Sunday, October 16, 2011

31 Days of Frankenstein: Young Monster from Hell

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

Any chemistry you sense between Grand Moff Tarkin and Vader in Star Wars was formed on the set of Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. It was Peter Cushing's sixth portrayal of Victor Frankenstein and David Prowse's third as the Monster, but their first together. It was also their last times in these roles as Hammer was already on its way out when Monster from Hell was released.

Frankensteina explains that Hammer's glossy, Gothic style of Horror was killed by not only the grittiness of independent films like Night of the Living Dead, but also equally stylish, but contemporary Satanic horror films like Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, and The Omen. Horror was evolving in the late '60s/early '70s and Hammer couldn't keep up. Monster from Hell was finished in 1972, but took two years to release due to lack of confidence by the money folks.

In Monster from Hell, Baron Frankenstein is hiding out in an insane asylum where he's experimenting on the inmates with the help of the mute daughter of the asylum's director. Before the film's over though, they're joined by a new inmate, a mad, young doctor who's been locked away for performing Frankenstein-inspired experiments. I'm not sure why Hammer abandoned their rebooted, younger version of the series except that perhaps they thought that bringing Cushing back would renew audiences' interest in it. Though Prowse was still the Monster, he was clearly a different one than in Horror of Frankenstein. Not only does he look different with his hulking, ape-like appearance, but the movie explicitly reveals that this is an entirely new creation, put together from pieces of inmates by the Baron and his two helpers.

In addition to the Star Wars connection, there's also a heavy James Bond tie to Monster from Hell. Prowse of course had played the Frankenstein Monster briefly in the Casino Royale spoof, but also Bernard Lee (M) plays one of Monster from Hell's inmates (and the hand donor for the new Creature). Frankenstein's mute assistant is played by Madeline Smith, who was Miss Caruso, the "missing" Italian agent that Bond's got hidden away in his apartment when M shows up there at the beginning of Live and Let Die.

Young Frankenstein (1974)

Since it's one of the most familiar Frankenstein films of all time (and one of the best, even though it's a spoof), there's not a whole lot to say about Young Frankenstein that people don't already know. But here are a couple of things from an interview Mel Brooks gave the Los Angeles Times that were new to me:
I was in the middle of shooting the last few weeks of Blazing Saddles ... and Gene Wilder and I were having a cup of coffee and he said, "I have this idea that there could be another Frankenstein." I said, "Not another – we've had the son of, the cousin of, the brother-in-law, we don't need another Frankenstein." His idea was very simple: 'What if the grandson of Dr. Frankenstein wanted nothing to do with the family whatsoever? He was ashamed of those wackos." I said, "That's funny."

The biggest fight we had, honestly, shame on me, was he said to prove the monster was more than mechanically able to walk or move, he wanted the monster to do Irving Berlin's "Putting on the Ritz." I said, "Having the monster sing and dance is just going to be silly." He said maybe you're right, but can we try it? So we shot it and I said, "This is the best thing in the movie." It turned out to be hysterically funny.
And regarding why it's his best film:
Because of Mary Shelley. I wrote The Producers, and the bones of The Producers are very good, but I don't know how enduring The Producers is and I know how enduring Mary Shelley's characters are. What Gene and I tried to do in the writing of that basic script ... was to stay somehow emotionally true to the characters and the events and not just have things reduced to nonsense. The other shoe that we drop in Young Frankenstein is emotion, great emotion. You can call it father and son, the creator and his creation, that's the real love story that Mary Shelley devised.
I'm not sure what Brooks is trying to say about Frankenstein's relationship with his Creature, but "love story" isn't what I'd call an accurate description of the way Shelley wrote them. The Monster of course longs for the love of his "father," but it's not at all reciprocated, which is really the whole point of the story. One of the things I like best about Young Frankenstein is how it fantasizes that part of it and allows the two to have the relationship I always wanted them to in the novel and other movies. Maybe that's all that Brooks is saying: that Shelley set up the relationship and he's just playing with it.

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