The Curse of Frankenstein

08/29/2015 22:08

Film: The Curse of Frankenstein

Year: 1957

Director: Terence Fisher

Writer: Jimmy Sangster

Starring: Peter Cushing, Hazel Court and Robert Urquhart



This film I sought out after I had seen the original Universal versions and decided to continue to watch the films based on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. This was one of my introductions into the Hammer films as well. I’ve now given this one a watch a few times, with the most recent at the Gateway Film Center. To get into this, the synopsis is Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) builds a creature and brings it to life, but it behaves not as he intended.

We begin with a priest (Alex Gallier) coming to hear the confession of a man being held in a cell. The man is the former baron, Victor. He then goes into telling his tale to priest. We see him when he is a young man (Melvyn Hayes) after his mother’s funeral. His aunt (Noel Hood) and her daughter, Elizabeth (Sally Walsh) leave the estate. As they do, Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) arrives looking for the baron. Victor informs the man that he is the baron and that he’s the one who put out the ad. Paul is shocked but accepts taking him on as a pupil

Victor tells of how in two years, Paul taught him everything he knew, then from there they began to learn new things together. Their experiments grew increasingly more advanced until Victor comes up with the idea to bring things back to life. The first is them trying to bring back a small dog. They think it fails, but they learn that the heart has to beat for a couple of minutes to ensure that all the blood flows through the body before it can reanimate. The dog comes back to life and is perfectly normal.

Paul wants to write a paper for an assembly of doctors, but Victor has a different plan. He won’t tell Paul what it is, but that he must leave immediately. The day he is expected back, Elizabeth (Hazel Court) arrives. She is the young girl from the beginning and her mother has passed away. She has been sending letters to Victor as she intends to live in the house and marry him.

Now that he is back, Victor tells Paul his plan. He wants to create the perfect man. He wants to give it the hands of a great artist, but also the brain of a great mind. This idea shocks Paul at first, but he does help. They start with cutting down the body of a man who was hung. The head is no good, so Victor removes it and puts it in a vat of acid. He goes about getting other parts from different places, but it takes a darker turn with where he decides to get a brain. Paul won’t help and tries to stop him, with results that upset Victor.

Paul threatens to tell Elizabeth and expose him, but Victor is much smarter than his adversary realizes. Not even his mistress, Justine (Valerie Gaunt), can get him to change his mind in creating his creature, Christopher Lee.

Now upon the rewriting of this, I’ve seen a lot of different adaptations of this story. I’m going to try not to compare it to other ones, but what I noticed with this is that it keeps in the vein with the original story. Victor loses his mother at a young age. He isn’t driven by her death to do his experiments. If anything, the death of his mother and father really hardened him into the man he becomes.

Being that this is a Hammer film, it really does feel like it is taking place in the era that it is supposed to. It feels like they filmed this in a castle, so that really helps. The costumes of the characters really do fit as well so I give credit to the realism we get from that.

I did find this interesting that much like the novel and even the Universal version, they don’t delve into the science too much. There is a fluid that bodies are placed in and that electricity does help to bring it back. I do like the idea that Victor believes he can create the perfect person, which is fitting for what we get. I do like that he blames Paul for trying to stop him as it gives him an excuse and to not stop his experiments. Victor shouldn’t be doing what he is, but Paul is to blame for how he is trying to stop him as well. It makes you wonder if the creation would be normal if he doesn’t interfere.

As for the pacing of this one, I do think that it is fine. We have a running time of 82 minutes, so it really doesn’t drag and I’d say that this one does what I want more from the Universal, we have some subplots here. This version does a great job at establishing Victor is a jerk. He is having an affair with Justine and really doesn’t care about Elizabeth. It establishes him as the villain. Paul is a bit sexist, but I think that is more of the time this is set. Even the creature here isn’t as sympathetic, which I did find interesting. It builds tension and something else, we get to see the creature do some things as well. I do have to say, I love how this ends as well.

As for the acting, it is good. Cushing is just great here as Victor Frankenstein. What I like about him portrayal is that he does so as a villain. He wants nothing more to create life, but we see that he’s not a good guy. Court wasn’t really fleshed out. She is kind of sad though in her devotion to Victor that isn’t reciprocated. Urquhart I thought was fine as the counter to Victor. I thought that Lee does a solid job as the creature. His imposing size really adds something and he can convey without actually talking here. The rest of the cast does round this out for what was needed.

To the effects of the film, there aren’t really a lot of if I’m honest. I thought the make-up was good on the creature. We get a bit of blood that looked good. They don’t really delve into the science, so we don’t have to worry there. I can believe that whatever they’re doing would result in what happened. The film is also shot very well, which I come to expect from director Terence Fisher.

Now with that said, this is one of the better Frankenstein films out there and really kicks off the series for the Hammer films. I think that we have some interesting changes to the story here. I like that Victor is telling this tale to us and trying to get a priest to believe him. There are some interesting underlying issues that I can get down with as they’re still relevant today of toxic masculinity and classism. Cushing and Lee are legends and the rest of the cast fits for what was needed. There aren’t a lot of effects, but good for what we got. The soundtrack didn’t really stand out to me, but it did fit for what was needed. I think this is a good film and I prefer it to the Universal if I’m honest.


My Rating: 8 out of 10