TITLE: The Curse of Frankenstein
YEAR RELEASED: 1957
STUDIO: Hammer Films
DIRECTOR: Terence Fisher
CAST: Peter Cushing, Robert Urquhart, Christhopher Lee and Hazel Court.
PLOT: A rich nobel man – orphaned at a young age – grows up to be a brilliant yet arrogant scientist. His obsession in building a man from body parts leads to murder and his eventual downfall.
MORAL OF THE STORY: If you’re going to start murdering people, don’t leave any witnesses at all.
FUN FACT: Actor Bernard Bresslaw from the Carry On comedies was originally considered to play the Creature because of his height (6″7).
PETER Cushing’s Victor Frankenstein is a bad-ass pure and simple.
For years, I’d only seen him in later Hammer Frankenstein sequels and believed his descent into evil was a culmination of years of disappointment and bitterness.
But after watching The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) for the first time at the weekend, it’s become obvious Hammer’s Victor Frankenstein was a bad’un from the beginning.
Unlike Colin Clive’s sappy mad scientist in Frankenstein (1931), Peter Cushing portrays a man who revels in lust, cruelty and murder. From defiling house maids to murdering his colleagues, Cushing’s Frankenstein is a A-1 b**stard!
The Curse of Frankenstein, like Hammer’s Dracula, does not follow its book source material. Apparently, this is due to Universal Pictures’ legal threats at the time. Interesting, Universal were quite happy to distribute Hammer Films in the US later on when it was clear how popular and profitable they were. But at the time, Hammer were not allowed to even hint at the 1931 James Whale-Boris Karloff classic lest they be sued by the American studio giant.
So instead, Director Terence Fisher and writer Jimmy Sangster have created a darker, much more arrogant Baron Frankenstein, who is obsessed with creating life, even though he clearly has no regard for it. The film is less about the monster than the Baron’s despicable acts in creating it.
The Curse of Frankenstein begins with Baron Frankenstein sitting in a prison cell telling his life story to a priest while he awaits execution for murder.
Through his story, we follow Victor’s growth from a cocky youth desperate for knowledge to his adulthood where he has grown obsessed with creating life from death. We discover the dark side of his nature with his affair with a maid despite his pending marriage to his cousin, Elizabeth (Hazel Court). And even more insidiousness is uncovered when he murders an renown scholar to use his brain in his experiment.
Throughout the film, the voice of conscience is Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) – the Baron’s life-long friend and tutor. Paul is repulsed by the Baron’s experiments but feels the need to stay to protect Elizabeth.
Unlike James Whales Frankenstein (1931), this films shows in gory detail the actual building of the Creature from body parts, such as eyes, hands and brains. This is classic Hammer and blood and guts are never too far away.
This film is the first time Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was filmed in colour. The Curse of Frankenstein established the look of Hammer Horror and its brand of Gothic cinema.
Christopher Lee’s makeup, while a funny shade of blue, looks a lot more realistic than Boris Karloff’s iconic flat-top bolt-neck Monster. But Lee’s imposing statue and gangly look make him the ideal creature. He is also impressive reacting to the whims of the Baron’s commands.
The real monster here is not Christopher Lee’s regenerated corpse. It is the single-sighted, immoral Baron Frankenstein.
I’d always enjoyed the other Hammer Frankenstein; in particular The Revenge of Frankenstein and The Evil of Frankenstein come to mind. Peter Cushing’s Baron was always a refreshing change from his nice guy Abraham Van Helsing.
For the record, I think I prefer The Curse of Frankenstein over Horror of Dracula.