The essentials – The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

I tried to play the character as an ill-coordinated childish creature.” Christopher Lee on playing Frankenstein’s creation.

Hammer’s first film in its Frankenstein cycle was originally conceived as a very different movie to the version that ended up on the screen. Initially Hammer had intended to follow the blueprint set out by Universal Pictures with their classic 1931 version – Hammer even had a make-up in mind that would resemble the Boris Karloff look. However discovering that although Frankenstein was in the public domain, Universal had taken out a copyright on their make up and Hammer were threatened with legal action if any part of their film resembled the Universal version.

Jimmy Sangster rewrote the script and made the inspired choice to make Baron Frankenstein the real monster of the piece – ( IMDB summary in italics) In prison and awaiting execution, Dr. Victor Frankenstein recounts to a priest what led him to his current circumstance. He inherited his family’s wealth after the death of his mother when he was still only a young man. He hired Paul Krempe as his tutor and he immediately developed an interest in medical science. After several years, he and Krempe became equals and he developed an interest in the origins and nature of life. After successfully re-animating a dead dog, Victor sets about constructing a man using body parts he acquires for the purpose including the hands of a pianist and the brain of a renowned scholar. As Frankenstein’s excesses continue to grow, Krempe is not only repulsed by what his friend has done but is concerned for the safety of the beautiful Elizabeth, Victor’s cousin and fiancée who has come to live with them. His experiments lead to tragedy and his eventual demise.

There was no way that Christopher Lee’s make up was going to best the version used on Karloff. But Hammer’s make up was more logical – as the monster was pieced together by used parts, so to speak,  the resulting monster here looked like the victim of a accident. One critic likened the make up to a car crash.

To my mind Universal’s first two Frankenstein movies are the definitive versions of the story, but Hammer’s film is no slouch. Peter Cushing is excellent as the demented Baron and Christopher Lee manges to create a believable monster. There are some beautiful sets and the saturated colour scheme still looks wonderful.

As soon as the camera rolled we all gave it one hundred per cent. Peter Cushing.

Depressing and degrading for anyone who loves the cinema – The Tribune

The critics hated the film but it was a massive success and started the famous Hammer cycle of horror films. So impressed with the movie were Universal that they relented and allowed Hammer to remake Dracula for a share in the US distribution.

The film may seem slow by modern standards but it’s still worth watching – indeed is essential viewing for anyone with a serious interest in horror cinema.


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