Monday, April 11, 2016

Hammer Times - The Curse Of Frankenstein!


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.

Nicely done.

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6 comments:

  1. Just a shame that Hammer couldn't have used the Universal design for the monster (for copyright reasons obviously); then it would have been an even better movie than it was.

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    1. By forcing them to make other choices, I think it ended up making this movie more distinctive. Later of course they did get permission to do a variation on the classic Karloff look and it didn't turn out well in my opinion.

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    2. The movie may (arguably) have been more distinctive (than it otherwise would've been), Rip, but I'm not sure the creature was. Of course, the Karloff variation in a later film didn't quite work because it didn't stick close enough to the James Whale look, in my opinion. And the creature/monster always played second fiddle in the Hammer movies - it was Dr. Frankenstein who was the star.

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  2. This version of the monster is much more disturbing in my opinion - the 1931 Universal monster is iconic but also a bit silly with his flat head and the bolts through his neck. Peter Cushing plays Frankenstein as really evil and ruthless - like when he calmly and coldly kills the old professor just to get his brain. But none of these films show the monster as he appears in the original novel - an intelligent and articulate creature who just wants to be accepted.

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    1. He didn't have bolts in his neck in the Universal movies, CJ, it was electrodes to conduct the electricity that gave him life. The flat head was to suggest that Dr. Frankenstein had simply sawn off the top of his head to insert the new brain, but of course it shouldn't be so high as it was. However, it made the monster look weird and distinctive.

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    2. I like to teach Frankenstein for that very reason, that students who know the movies (fewer all the time) are shaken by the difference in the novel of an articulate apparition.

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