The 4th (Frankenstein Created Woman) and 5th (this one) films in Hammer's Frankenstein series are among its most interesting, largely because they pretty much stop being Frankenstein films. This one's more Cushing-centric than its predecessor, but it's still moving ever-further away from the basic idea of creating new life. A former correspondents of the Baron's, one Dr Brandt, had perfected a technique for cryogenically freezing the human brain, but then inconveniently went mad. Naturally Frankenstein starts laying plans to abduct Dr Brandt from his mental asylum and put his brain in another body.
Yup, that's right. More brain transplants. You'll also be pleased to learn that putting a madman's brain in a new skull will let you relieve the pressure on it and make the insanity go away. The only thing wackier than Frankenstein's hypotheses in this movie series is the fact that he invariably seems capable of making good on them. If anyone put them all together into one coherent universal theory of medicine, then the entire body of medical knowledge might have to spontaneously explode or something.
Anyway, the Baron's sudden fondness for brain transplants has turned him into the catalyst of all kinds of fucked-up stories about people freaking out and getting all unreasonable at a little thing like not being dead and instead waking up in someone else's body. We get Fun With Scalpels (and bone saws, etc.) which I don't find easy to watch, even if we're spared the full spurtiness. At one point I was wondering why the Baron didn't just put a zip in their heads. This is a considerably nastier film than its predecessor, with Frankenstein himself being pretty much evil for the first time in the series. Hitherto he'd merely been, um, dedicated. Cushing's Baron would never again be this villainous, although the Ralph Bates Frankenstein in Hammer's one Cushing-less foray would be even more homicidal. Here however he's blackmailing, kidnapping, murdering, taking pleasure in driving others to murder and even raping. He's as cold as ice and ten times as cool, with that delicious contrast between his old-fashioned manners and his wildly unprincipled actions.
That rape is a particularly notorious scene, incidentally. It was thrown in at the last minute on the instructions of Hammer studio head Sir James Carreras, who'd thought the film lacked sex. Fortunately I knew that in advance and was prepared. To my surprise, I actually found it comparatively restrained. We don't see any naughty bits, for a start. It's disturbing rather than titillating and it doesn't wreck the film around it, although if nothing else it's a bloody stupid thing for the Baron to do. His landlady's already unhappy enough at his being there that she'd been on the point of doing something stupid. Why take that one final step that might push her over the edge? Oh, and apparently Veronica Carlson found the scene so distressing to shoot that Cushing stopped in the middle and refused to finish shooting it.
The Hammer repertory company is out in force here, incidentally. Much of this film's cast can be seen elsewhere in this series, such as Peter Cushing (of course), Veronica Carlson (6th), Peter Copley (6th) and Thorley Walters (4th). Carlson and Copley are forgivable since Horror of Frankenstein is a reboot in a different continuity, but it's a bit startling to see Thorley Walters taking huge roles in consecutive sequels. He's good, though. Oh, you can also see Windsor Davies.
Other fun details include for once a rubber mask really being a rubber mask! This is a particularly strong entry in the series (assuming that the rape scene doesn't totally derail the film for you), with Cushing's Baron being on particularly striking form. You wouldn't want to take him home to meet your mother, but you'll certainly remember him. What's more, he has a lively bunch of foils around him and, in Dr Brandt, perhaps the most interesting monster of the series. Less tragic than Christina in the previous film, but more compelling and unpredictable. Yet more good stuff!