From Hammer to George Lucas :

by Thierry Girandon


In the Thirties, the monsters of Universal terrorised cinema audiences. Then Dracula and Co. finished by playing at scaring themselves, degenerating into ridiculous trashy movies alongside cheesy comedians. Dracula and the Werewolf were made to meet, just as Alien and Predator would be made to meet. Lon Chaney Jr. made a mockery of the saying “like father like son”. The Mummy lost his bandages and revealed his hollow chest. In the drive-ins people wanted blood and tits. So it was that young virgins in Chevrolets lost their blood on the fabric of the back seats. It would not be surprising were this last sentence to serve as the refrain of a rock song.

In the 1950s the famous British studio Hammer had the bright idea of resurrecting these monsters. Hammer’s genius was the use of colour. Blood, bright red, spurting onto the green drapes; oh, the carmine lips of Dracula’s victims! His bite; a kiss. In Psycho, the blood had only been melted chocolate. What had been shocking, therefore, had been the toilet bowl and the obscene sound of it flushing.

Terence Fisher, Hammer’s greatest director, resurrected first Frankenstein, then the others. But he became particularly attached to the famous Baron, who remained the same but varied his creatures, a bit like a fashion designer presenting a new collection every season. I recently saw Fisher’s final film: Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, made in 1974, his fifth variation on the Baron and his baby. The Doctor, suavely played by Peter Cushing, works in an insane asylum. His latest creation, the monster from hell, is a creature which truly inspires compassion. This is Fisher’s genius. He had already made the Werewolf moving. He pours his creature’s soul into the powerful body of a psychopath who has just failed to commit suicide. Within this body he cocoons the brain of a genius, and to it he adds the skilful hands of a sculptor. The creature thus given life is nothing but a monster of suffering who is living a veritable hell, torn by despair, murderous desires and the torments of creation.

A pitiful creature but pathetic, or vice versa. The actor who lends his body to this savage creature covered in Chewbacca-like hair is no stranger. It is David Prowse. David Prowse died in 2020. He was a former weightlifter, famous for being the man inside the Darth Vader costume. George Lucas wanted a massive, athletic figure, nothing more. Lucas, in turn, became the famous Dr Frankenstein by creating this corrupt father who corrupted several generations of viewers. This Darth Vader, like Frankenstein’s monster, is a composite character. If David Prowse lends his body, it is not his voice in the films. When he shows his face, it is not his face. Darth Vader is, like Frankenstein’s creature, only bits and pieces strung together. Poor David Prowse is condemned to play the same monster for eternity.

Translation: Hilary Burgess

David Prowse