breakfast at our favourite Greytown cafe, we headed to Wellington for the next stage of the adventure.  Incredibly, we met with wind and rain on our journey, but this rapidly began to disappear as we reached the capital. Free-forming until the sun was shining fully again, we ducked into Te Papa to see the acclaimed Scale of our War ANZAC exhibition, but queues formed from the passengers of the two enormous cruise ships docked in the harbour sent us to the Dreamworks exhibition instead.  

A swooping, very wide-screen dragon flight through the world of How to train
your Dragon
is an exhilarating highlight of the Dreamworks exhibition
It might have been second choice, but I’m so glad we saw the beautifully designed celebration of this studio’s art and creativity (including the actual greenhouse set from Curse of the Were-Rabbit!).  There’s nothing like a sharp reminder of how an illustrator might not have tried hard enough, and missed his calling, on his 50th birthday…

All too soon it was time to board the East by West Ferry fro our trip to Days Bay, on the far side of the harbour.  The day was hot and sunny by this time, and we sat up on the top deck, taking in views of the harbour we haven’t seen since living in this city.  We crossed the wake of the recently passed Interislander and picked up some of the larger vessel's ocean-going companions as they turned to follow us instead - yes, I even got dolphins on my birthday!

The original plan had been to paddle board at Days Bay, but being behind schedule and a northerly breeze made us quite happy to park this activity for another time - as long as I got into the sea at some point I’d be more than happy.

"We're on a boat!"
We had a wonderful lunch at the Cobar restaurant, looking out across the harbour from a shaded outside table, watching the local school take to the water on their ‘beach day’, the squeals of delight reminding me how I used to, and still feel about getting into water at any opportunity.
We swam out to an anchored raft straight after lunch, the sea surprising Rose with how much warmer it is than the Wairarapa rivers we’re used to.  I carried on to the Day’s Bay wharf, and then we thad time for a coffee at another cafe before catching the ferry back again.

Judging by that smile I’m not the only one who loves being in the sea on a hot afternoon.
At a couple of points during the afternoon it looked as if the sun might finally be disappearing behind hazy high cloud for good, but every time it seemed to blast out with full force again (as evidenced by Rose’s ruddy complexion when we got home ).

Passing Te Papa again on the way back to the car, we decided to try our luck with the Scale of our War exhibition again, and this time we got straight in.  Not only was the detail of the oversized human figures overwhelmingly impressive, from magnified stitching and shoelaces to skin pores and stubble, but the Gallipoli-themed installation was naturally very moving.  

Richard Taylor touches up one of the gigantic recreations of an Anzac combatant
in the Scale of Our War exhibition.
A beautiful home-cooked meal marked the end of a very full and indulgent day.  Relaxing with a movie, whisky in hand and skin pleasantly taut with an abundance of sun and sea spray is my favourite way to end any day.  Unwilling to let it all end, I stayed up late, watching a movie and responding to birthday wishes on Facebook (yes, the settings worked properly this time).
As I self-indulgently reflect on my rather selfish life so far I realise that it isn’t really about me.  What makes me smile now, and always, are the wonderful people I’ve met along the way. 

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Count Down: Addendum - Sound Bites

There are many different ways a not-so-classic film can be enjoyed...

“Peter Cushing immediately says:
“Who the f_ing ‘ell are you - where’s Chris? Chris!?
And Dracula (John Forbes-Robertson) says:
“Ah no, I’m playing the part of Chris this evening, Sir Cushing…”
And he gives him a b*tch slap!
He does… he gives him a proper slap! 
And Peter Cushing says:
“… I wouldn’t even take that from Christopher Lee,
so I’m certainly not taking that from you ‘ponce-boy’”,
- and he promptly kills him!”
(The climactic confrontation from Hammer’s Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, not co-starring Christopher Lee, as narrated on the Hammered Horror Podcast)

I’ve recommended the brilliance of the Hammered Horror podcast before, effortlessly combining reverence and complete irreverence in their look at a broad range of horror films.  My favourite episode was their look at Dracula AD 1972 so when I heard they were doing the final film in Hammer’s Dracula cycle, Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, I had high hopes.  Hosts Mr Ash and Mr Paul possibly had an easy task ahead of them in examining this notorious but glorious mash-up of Gothic chills and Kung Fu thrills (covered by me here:, and they certainly didn’t disappoint.

(copyright the Hammered Horror Podcast)
At the end of their achingly funny and surprisingly informative podcast episode, Ash happened to mention that Hammer also released the soundtrack to this film as a story record in 1974, with Peter Cushing accompanying the film score with a narration of the story.

Quicker than you could say ‘Geek crack’ I tracked down a recording (I love you, internet) and have to report that it is absolutely delightful.
Story records at this time were, largely juvenile affairs, the sort of thing you would hear on the Sunday morning children’s radio requests programme - and apparently Hammer received some criticism for apparently trying to break into this market.
In fact,  this album is anything but. It’s a given that Cushing’s narration, with cut-glass diction and an ability to find more syllables in words than we mere mortals ever suspected existed, is superb.  James Bernard’s music, re-arranged for this release by Philip Martell, combines the disparate themes and settings of the film with skill and gusto, while writer Don Houghton refines his screenplay elegantly for ‘P Cush’s’ (As Hammered Horror call him) retelling.  Houghton’s wife and television actress Pik-Sen Lim even voices some dialogue as Maio Kue, the chop-sockying heroine who, although nothing new in Hong Kong cinema, could be regarded as a pioneering empowered female role model in a British film.

Complete with sound effects from the film , the care and attention which went into this record marks it as perhaps one of the earliest adult audio books - a market which continues to flourish today.  Even in their dying days, Hammer were once again at the forefront of entertainment.  Sadly, this is only one of two records which Hammer City Records produced, (more on the other in a post to come).

Like the film itself, re-releases have seen The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires soundtrack album become better appreciated with the passing of time.  Also available on You Tube and Amazon, it only reinforces how ahead of their time Hammer was with their final productions, and how much more in step with current sensibilities films like this are now - over forty years later!

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Solo Misadventure: Part Two – River deep, Mountain high

Getting from the Waiohine to the Tauherenikau river isn't usually difficult where I live, unless you do it via a mountain.

Accommodation for one - bring your own matches.
The view of the Tauherenikau river in summer, glimpsed from the train at the start and end of our daily commute, scarcely does it justice.  From the railway bridge it tends to look like a large dusty quarry with some despondent rivulets of water winding their way across the gravel.

But only a little way further into the hills it becomes a poster girl for New Zealand tourism. 
The banks nestle in on either side, and native bush begins to proliferate, palms shading, and ferns fringing sparkling clear pools. I’d swear you can smell the oxygen in the water, it fizzes near the sun-warmed surface as you pass through this beautiful river.  An author I was privileged to interview a couple of years ago coined the expression ‘the weight of nature’ in one of his books, and you can certainly feel it here.

I reach these parts of the Tauherenikau by wading up the river in high summer, able to cover a fair distance due to the low water level.  But I can only get so far, and only recently I realised that the answer had been staring me n the face every time I visited my favourite swimming hole at the other nearby river, the Waiohine. At the end of the road is a sign indicating the beginning of the track to 899m Mt Reeves, but when I finally read it properly, saw that the track continues down to Tutuwai hut, perched near a part of the Tauherenikau river I hadn’t seen before. the sign indicated the 11km distance would take 4.5hrs.

My legs still feeling the effects of the previous day’s return from Riversdale, I pedalled the familiar journey to the start of the track. 
I had originally intended to make the return trip to Tutuwai hut in a day, but Rose had convinced me to turn it into an overnight stay.  Her motivation might have been to get me out of the house but she also probably saved my life.  I had almost made the classic mistake of not respecting the mountain - it might only have been 11km, but it was STEEP!
The track ascended sharply through pine, then bush and eventually beech forest.  Assuming that the summit would be the halfway point of the journey, I hoped to reach it in 2hrs 15 minutes.  Nearing the top a wind picked up.  I passed a small party of mature trampers heading the other way, and as I write this they are still the last human beings I’ve seen in 30 hours.  Because, as it turned out, they had been the last people to stay at the hut and I had it entirely to myself.  

View from the top of Mt Reeves
But back to the present, with thigh muscles whimpering, I managed to make the top exactly when I hoped I would.  The Wairarapa spread out far below me and I got my first view of the Eastern Tararua range, glowering beneath some ominous clouds and reminding me again that this wasn’t just a stroll - people have died in these mountains.

If I’d thought the climb was steep the descent was insane, and I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was to make it down in a single hour - seeing the pink straight angles of the hut roof through the trees was jarring after the constant green and brown of the track, but a huge relief.

The company I enjoyed at Tutuwai hut.
Tutuwai appeared to have enough sleeping space for a couple of rugby teams, but presently there was just me, and it stayed that way.  As much as I enjoyed the solitude, another party might have had matches with them. This was a crucial oversight which lead to some embarrassing attempts to ‘MacGyver’ my way out of forsaking a hot dinner.  I tried to focus the sun through an empty wine bottle onto some dry leaves, but discovery of my plight had come too late in the day … I even tried rubbing sticks together and finally banging rocks.  A discarded lighter flared briefly then died once and for all.  I was stuffed, or rather not stuffed after a modest dinner of dry food and not the nourishing 'Kaweka' meal I had packed.  It was having to take the coffee, which I’d carried here, off the menu which really hurt, though.
I swam and read until the light finally disappeared - the sun appearing to roll along the ridge of the mountains, rather than dipping behind them.

The view from Tutuwai hut veranda.
I spent a surprisingly unnerving night in that huge hut all by myself.  Every creak of the cooling building seemed magnified, as did the distant scream of some still-unidentified wildlife.  What most concerned me though was the possibility that I could be invaded at any minute by a drunk party of pig hunters.  The sound of the nearby river fooled me several times by mimicking distant human voices, but despite all this I eventually fell into a deep, long sleep.

Despite the forecast, the next morning was sunny and hot, so I hit the trail early, prepared for the slope back to the top.  I say prepared, but it still hurt.  Weirdly, on summiting and coming back into cellphone range at last, I received a text from my manager, asking me if I wanted Waitangi day off.  I now see that dark things have happened to New Zealand while I was gone, but my first news was the opportunity to extend my holiday by another day - and I grabbed it.

My last view of the Tauherenikau valley as I head for home.
Like my Riversdale trip, I also finished this one with a swim in the Waiohine when I reached the end of the trail.  Tramping is supposed to be a social activity, and as much as I enjoyed myself I did feel very isolated and maybe a tiny bit lonely, (I even caught me talking to myself over breakfast).  I’ve had great, if exhausting experiences over the past week, but it’s time to call a halt to the solo misadventures for a little while.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Solo Misaventures: Part One - Up Hill and down (Rivers)Dale

A couple of years ago I cycled to Castlepoint and camped overnight -
this time it was Riversdale Beach's turn.

Bedtime - the view from my tent

Did you know kilometres stretch in extreme heat?  
I also discovered that the degree of road incline also expands, and I believe these two facts may be closely linked.

Temperatures well in excess of thirty degrees made my trips to and from the coast over the past couple of days less fun than they could have been.  Glancing at my heavily sun-blocked forearms as I trundled over liquifying tar seal, they started to look to me like giant melting Kit kat fingers, and I really had to question my wisdom of picking two sunny days for this trip just so that my tent wouldn’t get rained on.

The tent was on my back, contributing generously to the total 9.2kg strapped to my shoulders, but I kept telling myself, during many gulps of fast-warming water, that 85 kilometres should be a doddle. I have friends who might consider that distance a warm-up.
Let’s just say that it wasn’t a doddle, the heat made everything much harder, including breathing. As mentioned above, signposts seemed to mock me, distances were surely distending grotesquely under the relentless sun  I was probably saved when I started to feel an off-shore breeze pick up, but naturally it was also a headwind.

The long and winding road, gradually inching seawards
So I’m hardly proud of the seven hours it took me, butI was very relieved to finally arrive at the coast.  I bought a delicious cold beer, and pondered my next problem.  I had been told that freedom camping was possible at Riversdale Beach (there is no camping ground) but the plethora of signs forbidding tents was fast making me believe otherwise.
A tentative enquiry resulted in the suggestion that I could ask the local adventure camp if they had space.  I’m a law abiding citizen, but I didn’t come all this way with a sleeping bag and tent on my back just to be barely tolerated in a corner of someone’s playing field.  Dammit, I was sleeping on the beach!

Rock formations at the south end of Riversdale beach.  If you squint you might
 make out the Castlepoint 'castle' at top left.
My rebellious streak only lasted as far as me walking miles down the sand, as far away from holiday homes and potentially officious beach ramblers as I could get. I located a likely spot semi hidden by toe-toe bushes and safely above  the high tide mark (I hoped).
After a huge serving of fish and chips I set to work, deciding just to lay out the inner part of the tent without the flysheet - it was a perfectly still evening and still very warm and the pegs didn’t really have much purchase in the sandy ground.  The finished result looked a little shonky, but unobtrusive, and I just hoped a wind didn’t get up.

No place like home...
Wriggling inside as the sun finally began to dip I was encouraged to see  a quad-biker passing right in front of my hideout without even noticing me.

I fell asleep ridiculously early, but on waking up in the middle of the night was very glad I hadn’t put the flysheet on - the stars were blazing above me, hardly dimmed by the tent netting and I recognised new constellations each time I re-awakened and the sky had shifted. And right in front of me a crescent moon cast a glittering path on the dark waves.

Very conscious that the next day was going to be even hotter, I manage to pack my tent in the first glimmer of dawn and be on the road by 6.30am.  (These little personal challenges are all very well, but the transit time means that I barely get to enjoy the destination).

I was determined to cover as much distance as I could before the sun got high, and pedalled furiously through the coastal hills like a dawn-dreading vampire so reduced in means that he doesn’t have a black coach to race back to his castle in.  It had been a very dewy night (the tent was somewhat damp when I packed it away) and fortunately the warming sun also produced a cool thick mist over the landscape, which gave me another hour of grace.
A brief stop for muesli and UHT milk, scooped out of a former cat dish by hand (MUST remember a spoon next time!), and soon the golden hills fell away on either side of me and I was back on the  Wairarapa plain.

I had considered catching the train home from Masterton, as Highway 2 isn’t that much fun on a bike, but I was also keen to get home; so had a large breakfast and then hit the melting road again.  I really must have been eager to get home - shaving an hour off yesterday’s time.  Or perhaps it was the thought of plunging into the Waiohine river which motivated me, (and it was well worth it).

I’m a little sore, but tomorrow is the next solo misadventure: an overnight tramp to the Tauherenikau Valley, and I’m off to pack a spoon.

One of my favourite parts of the trip to Riversdale, this beautiful corridor of poplar trees.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Assembly Line: Part Six - Days of Suture Past

“There’s nothing more for you to see. It’s all over now, all over…”

Baron Victor Frankenstein

Unlike the swan song of Hammer’s Dracula series, which ended with an outrageous experimental fusion of Kung Fu cinema and Gothic horror, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell finished the Baron’s story with a return to form and the style of this film cycles’ roots, infused with an apt sense of melancholy finality.

Approaching 70, Legendary hammer director Terence Fisher was coaxed back for his final film. Anthony Hinds scripted this, his last Hammer (under his usual pseudonym of John Elder), and of course Cushing gave his last performance as the title character (could the Baron himself be the ‘Monster from Hell’?) Distinguished character actors from Hammer’s past like Patrick Troughton and Charles Lloyd Pack and Peter Madden were brought back for this farewell party, and even David Prowse, the only actor to play a Hammer Frankenstein creature twice, returned.

Copying from the best: The preproduction poster on the right, by Keenan Forbes, is clearly
inspired by Frank Frazetta's 1967 painting Nightstalker (detail on left).  But whatever its origin,
the art seems to have been the inspiration for the look of Dave Prowse's eventual costume.
Despite the fact that this was now 1974, and Hammer horror was fast becoming considered passé in these days of The Exorcist, Monster from Hell is a conscious return to the studios’ original style. This is evident in the fact that the gorgeous Madeline Smith, almost completely undressed in her previous Hammer appearance, is scrupulously covered from head to foot in this film and actually cast for her acting ability as the mute asylum inmate ‘the Angel’. A dialogue-free scene she shares with Bernard Lee ('M' in every Bond film up to Moonraker) is particularly impressive and affecting.

Madeline Smith (left), fully dressed but still acting her socks off.
It is a period setting, apparently an asylum some time in the Regency period - actually earlier than the previous films were set, but it works.

The Baron is sporting badly burned hands from his previous misadventure, however, leading to an infamous scene where he holds a wrist artery between his teeth while his assistant Shane Briant completes a hand transplant. Apparently Cushing’s idea, it perfectly conveys the Barons obsessive drive to achieve his goal, and become the ‘creator of man’

Frankenstein's cat really didn't like being wormed.
The fruits of his labours this time could barely be called a man, however. A hulking hominid creature, brought to life by 6ft 5-and-a-half inch David Prowse in a hairy semi-ape suit, this creation has been the target of some derision over the years. Despite this, the Baron’s last monster has become somewhat iconic, and has been represented in various kit sets and even an ‘action figure’.

Action figure and kitset model of the titular monster.
Apparently the Angel assembled him under the Baron’s supervision, so perhaps we have her to blame for the massive retrograde step in surgical skill.

Despite an unflinching amount of gore, the film is built solidly on the strength of its characterisations, none more than Cushing’s Frankenstein. Still very capable of action scenes, subduing the monster with chloroform while the much younger Briant just stands by, his descent into madness only becomes fully evident at the end of the film. Cheerfully sweeping up the mess while announcing plans for his next attempt, his assistants can only watch in dumb horror and disbelief.

There was never to be another attempt, of course. The Frankenstein film series was over, and shortly afterwards, Hammer themselves.

If David Prowse and Peter Cushing were disappointed by the response to their
first collaboration (left), their next film together gained slightly more recognition.
This film was not successful on its original run but, like many of it’s Hammer stablemates, has gained acclaim throughout the years. Perhaps because, although the values it embodies were outdated upon it’s release, this film perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the Hammer Frankenstein films, a beautifully directed and acted self-homage and epitaph, crafted by experienced veterans with most advanced techniques Hammer was ever able to bring to the screen.

Assembly Line-up

It's impossible not to make comparisons to Hammer's other great film cycle - the Dracula series.
As much as I love Christopher Lee's moonlit flits as the Count, it seems to me that the shorter Frankenstein series was more successful in bringing something new its own formula each time.
While the Count became a proto-slasher villain cypher, the Baron becomes increasingly more fascinating (if sometimes inconsistent). Cushing brings, and is afforded, far more range then Lee ever was as the Lord of Vampires.
I'll always be in the Hammer Dracula camp, but the quality and originality of the Frankenstein films has pleasantly surprised me, and I can now understand why many prefer them. 

The Baron clearly peaked in the middle of his career.

Creatures featured - by the numbers:

Appeared in Star Trek: 1
Appeared in Star Wars: 2
Were Decorated: 2 (plus Cushing was awarded an OBE)
From New Zealand: 1
Over six feet in height: 5
Appeared in Playboy: 1