Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

I remember vividly the first time that I read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. It was the same year in childhood that I read Dracula and The Invisible Man. Probably when I was about twelve. More than anything, Frankenstein blew my tiny mind. Shelley’s morbid descriptions of corpse parts and the philosophy and metaphors really caught my mind. The idea of man creating man and subverting the natural order was intriguing and terrifying. Her prose lays everything out and introduces you to a man who is more of a monster and a monster who is more of a man. The circumstances behind the writing of the novel always interested me as well. The story was born from a round of storytelling between Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Pollidori. Shelley seized on her idea and became obsessed and fleshed it out to a novel. While many tried to downplay her accomplishments, the visuals of her novel have endured.

I was reminded by a Twitter friend recently that I really have not watched a lot of Hammer horror. Hammer is one of the fonts from which modern horror films spring. Hammer films picked up where Universal left off with a lot of the same classic characters. Dracula, Frankenstein, the werewolf, and the mummy had worked well for Universal but they were public domain characters and the British Hammer Films saw their opening. They had a more modern take on horror icons which helped modernize them while keeping them the legends we know them to be. They used a lot of classically trained English actors who went on to become legends themselves. Of particular interest are Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee who were very prolific in Hammer’s horror movies. The two were often paired together in some of the most classic movies. The two would go on to have huge careers sparked by their popularity in movies by Hammer.

The first thing I noticed was the superb orchestral music. It is so dramatic that it prepares you right away for a big story. In fact, I will take the opportunity to praise the sound design here as it was spot on. It was sparse when it needed to be but brought the noise when the story needed noise. Every sound is crisp and clear. The practical effects are much subtler than I expected from having watched subsequent adaptations. Everything looks grounded and science-based even if it is a science fantasy story. They really make you believe it is all possible with the special effects. This is not a very gory tale but what little there is is very artfully done. The sets are perfectly constructed. The only complaint I have about Hammer films of this time are that everything is lit like a play. There is not as much play between light and shadow as I like normally.

The acting is top notch as one would expect from classically trained English actors. Peter Cushing is great as the arrogant and aristocratic Victor Frankenstein. He is very good in portraying that unethical scientific curiosity from the original novel. Robert Urquhart is very good as Victor’s tutor, a man cursed with a conscience. Hazel Court plays Victor’s delightfully optimistic and energetic cousin. A lot of the horror comes from exchanges between Cushing and Urquhart and the things that they are working on. The cast has such gripping chemistry together that I just got sucked in to every bit of dialogue. Christopher Lee is so striking as the monster, he obviously put everything into it. His body language, his wild eyes. It is all so perfect.

Overall, I loved this movie. There is a reason why this is usually named as the top level of Hammer quality. The movie was smooth from beginning to end and paced so I was never bored. Just like the original book, ethics and humanity were the foremost issues. It is easy to see how this launched Christopher Lee’s career and Cushing and Urquhart were brilliant together. I recommend this movie.

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2 Responses to “Curse of Frankenstein (1957)”

  1. rolandclarke Says:

    Excellent post on one of the classics among British studios. I loved the Hammer movies, especially the early ones. I admit to watching many of them, and yes, the actors were brilliant. Don’t forget Vincent Price – Masque of the Red Death among memorable ones.
    I recently re-visited some of the original tales as audiobooks – Frankenstein and Dracula among them. I’ve been fascinated by Mary Shelley and her mother Mary Wollstonecraft for decades – ground-breaking women.

    Like

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