The Curse of Frankenstein came out the year I was born (1957 to be exact) and marked the beginning really of Hammer Studio's long association with the lurid horror revivals they are most famous for. It put together Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee for the first time and delivered a powerful and potent horror movie which has had lasting effectiveness nearly sixty years later.
The movie has been well appreciated by others over the decades, but I have to confess its total effectiveness eluded me a bit until my most recent viewing. I've always preferred the vintage 1930's Universal monster flicks to Hammer's more visceral renditions (and still do) but the punch of Hammer's approach by giving the stories a more lurid presentation does add some oomph to the familiar yarns.
Terence Fisher's direction is effective and he gets a lot of story done in a short time. The novel's elements are reshaped nicely to add a focus to the story necessary for a movie, evoking the novel's epistolary reflective quality while at the same time being somewhat more unified in its narrative. Victor Frankenstein is a madman throughout the show but his madness only begins to show itself brazenly in the last half of the story. It's this cool insanity, buried under a mask of handsome gentility that Cushing presents so effectively. His Frankenstein is downright charming, but a brutal sociopath (psychopath?) all the time.
Christopher Lee portrays the first of his many monsters for Hammer and buried underneath some truly ugly make up it's difficult to get much from him. It's in the posture that the Creature communicates. The movie is truly well-crafted (as most Hammer efforts were) and I am always struck on each viewing how much is communicated but how little is actually shown. The murders of an old man and a little boy are shown but not shown and neither are they lingered upon, making the acts even more terrible in some inscrutable way.
I love that the Creature is only seen by three people (who survive to the end of the movie and Frankenstein only just) which captures the mystery of the classic novel much better really than the classic series from Universal did. The Creature is a product of Frankenstein's mind truly and we are left even to ourselves to doubt slightly the story he delivers to the priest.