THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN
1957/ Director: Terence Fisher/ Writers: Jimmy Sangster , Mary Shelley (novel)

Cast: Peter Cushing, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart, Christopher Lee, Melvyn Hayes, Valerie Gaunt, Paul Hardtmuth
The Curse of Frankenstein is truly a history making movie. Prior to Curse Hammer had had some success as a film studio and with the Quartermass films and X The Unknown found a niche in the horror genre. Curse was their first color film, and what a first it was. The scenes are lush and vibrant as well as chilling and nightmarish. Under the direction of the brilliant Terence Fisher the movie single handedly revives the Gothic horror film. While it was a return to the classic, atmospheric horror themes established in the 30’s by Universal studios, but Hammer would certainly tell the stories with their own style. Hammer screenwriter Jimmy Sangster would turn the focus of the story on the character of Victor Frankenstein rather than the monster. The obsessed doctor and his hideous creation are played by Hammer first timers Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Lee got the role basically because of his 6’4′ height, a feature that almost prevented him from landing the role he would make legendary, that of Count Dracula. However it is Cushing that shines as the driven and insane Dr. Victor Frankenstein. He does frequent himself with hunchbacks as he robs graves but he aligns himself with his brilliant tutor. In later Hammer Frankenstein films the Igor type hunchback is eschewed for career driven young men who fall under Frankenstein’s evil charm. Cushing is dashingly handsome and his face conveys the doctor’s charisma and madness. He is a sociopath really who will let no one stand in the way of his ambitions.

The story essentially follows the classic Frankenstein tale, that of a man whose supreme creation turns into a monster that sets out to destroy its creator. The film has a wrap around narration and opens up with a priest arriving at the jail house where a broken and disheveled Victor await the guillotine. He does seek absolution but just wants someone to believe his incredible story, and that it was a ‘monster’ that murdered his jealous house maid. We are taken back in time to when an already rich and arrogant young Victor Frankenstein meets his brilliant new tutor Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) and the two form a deep connection as time passes. However Victor’s passion run darker and more sinister than Paul’s as he desires to test their live reviving techniques on humans and not just small animals. Paul, though strong willed, is susceptible to Victor’s vision and passion and he is soon cutting corpses from the gallows to use in experiments. As in all Frankenstein stories the sublime nature of Frankenstein’s creation is not its physical form, hewed together from collected body parts, but it is to be the thing’s magnificent mind.

While all of Paul’s and Victor’s experiments are going on the house Victor’s cousin Elizabeth (the lovely Hazel Court) has come to stay following the death of her mother. She and her mother have long been cared for financially by Victor and now the two are to be paired in an arranged marriage. But the ambitious Victor has been dallying with the house keeper Justine (Valerie Gaunt) and whispering sweet nothings in her ear¡­ sweet nothings that while rear their ugly heads and spell Justine’s doom eventually. Paul grows fond of Elizabeth and pleads with her to leave and while she senses his sincerity she is intend on wedding Victor. And Victor in the meantime had solved the problem of how to get a brilliant brain into his patchwork ubermensch, he will simply invite the gifted Professor Bernstein up for dinner and chat, then push him over the banister and kill him in a truly amazing scene that does not look like a dummy was used. Paul is over wrought with disgust at Victor and a conflict ensues in the crypt and the brain is damaged, but Victor continues his experiment to success. But his success nearly kills him. After pleading with Paul for assistance in operating the apparatus he returns to his laboratory to find the creature has been brought back to life in his absence. There is a fantastic scene where Lee quickly unbandages his face and reveals the hideous features of Victor’s dark labors. This scene totally scared the daylights out of as a ten year old staying up and watching this late at night all alone. Hammer was careful not to provoke powerful Universal studios with the monster’s makeup and what they did was a creature that looks bloodless and grotesque, with clumps of mangled flesh hanging from its neck rather than neat stitching scars. Lee’s monster has little time on screen in comparison to Karloff’s, and the time spent is in anguish and despair. The creature looks disgusting and shows its homicidal rage instantly upon seeing its creator. The thing escapes and rather than befriending an old blind man kills him. Paul shoots it in the face and in a rather gory scene for the time.


Victor will not give up and digs the beast up and in the last parts of the film it kills the scorned Justine and is discovered by a desperate to understand Elizabeth. While there is moral ambiguity with Cushing’s Frankenstein, a feature not to found in his Van Helsing or other Vampire hunters, he tries to save Elizabeth in the end from the beast he has to destroy. He comes to his senses far too late and in the end he is deserted at the guillotine by Paul and Elizabeth. Could Paul have saved him by verifying the existence of a monster? Or would he have only implicated himself? Did he take it on himself to be Victor’s judge for his horrible crimes? Did Paul fall in love with Elizabeth and see this as a solution to more than one problem?
The film ends with this questions and as we know the story continues in more fine Hammer Frankenstein films. I have the next three in the series and I will get them in due time. Before closing I want to comment on two more things. One is on Terrence Fisher’s marvelous use of interior shots. He does this well in all his films (The Brides of Dracula for another example) and his use of cluttered rooms and exotic interior camera angles is a quality I have long loved in his work. In fact his exterior shots are often bland unless his is using studio sets. The other thing I found noteworthy of this true classic was the score by James Bernard, who scored some of Hammer’s best soundtracks. But this one is simply thrilling and you cannot help but feel Victor’s anguish and fear all the more because of this score.

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4 Responses to “THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN”

  1. This movie will stand through time, it's a classic & a must see to all horror fans.

  2. RQOHyea, when I was kid long, long ago and would catch this (and other Hammer films)late at night on old network TV I remember how freaked out I was at the make up on the monster. Still holds up by today's standards (not sure if those are necessarily better though) as far a good horror movie or just good movie goes.

  3. This has indeed held up pretty well over time. I was surprised at how much I liked both 'Curse' and 'Revenge.' If you've seen any of the others in the series, how are they?

  4. I have seen all the others in the series and have most them reviewed but still in a draft folder waiting to be posted. I have not seen all of the Dracula films by Hammer but almost all of them. I have seen all of the Gothic style Dracula films of the 60's but have not seen the the very last ones, some where Dracula appears in modern London. I will be posting those other Frankenstein films soon. I am not sure if I have reviewed them all, I am sure I have not reviewed Frankenstein Must be Destroyed. Weird, I can't remember what I have seen or reviewed sometimes. Will get back on that. Click on my Hammer category and see what is there, I will be getting more up. A bit lazy lately.

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