Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has evolved into a monstrous classic, with plentiful adaptations and parodies. Though there have been countless versions, Hammer Film Productions’ 1957 “The Curse of Frankenstein” may be the greatest. With Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee at the helm, execution of the film is perfect, and “The Curse of Frankenstein” solidified Hammer as a horror studio, ushering in a wave of now-classic motion pictures. A retro flick, Hammer Horror’s Frankenstein sought to refresh the monster series after Universal’s comprehensive overview, and is the essential mad scientist romp.
“The Curse of Frankenstein” begins with Baron Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) in jail for murder. Visited by a priest, he recounts his tale, which prompts a flashback. Frankenstein’s father dies, and accordingly the young boy inherits his father’s fortune. Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) assumes responsibility as his tutor, with the pair focusing on scientific discoveries. Frankenstein reanimates a deceased dog, thus prompting him to experiment with building a human.
Initially Frankenstein and Krempe continue working in conjunction, but Krempe abandons the enterprise as he cannot condone grave robbing. Content with stolen body parts cobbled from several sources, Frankenstein wants a genius brain, therefore killing an aged professor for his cerebral benefits. Unfortunately the manner in which Frankenstein knocks him off, as well as a fight with Krempe, damages the brain. This ultimately results in Frankenstein’s monster (Christopher Lee). The erratic and unpredictable creature embarks on its well-known rampage.
Hammer Production’s first Frankenstein film is an absolute treasure for horror fans. The Peter Cushing-Christopher Lee combination featured in “The Curse of Frankenstein” would reunite in the Dracula series, where Lee depicted the Count and Cushing played Van Helsing. They complement one another or beautiful horror film true to their roots. This isn’t a gorefest or slasher, and like its predecessors in the monster genre, “The Curse of Frankenstein” is slow, but not dull. Rather, it builds tension since the viewer knows what will happen, which Victor Frankenstein’s descent into madness helps establish.
For a film in the 50’s, Hammer’s Frankenstein is moderately edgy. The Baron is cheating on his fiancée Elizabeth (Hazel Court) with Justine (Valerie Gaunt), the maid. What’s really momentous, however, is the significance that “The Curse of Frankenstein” holds. The 1957 monster revival was Hammer’s first color production, and more importantly the phenomenal popularity led to several sequels, as well as the aforementioned Dracula series. The immensely successful flick set the stage for Hammer to swoop in and establish a name which audiences would equate with a genre.
“The Curse of Frankenstein” is novel for its impact on the monster subset of horror films, popularizing it once again after Universal’s lengthy stint. Additionally, it bolstered Hammer Film Productions’ reputation. As a standalone film, the first Frankenstein entry is riveting, gripping viewer attention with mainly acting. The sets are detailed, particularly the intricate laboratory, and special effects are admirable. With a reliance on dialogue, the production captures the feel of a play, allowing Cushing to truly display his range of emotion and acting prowess. A unique addition to your Halloween lineup, it’s definitely alive despite age.