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Curse of Frankenstein

Curse of Frankenstein


Peter Cushing - Victor Frankenstein
Christopher Lee - The Creature
Hazel Court - Elizabeth
Robert Urquhart - Paul Krempe
Valerie Gaunt - Justine
Terence Fisher - Director
Anthony Hinds - Producer
Jimmy Sangster - Screenwriter
Jack Asher - Cinematographer
James Bernard - Film Score [Title]

Cushing & Robert Urquhart The breakthrough movie, not only for Hammer but for the entire genre in the postwar era. The film raised a storm of outraged protest among English newspaper critics who never dreamt that the vibrant new British cinema they had all called for would emerge from such an unexpected quarter and would be so successful, both commercially and aesthetically. Above all, it appears to have been the sensuality exuded by Terence Fisher's movie which upset literary-minded journalists who forgot that a similar sense of outrage had greeted the publication of Matthew Lewis's The Monk in 1796 for much the same reason.

For copyright reasons, Hammer's makeup artist, Phil Leakey, couldn't copy Jack Pierce's designs of the creature in James Whale's Frankenstein (1931) and as a result the creature, Christopher Lee, looks more like Mary Shelley's original description than the image Universal had created for Boris Karloff. Because the creature is mute, Lee--in one of his best performances although he hated the part--was forced to convey its pathetic emotional turmoil exclusively through physical gesture hampered by the heavy makeup. But Fisher's major innovation, besides demanding that everybody play it straight--with humour but avoiding all vestiges of parody--was the character of the Baron.

Peter Cushing quickly struck the right note as the totally rational scientist so completely absorbed in his project that he excludes all other considerations. In Fisher's version of the story, the Baron and his creature are complementary figures, each embodying what the other lacks and the relation between them constitutes the axis upon which the movie (and its sequels) turn. While the Baron seeks to create a perfected version of himself, what his creatures reflecs back at him are his own moral flaws and emotional atrophy. In this sense, it is the Baron's character, played with subtle variations in successive movies, which sets the terms of the relation and not, as in Universal's movies, the creature. This also means that it was the Baron who needed to be kept alive from film to film, not the creature.

The Creature Although there are still some uncertainties in this first treatment of the story, Fisher's impeccable sense of dramatic timing and his splendid use of color (this was the first British horror movie in color) gave the film an operatic dimension especially in the laboratory scenes where the Baron conducts his experiments to the accompaniment of flamboyant color effects and weird noises, with actor and camera gliding through the scenery tracing captivating rhythms.

It is worth noting that, as a myth, the Frankenstein story is the constant companion of the Dracula legend--Fisher went on to make Horror of Dracula (1958) one year later--each dealing with the same terms but from opposite sides of an imaginary fence. While Dracula is the disquieting survival of a feudal social order into the era of 19th-century business and scientific rationalism, Frankenstein presents the horrors of that rationalism, deploring its tendency to interfere with the old-established, religiously fixed order of things.

However, in his later films Fisher would give different inflections to this opposition: in the Dracula films, sexuality is associated with the return of the feudal, anti-rational repressed, whereas in his Frankenstein films, sexual deviance is the by-product of excessive rationality. In fact, Fisher's films are so rich, both in themselves and in their interconnections, that only a detailed study of his work, long overdue, could begin to do them justice.

--PHIL HARDY, ed. from The Encyclopedia of
Horror Films
, 1986

In the late 1950s, England's Hammer Studios decided to tap into the lucrative horror film market by producing loose remakes of Universal Studios' 1930s classics. Their first attempt was The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), starring Peter Cushing as Baron Frankenstein and Christopher Lee as the Creature. Terrence Fisher directed the project. Jimmy Sangster's screenplay was more faithful to Marry Shelley's original novel of Frankenstein, than the 1931 James Whale version.

Cushing & Lee. Featuring colorful action and gore that stunned and delighted audiences at the time, the film helped to turn Hammer into the new kings of horror. Hammer ultimately produced six more Frankenstein films over the next 20 years, most starring Cushing as the mad doctor. The first sequel was Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), in which Cushing tries to transplant the brain of his dwarf assistant into a synthetic creature (played by Michael Gwynn).

In Evil of Frankenstein (1964), Cushing finds the creature (played by Kiwi Kingston) trapped in ice and attempts to revive him. Cushing tries a new experiment in Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), reviving a dead woman (Susan Denberg) who goes on a murder spree. Instead of creating a monster, Cushing tries to perform history's first brain transplant in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969).

The Horror of Frankenstein (1970) was the only film not to star Peter Cushing. Ralph Bates played Victor Frankenstein and David Prowse (Darth Vader in Star Wars (1976)) portrayed the creature. Hammer's Frankenstein series ended in 1974 with Peter Cushing returning in Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. David Prowse once again played the creature. Thanks to this popular series, Cushing will forever be remembered as Victor Frankenstein, the ultimate scientist trying to play God.

--from Curse of Frankenstein DVD
supplementary material, Warner Bros., 2002

A selection of Hammer Frankenstein related films.

Find Hammer Frankenstein on

A selection of Hammer Frankenstein in books.

A History of Horror

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