Classic 1957 horror film by Hammer Film Productions, based on the novel Frankenstein (1816) by Mary Shelley. This was Hammer's first colour horror film and the first of their Frankenstein series, establishing ''Hammer Horror" as a distinctive and uniquely British brand of Gothic cinema. The film was directed by Terence Fisher with cinematography by Jack Asher and stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in two of their most iconic roles for Hammer.
Mild Spoilers ...
- The Curse of Frankenstein review by NP
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“It’s alive!” So gasps Peter Cushing as Baron Frankenstein, as he infuses the spark of life into a creature previously dead. On this occasion, it is a puppy used as an experiment. Cushing, taking over from Melvyn Hayes (as the younger Baron), makes the part instantly his own. Every flicker of the eye, every movement, every sideward glance is meticulously measured – a trait of Cushing’s acting, and one of the reasons he has been admired over the years by fans and fellow cast and crew members. As ‘Curse of Frankenstein’ starts, its credits intoned over swirling red smoke, Frankenstein is dishevelled and desperate, imprisoned for his foul deeds and a cert for the guillotine – his story is told in flashback.
This was Hammer’s first major success, the Mary Shelley novel condensed by writer Jimmy Sangster (but not as much as Dracula was the following year). Robert Urquhart, who played Paul Krempe, Frankenstein’s tutor, walked out of the premiere, and in disgust gave an interview slating its horrific nature; needless to say, he never appeared in another cinematic film for Hammer. He was not alone – ‘revolting, degrading, pathetic and depressing’ are four words amongst many scathing reviews of ‘Curse of Frankenstein’ upon its release, usually from the prissy pens of the British critics. Happily, the film made seventy times the money that was needed to make it, which tells its own story.
Goat’s eyes, severed hands and heads, and Cushing’s blood spattered lapels certainly brought ‘Curse’ a huge level of notoriety upon its release which fuelled its popularity and put Hammer forever on the map – as well as making stars out of both Cushing, and his ‘creature’ Christopher Lee (a role for which Bernard Bresslaw was also considered). Lee was chosen mainly for his height and smothered in car-crash make-up and an obvious wig, which provides an effective scare but is hardly memorable in the way that Jack Pierce’s make-up had been for the Universal original. It is unfair to compare the two films however – they were made in a different age for a different audience - and that is the last time I shall do so.
The few wisps of humour in this doom-laden story are provided by The Baron’s affair with maid Justine, who naively believes his lies and tried to blackmail him, and another scene which involves The Baron politely asking for the marmalade during a genteel breakfast directly after the scene in which he locks Justine into his filthy laboratory with his reborn creature.
The Creature has a magnificent introduction. Left in an emptying water tank, with its chest heaving, there is a crash which leads Frankenstein to scurry into his deserted laboratory. There stands his creation, uncoordinated arms and hands reaching to rip away the bandages covering his face. Phil Leakey’s make-up is revealed, and the creature (or rather the late Professor Bernstein, whose brain is in the monster’s head) immediately recognises the man who originally killed him and reaches out to strangle him. No mild-mannered monster, he still invites a kind of sympathy – in the way a rabid dog would invite sympathy for its plight, if not for its temperament.
At the finale, we return to The Baron’s incarceration, with Frankenstein facing the guillotine after his last hope, Paul Krempe, has wilfully failed to save him. Krempe is hardly as virtuous as he seems, I think. For all his gallant protection of Frankenstein’s intended Elizabeth (Hazel Court), it is clear he has designs on her – by the film’s end, he happily places an arm around her as he escorts her out of Frankenstein’s cell. The cad.