Home Featured TV Shows All TV Shows Movie Reviews Book Reviews Articles Frequently Asked Questions About Us

The Curse of Frankenstein

“I've harmed nobody, just robbed a few graves!”

Hammer’s version of the classic horror tale, with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee as Victor Frankenstein and the monster respectively, takes what we know and tweaks it just enough to make it feel fresh while also respecting the source material.

This film was released in 1957, a year prior to Horror of Dracula which I recently reviewed for the site. Like Universal, Hammer made a long series of films based on the classic horror icons (Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy), but unlike Universal, the Frankenstein films follow Dr. Frankenstein rather than the creature. This movie is one of its earliest triumphs that spawned so many that were to follow.

We start off with Baron Frankenstein in prison, condemned to death for murder and other crimes. A disheveled Victor is approached by a priest, and we learn of what transpired up to this point via flashback as he relates his tale to his visitor. The movie doesn’t jump around in time that often, so it’s easy to forget that the lion’s share of what we see has already occurred before we meet Victor in prison, so when it does return to the film’s present, it’s easy to forget that fact.

At first, we do go back quite far in time to meet a very young Victor (Melvyn Hayes), his cousin Elizabeth (Sally Walsh), and Victor’s tutor, Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart). This is mostly to give us some background on this version of Victor Frankenstein and those closest to him, and this portion of the film is fairly short. I feel it does a good job at what it aimed to do; give us some background and character building, without overstaying its welcome.

We do spend far more time with a mature Victor and a Paul Krempe that doesn’t look all that much older than he did when Victor was a boy, partially saved by his beard. They largely work together on the experiments of bringing the dead back to life, often with success, but they do drift apart, and the arrival of adult Elizabeth (Hazel Court) as Victor’s cousin and betrothed complicates an already prickly situation, as Paul obviously has feelings for her. His desire to protect her from their experiments, and especially the monster, creates a large part of the friction between the two men.

Victor grows more and more obsessed with his creation, while Paul at first reluctantly goes along with his once prized pupil, but eventually opposes him as their list of crimes grows longer. This mounting opposition becomes outright hostility as the film continues, and this antipathy is obvious at the end of the movie, where we return to Frankenstein regaling the priest, and us, with the tale of his creation, and makes the ending rather grim.

This movie is both more and less faithful to Mary Shelley’s original story than the earlier Universal adaptation, neither of which get the monster accurate, at least as far as its motivations and intelligence. The monster is less sympathetic here than Boris Karloff as the creature. Lee plays a much more aggressive and violent creation than Karloff gave us. The monster is also more grotesque in appearance, with the film being in color allowing the monster’s sewn-together appearance to be disturbingly obvious. Lee doesn’t get to do a lot as the monster as far as depth or character development, but he does make it work. We don’t get to see the monster till fairly far into the film, but his reveal is startling and sharp, adding some tension and suspense right when I felt the film could use a bit of a jolt.

"They cancelled Barney Miller? Rrrrrarrgh!"

Cushing’s take on Victor Frankenstein is a far more cynical and amoral version of the Doctor compared to the much more sympathetic Henry Frankenstein from the Universal franchise. He comes off cold and aloof, which I feel fits the character and situation so much better, despite also loving Colin Clive in the two Universal Frankenstein movies he starred in (Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, both of which I plan to review for Doux Reviews in the future). It may not be as faithful to the original manuscript, but it does make sense that the Doctor who is willing to stitch a being together from body parts and stop at nothing, including murder, to see his creation come to fruition would be much less sympathetic. I also believe that this is why the horror franchise follows the Doctor instead of the monster like the Universal series does; you don’t need to make the creature the center of attention when the creator is more of a monster than the creation ever was.

"We'll get ice cream! I promise!"

Hammer films have a large following, and I would count myself among them. As a kid, I used to see these movies on Shock Theater on Saturday afternoons on channel 18, along with other classic, and not so classic, horror and sci-fi movies, and have loved them for decades now. Not every Hammer film is a hit; some are merely decent, others not very good. But Curse is up there with the best of not only Hammer, but horror in general. It’s gory for a 50s movie, and has some moments designed for their obvious shock value, but it doesn’t rely on these elements to provide entertainment; they merely enhance the atmosphere and add some tension to a film that can be almost tame at times, and that contrast helps make it work so well. This is an excellent take on Frankenstein, making it one that shouldn’t be missed.

--Hazel Court is a fascinating actress. She not only performed in both Hammer and Roger Corman horror movies, which saw her star along with Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Ray Milland, but she starred in a lot of 60s TV as well.

--Speaking of Hazel Court, Sally Walsh, who plays the younger version of her character, is her own daughter.

--Robert Urquhart was apparently repulsed by the final results of the movie, and never appeared in a horror film again, despite a long career in movies.

--Much like their version of Dracula, some of the situations, the monster and the lab scene had to differ greatly from the Universal version to avoid lawsuits.

--Valerie Gaunt, who plays Justine, Frankenstein’s maid, in the movie was also ‘vampire woman’ in Horror of Dracula and played on TV only twice before leaving acting in 1958, so she’s not a prolific film star or very well known. She was good in both Hammer films, so it’s too bad she didn’t act more often.

Four stitched together corpses out of four.

Morella is a Gen Xer who likes strange things a bit too much.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We love comments! We moderate because of spam and trolls, but don't let that stop you! It’s never too late to comment on an old show, but please don’t spoil future episodes for newbies.