Dr Frankenstein has buried his old identity and is now working at an asylum where he basically has complete control and harvests the inmates for their body parts so that he may continue his ghastly experiments on reanimation with the help of an ambitious doctor who has been institutionalised. Using pieces from the asylum's most promising inmates, Frankenstein patches up a horrific brute of a monster who is as sad and tortured as he is grotesque.
Hammer's last Frankenstein film is arguably one of the best of their final years. Director Terence Fisher was back at the helm for one last crack before retiring. Peter Cushing ( sporting a bad wig here) was back in his most famous role. And as usual, Hammer provided a good supporting cast as well as some tight script writing. So the stage was set to give the Frankenstein series one last big hurrah and for the most part, it works completely. The film is a true sequel which is good, as elements from the previous films are incorporated (either for a little in-joking or for plot developments including Frankenstein being burned at the end of Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed) to allow for newer developments to make way. Unlike the Dracula series, one of the strengths of the Frankenstein series was to re-invent itself and look original in every instalment (despite the plots being almost the same). At no point here do you feel like you've been here before and it's all seemingly original material we're given. Logical progression of the story has made Frankenstein more evil and murderous in each instalment and finally Fisher decides to go the full distance and relish the fact that the previously-sane-although-corrupt scientist is now simply a mad killer who doesn't realise the futility of what he's doing. Credit must be given to Cushing as well because his performance verges on the sane/insane and at times you don't know which side of the line he's treading. It's a fitting finale for Cushing in his best cinematic role, even though he could have slept-acted the part now. Shane Briant as his assistant is also pretty good and reminds the viewer of how Frankenstein used to be: a little cold, naive but intelligent and ruthless nonetheless. Dave Prowse plays the part of the monster and through his mannerisms, he manages to turn the creature into a sympathetic and pitiful monster. For the first time, Hammer decided to actually go with an out-and-out monster instead of just some guy with a big head and big boots. That's maybe one of the reasons why so many people dislike this entry. Albeit the suit isn't particularly convincing but it's still believable if you remember this is a mixture of about 60 body parts from different people - it ain't gonna be perfect folks. Gore was upped in the later Hammer films and there are plenty of surgical pleasantries here, with no less a brain transplant revealed in all of it's shocking power. Depending on what version you get, some parts may be censored ( this cuts my rating down half a star since the US DVD is the cut version. Try to find the old laser disc from Japan to see the uncut version) And like the rest of the Hammer films, it wouldn't be a Frankenstein film without the finale where the monster does meet it's maker (but not before a classic Hammer moment where the creature is digging graves during a lightning storm).
To sum up here. Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell is an excellent finale to the Frankenstein series and that's because everyone from the director to the actors to the guys who makes the coffee seem to be on top form here. Check it out.
One of the hardest things to do for me is watch a film adapted from a novel I have read. Sadly, one is often expecting more and left with less, and for this reason I resisted watching this movie for many many years. But I can say, the purist might easily find many faults, indeed I had, but as a film I can respect it and recommend it as a good film about romance, titillation and for its time a bold attempt to capture a complex and controversial novel on film.
The casting was mostly superb. Each main character was believable, even if they did not fully walk off the pages so to speak. As the title character, Corinne Clery physically fulfilled the part of O, and I found her to have delivered a lovely rendering of the character, as the other actors seemed to also achieve.
The Story of O is a love story, and at bottom I think the film artfully delivered a good romance movie. I expected bad pornography but was very pleased with the it, certainly it has some kitsch and the S&M might offend some, but even that actually gets delivered rather gingerly and I thought respectfully. Perhaps that is my greatest concern with the film, that it gently tells a hard story, that it masks what should have been unmasked, but it is unfair to pommel the film over that because I am not certain the real story could have been told on film even in France.
It is respectful criticism that I only fault the film for drifting from the story on points that I feel cause the film to become more about filming than storytelling. I also must say that the film at times was too literal from the novel and seemed to lose some of the context that I say this in recognition that the novel is not an easy story to convey because it is subject to a lot of interpretation by the reader.
I think the more tragic ending of the book would not have served this film, the apparent happy ending for O and Rene and Sir Stephan makes this film its own interpretation, one I can respect and even enjoy.
I recommend a reading of the book to any viewer and feel that if one can view how O is pursuing uninhibited and unconditional love, even at great sacrifice, then both book and movie might have greater impact than a visage of Ms. Clery's lovely body and some kinky overlays of Sadomasochism.