It was the movie that started it all.
It rejuvenated a studio in bankruptcy, sparked a life long friendship for the stars, brought two respected British actors to worldwide fame and renewed a generation’s interest in the macabre.
1957’s “The Curse of Frankenstein” was a retelling of Mary Shelley’s classic tale of a scientist (Peter Cushing) who can reanimate dead flesh so he creates his own man-monster (Christopher Lee) and to watch it go insane and destroy his life.
Peter Cushing’s Dr Frankstein is probably his most famous role. He would play the character in five films but from the get go, he played the character with an intense determination. The prickly demeanor and sociopathic tendencies make this one of horror’s mist delicious characters. It is Cushing’s performance that make us still want to enjoy Frankenstein’s story even after he kills people to reach his goal.
Another thing that is interesting about Hammer’s version is the relationship between Victor Frankenstein and his best friend Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart). Their relationship is almost a tragic bromance. As each side debates the validity of pursuing scientific discovery. The tragic nature of their central relationship and the film’s grisly ending is never resolved until the final reel.
The movie itself is quite effective but it is sold all on Cushing. The movie does a good job of avoiding comparisons to Universal’s version but really it is just a gigantic prelude to Cushing’s work with Hammer.
“Curse of Frankenstein” wanted to push itself out of the shadow of Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein and escape a lawsuit threatened by Universal pictures. So what did Hammer do? It did something rather brilliant. Universal was obsessed with Karloff’s creature, every film after featured the creature not the man. So Hammer based their series on Dr. Frankenstein as a conflicted mad scientist not the creature.
Because of the lawsuit, the makeup of the creature had to be changed, the lightning bringing the creature to life had to be tossed, there was no “It’s alive” line and well the classic scene where Frankenstein meets the little girl by the lake was adjusted.
The scene in the woods where the creature was supposed to meet the girl was changed to a boy and filmed from a different angle. We never see the boy meet the creature instead the creature encounters the blind man from the first film who becomes his first victim.
“Curse of Frankenstein” marked the first time Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee shared a scene. Cushing met Lee for the first time when he was in his monster makeup. Lee had been in two other Cushing films but he was a uncredited extra in both. Lee’s performance as the monster in this film actually believe it or not helped him secure his career defining role as Dracula in 1958’s Dracula. (Watch for a review of that tomorrow, right here!)
Cushing and Lee would become lifelong films and take Hammer Horror to great heights. They would star in over 20 films together.
The best thing about “Curse of Frankenstein” is how it was the dawn of a new horror dynasty and exposed the world to the likes of Cushing and Lee.
4.5 out of 5
So Says the Soothsayer