Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Curse of Frankenstein

"The Curse of Frankenstein" (1957, Terence Fisher, Hammer Film Productions, Warner Brothers) is Hammer's first colour horror movie, and also the first of their many renditions of the Frankenstein story based on the novel by Mary Shelley.

Peter Cushing, who is also well known for portraying Van Helsing in the Hammer Dracula series of films, stars as Baron Victor Frankenstein, who we find in prison awaiting the death sentence. A priest enters and Frankenstein recounts his life story to him.

Young Frankenstein (Melvyn Hayes, who was famed for playing 'Gloria' Gunner Bombadier Beaumont in the "It Ain't Half Hot, Mum" TV series) takes on a mentor and tutor, Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart), since inheriting the estate from his late father.

There's a montage of he and Paul working on science and maths throughout the years, as Hayes becomes Cushing. Finally we see that Frankenstein and Paul have brought a dead dog back to life! Oooh!

Dissatisfied with this enormous feat, Frankenstein begins working on creating life and a 'perfect' man, by stitching together bits of corpse. He's also not too scrupulous about how he comes about these bits of corpse...

Paul becomes uncomfortable with the turn in events and tells Frankenstein he is leaving, until a young woman, Elizabeth (Hazel Court), who is Frankenstein's cousin, appears and tells Paul that she has come to live with and marry her cousin! Fearing for the young woman's safety, Paul sticks around to protect her from her crazy fiancé-cousin.

Little known to either of them, ol' Frankie is knocking off the maid, Justine (Valerie Gaunt)! 

Wanting his creature to be perfect, Frankenstein invites 'round a scholar and decorated scientist, Professor Bernstein (Paul Hardtmuth), kills him and then grave-robs his brain! What a loon!

Paul, suspicious now, catches him in the act and accidentally damages the genious brain in the scuffle. Oops!

Frankie perseveres, and we witness the consequences. The monster is played by another Hammer favourite, Christopher Lee! Who is one of my all-time favourite actors and thespians. He plays the monster in some very original monster makeup. No green, square heads and bolts for this guy! Lee looks painfully dead.

A fun adaptation of the book, which is itself an excellent story and a very dark read.

With excellent performances from Cushing, Lee, et al, the film keeps a good pace and doesn't feel dated.

Lee's monster isn't given enough screen time in my opinion, but the time he does get he uses to create a sad and very 'dead' creature, which is unstable, awkward and animalistic, unlike other Frankenstein's Monsters from past and present, who are always more human... 'Humanising' the monster can be very effective, such as it is in the big screen 1994 adaptation starring Robert De Niro, but in this version, the monster isn't the real villian of the piece.

Cushing gives an excellent performance as a the disturbed and determined Baron. The end scene is very emotional, and Frankenstein's desperate pleas seem very heartfelt. Like most crazy people, the Baron didn't think what he was doing was crazy! And considering how much his friends deny his tale, maybe it didn't even happen at all!

Definitely a version of the story you should see. One of my favourite Hammer Horrors, too!

[Picture: Hammer Film Productions & Warner Bros.]