The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

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Sir Christopher Lee had had a particularly heavy night of drinking.
Sir Christopher Lee had had a particularly heavy night of drinking.

Twitter Plot Summary: In a flashback, Dr Frankenstein recounts the creation of his Monster.

Five Point Summary:

1. Lovely little prison cell.
2. It’s alive!
3. Random violence and bullying.
4. Bullet in the eye!
5. Does anybody believe him? Does it matter?

Hammer’s own take on the Frankenstein story does a similar job to their own reimagining of Dracula, keeping some elements of the original tale but using them as a stepping stone to branch off in their own direction. It has the advantage of allowing them to tell their own story, break away from the text and leave the audience unsure as to how it will ultimately end. Strict adherence to the text is one thing, but on occasion it’s worth simply being inspired by it and do something moderately original. The Curse of Frankenstein achieves this goal.

We begin with the esteemed Baron Frankenstein (Cushing) locked up in a prison cell. There he is visited by a priest to whom he recounts his life story. It’s a slightly clumsy framing device, but in this case it works because it’s not dwelt upon. After a whistle stop tour of the young baron’s life, we move forward far enough to see his experiments with reanimating dead flesh alongside his former mentor and latterly scientific partner, Krempe (Urquehart). Soon the pair are beset by jealousy and a struggle over the morality of reanimating dead flesh as they are joined by Frankenstein’s cousin Elizabeth (Hazel Court in the obligatory “female” role – seriously, there’s nothing else I can say to define her character). Her safety is at the forefront of Krempe’s mind so, without spoilers, you know precisely what’s going to happen. And funnily enough, it does.

The creature is nothing at all as you would expect – Universal’s interpretation was iconic even by the time Hammer’s version came along, and more importantly was subject to the bane of creative existence – the laws of copyright. It’s a testament to the Hammer studio’s makeup department that the creature is distinct from its breathing brethren, what with him being an amalgamation of body parts from various cadavers, and also for the fact he looks and generally acts nothing like Boris Karloff’s almost definitive performance. This is helped in no small measure by Christopher Lee’s performance as the creature, portraying menace yet always carrying an air of pity with him. I’m going to have to say it, but there’s an incredible amount of pathos in his every appearance, amazing work from Christopher Lee given that he has no dialogue.

It's a Hammer film - excessive facial hair is expected.
It’s a Hammer film – excessive facial hair is expected.

It’s an about-face from our usual expectations, again established in Hammer’s Dracula films – it’s almost impossible to feel sympathy for Cushing’s Frankenstein, whereas Lee brings pathos to his role as the brain damaged beast. There’s little gore and, one notable instance with a pistol aside, the majority of the horror is left to our imaginations rather than being displayed in full detail. Bearing in mind the Baron is locked away in a cell at the very beginning of the story, you know that it’s not going to have a positive outcome.

It lacks the power and pace of the first Hammer Dracula, but this version of the Frankenstein fable has a power and grace of its own despite occasionally lacking the sense of urgency that may have been necessary to pull it out of Boris Karloff’s not inconsiderable shadow. It’s also another cast iron example of how Hammer were able to successfully adapt the original source material and make something completely different and unique compared against Universal’s earlier output. It might not be the best horror film you’ll ever see, but it plays to its strengths and is a winner as a result.

Score: 3.5/5

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