Director: Terence Fisher
Writer: Jimmy Sangster
Cast: Peter Cushing, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart, Christopher Lee, Melvyn Hayes, Valerie Gaunt, Paul Hardtmuth, Noel Hood, Fred Johnson, Claude Kingston, Alex Gallier, Michael Mulcaster, Andrew Leigh, Ann Blake, Sally Walsh, Middleton Woods, and Raymond Ray
Composer: James Bernard
Release Date: 5/2/1957
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
While awaiting execution, Baron Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) relays an incredible story to a skeptical priest (Alex Gallier). Specifically, with the aid of a tutor named Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart), the Baron had assembled a creature (Christopher Lee) from spare body parts before bringing him to life—with a tragic outcome for his fiancée Elizabeth (Hazel Court) and maid Justine (Valerie Gaunt).
Combining Gothic imagery with cautionary undertones, The Curse of Frankenstein is a classic entry in Hammer Productions’ lineup of horror and science fiction films. Especially worth recognizing are the efforts of Peter Cushing, who compels the viewer to understand, if not sympathize with, a callous and evil mad scientist.
Sporting hideous scars, disheveled bangs, and imposing attributes, the creature benefits from the grotesque makeup effects of Hammer veteran Phil Leakey—prohibited from copying the image of Universal Studios’ Frankenstein monster—and the six-foot-five-inch frame of Christopher Lee.
The Curse of Frankenstein should likewise be commended for its unique depiction of the eponymous Baron, here portrayed as a villain protagonist willing to commit theft, murder, and other atrocities when working toward his life’s achievement—much in contrast to prior renditions of the Frankenstein character, who, in the 1931 film, for example, comes across as mildly eccentric and slightly misguided at the very worst.
Lacking the childlike simplicity of the Boris Karloff monster and the towering intellect of his counterpart from Mary Shelley’s novel, the creature in The Curse of Frankenstein may evoke criticism for his one-dimensional personality. (The performance of Lee does, however, add an air of pathos to the Frankenstein monster, who recoils in fear, shame, and confusion around human spectators.)
Also problematic is the pacing of this offering, which spends nearly half its running time on the relationships, experiments, and criminal activities of Baron Frankenstein—an aspect that leaves little room for the monster, who shows up late in the film, to develop as a character.
The Curse of Frankenstein deserves praise for its poignant moral lesson. Note, for instance, that Baron Frankenstein offers every justification to continue his vile behavior, even blaming his own monstrosity on the actions of a concerned colleague—a statement on the intoxicating power of obsession, which neither the 1818 novel nor the 1931 film adaptation explore beyond a surface level.
Though limited in scale, The Curse of Frankenstein provides an interesting update on its iconic source material. Fans of British horror should therefore enjoy this film, which suffers only from a drawn-out narrative.
Overall Quality: 9/10
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