The Curse of Frankenstein is a 1957 British film by Hammer Film Productions, loosely based on the novel Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley. It was Hammer's first color horror film, and the first of their Frankenstein series. Its worldwide success led to several sequels, and the studio's new versions of Dracula (1958) and The Mummy (1959) and established "Hammer Horror" as a distinctive brand of Gothic cinema. The film was directed by Terence Fisher and stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.
The film starts with Baron Victor Frankenstein in prison awaiting execution for murder, where he tells the story of his life to a priest. The story begins in his youth when the death of his mother leaves the young Baron in sole control of the Frankenstein estate. He engages a man named Paul Krempe to tutor him, Krempe being surprised to discover that the Baron with whom he has corresponded is a boy; Frankenstein tells him that he has been the Baron since he was five, upon the death of his father some ten years previously.
After two years of intense study, Victor has learned all that Krempe can teach him, and the two begin to collaborate on scientific experiments. One night, after a successful experiment in which they bring a dead dog back to life, Victor suggests that they create a human life from scratch.
Krempe assists Victor at first, but eventually withdraws, unable to tolerate the continued scavenging of human remains. The body parts of Frankenstein's Monster are assembled from a robber's corpse found swinging on a gallows and both hands and eyes purchased from charnel house workers. For the brain, Victor seeks out an aging and distinguished professor so that the monster can have a sharp mind and the accumulation of a lifetime of knowledge. He invites the professor to his house in the guise of a friendly visit, but subsequently pushes him off the top of a straircase, killing him in what appears to others to be an accident. After the professor is buried, Victor proceeds to the vault, but Krempe finds him there and the brain is damaged in the ensuing scuffle.
With all of the parts assembled (including a damaged brain), Frankenstein finally brings life to the monster. Unfortunately, the creature Frankenstein creates does not have the professor's intelligence and is both violent and psychotic. Frankenstein locks the creature up, but it escapes and kills an old blind man it encounters in the woods. Victor and Krempe hunt it down, shoot it, and bury it in the woods.
After Krempe leaves town, Frankenstein digs up and revives the creature. He uses it to murder his maid, Justine (Valerie Gaunt), when she threatens to tell the authorities about his strange experiments. Eventually, however, the creature escapes again and threatens Victor's fiancée, Elizabeth. Victor again pursues it, and this time burns it with a lantern, causing it to fall into a bath of acid. Its body is completely dissolved, leaving no proof that it ever existed and Victor is imprisoned for Justine's death. He implores the returning Krempe to testify to the priest and his gaolers that it was the creature that killed Justine, but Krempe refuses and Frankenstein is led away to be executed.
- Peter Cushing
- Christopher Lee
- Hazel Court
- Robert Urquhart
- Valerie Gaunt
- Noel Hood
- Melvyn Hayes
- Paul Hardtmuth
- Fred Johnson
Peter Cushing, who was then best known for his leading roles in British television, was actively sought out by Hammer for this film. Christopher Lee's casting, meanwhile, resulted largely from his height (6'5"). Hammer had earlier considered the even taller (6 '7") Bernard Bresslaw for the role. Universal Pictures fought hard to prevent Hammer from duplicating aspects of Frankenstein (1931), and so it was down to make-up artist Phil Leakey to design a new-look creature bearing no resemblance to the Boris Karloff original created by Jack Pierce. Production of The Curse of Frankenstein began, with an investment of £65,000, on November 19th, 1956 at Bray Studios with a scene showing Baron Frankenstein cutting down a highwayman from a wayside gibbet.
The film opened at the London Pavilion on May 2nd, 1957 with an X certificate from the censors.
The film has been remastered in the open matte aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The restored film will include the magnified eyeball shot, missing from the U.S print, but not the head in the acid bath scene which remains lost.
The Curse of Frankenstein began Hammer's tradition of horror film-making. It also marked the beginning of a Gothic horror revival in the cinema on both sides of the Atlantic, paralleling the rise to fame of Universal's Dracula and Frankenstein series in the 1930s.
Hammer's version of Frankenstein differed from Universal's in several important ways. The films were in colour for the first time, and Baron Frankenstein was assisted by young men eager for greater knowledge rather than criminal miscreants (like Fritz in the Universal version of Frankenstein (1931) and its sequels).
The film was a tremendous financial success and reportedly grossed more than 70 times its production cost during its original theatrical run.
When it was first released, The Curse of Frankenstein outraged many reviewers. Dilys Powell of The Sunday Times wrote that such productions left her unable to "defend the cinema against the charge that it debases," while the Tribune opined that the film was "Depressing and degrading for anyone who loves the cinema".
Reactions were mixed in the US. Film Bulletin wrote "rattling good horror show...the Frankenstein monster has been ghoulishly and somewhat gleefully resurrected by our English cousins". Harrison's Reports, "well produced but extremely gruesome...the photography is very fine, and so is the acting". Bosley Crowther in The New York Times said it was a dismissive "routine horror picture" and oddly enough opined that "everything that happens, has happened the same way in previous films." Variety Variety noted "Peter Cushing gets every inch of drama from the leading role, making almost believable the ambitious urge and diabolical accomplishment."
The film was very popular with the public, however, and today's directors such as Martin Scorsese and Tim Burton have paid tribute to it as an influence on their work. The film holds an 85% "Fresh" approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Unlike the Universal Frankenstein series of the 1930s and 1940s, in which the character of the Monster was the recurring figure while the doctors frequently changed, it is Baron Frankenstein that is the connective character throughout the Hammer series, while the monsters change. Peter Cushing played the Baron in each film except for The Horror of Frankenstein, which was a remake of the original (Curse of Frankenstein) done with a more satiric touch, and it featured a young cast headed by Ralph Bates and Veronica Carlson.
- The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)
- The Evil of Frankenstein (1964) (out of continuity)
- Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)
- Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)
- The Horror of Frankenstein (1970, out of continuity, non-Cushing)
- Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1973)
In other mediaEdit
A novelization of the film was written by John Burke as part of his 1966 book The Hammer Horror Film Omnibus.
The film was adapted as fumetti by Warren Publishing in 1966 (along with Horror of Dracula.)
It was also adapted into a 20-page comic strip published in two parts in the December 1976 and January 1977 issues of the magazine The House of Hammer (volume 1, issue #'s 2 and 3, published by General Book Distribution). It was drawn by Alberto Cuyas from a script by Donne Avenell (based on the John Burke novelization). The cover of issue 2 featured a painting by Brian Lewis of the Baron being attacked by his creation.
The Curse of Frankenstein was released to DVD by Warner Home Video on October 1st, 2002 as a Region 1 widescreen DVD and on September 7, 2010, by the Turner Classic Movie imprint of Warner Home Video as a part of the TCM Greatest Classic Film Collection: Hammer Horror, with The Curse of Frankenstein as the third disc in a 4-disc set comprising Horror of Dracula, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed as discs one, two, and four.