Thursday, 24 November 2016

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

The Curse of Frankenstein is the film that launched Hammer Horror on to the world, and there is a deliberate attempt to distance this film from both the Mary Shelley book and James Whale's iconic Universal version and create something unique. There are no pursuits to the North Pole, no fairy-tale castles, and no hunchback assistants, but the basic premise of the precociously talented scientist obsessed with creating a fully formed human being, and then being forced to deal with the consequences of achieving this remains intact.

Jimmy Sangster's script makes Victor Frankenstein the focus of the story but makes no attempt to portray him in a sympathetic light. This is a man who does not think in terms of good and evil, only in terms of getting his work done, and as a scientist who has no concept of the consequences of his actions. Peter Cushing brings a mix of charm, coldness, and nervous energy, to the role, creating a character who is determined, dangerous and unpredictable. While courting his cousin Elizabeth he carries on an affair with his maid, and when the latter finds she is pregnant, it is fascinating to watch the difference in his attitude to creating life in the laboratory and creating life with a human being.

Christopher Lee gives a similarly distinctive performance as the Monster. When he is discovered chained to a wall by his creator, his first instinct is to cover his face, still showing traces of vanity and humanity. The end result is a complex creature who is both a mindless killer, and a slightly pathetic pawn of somebody else's ambitions.

With two such dominating characters (and actors), it is difficult for the supporting cast to get a look in. Hazel Court does her best with the underwritten part of Elizabeth, but Frankenstein's increasingly moral and self-righteous mentor Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) is just irritating.

When placed in the context of the Hammer Horror story, what amazes in retrospect is how fully formed the style seems already, with so many of the tropes, such as the colour, the gore, the actors, the urgent, dramatic music, and the Gothic European settings already in place.

The Curse Of Frankenstein / Original Theatrical... by AndersEben