The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Fear not, people who read this blog to follow me on my cinematic journey of exhausting my inexhaustible To-Watch List: One more movie has been struck from it! I mean, I’m still going to write about D&D and whatever else I want because this is my blog (as well as have friends write about weird things), but I’m letting you know that I haven’t given up on my goal of watching a zillion movies. It’s September and I work in a video store (based on that, I’d guess you think that I’m trapped in the ’90s), so that means it’s Halloween. And Halloween means horror movies start going on sale to shovel as many thrills and chills down the throats of the hungry masses (read: drunk students). And horror movies going on sale means that I need to watch my Visa bill, because I have a feeling my DVD and Blu-Ray collection is going to double in size by the time November 1st comes around.

mv5bmmm1m2u2mmmtmdiwmy00zjyzlwe5ngutzji4ntvkmwvmmtcwxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymdi2ndg0nq-_v1_sy1000_cr006541000_al_The Curse of Frankenstein is the one of the first of many beloved (and some not so beloved) Hammer horror films to come out through the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. Hammer was a British production company that churned out movies like crazy and are best known for their versions of the Frankenstein, Dracula, and Mummy stories, all of which happen to star Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. These three films spawned a huge amount of sequels and are generally seen as some of the classic films that any horror buff needs to see. The Curse of Frankenstein was directed by Terence Fisher, who went on to work on many of the sequels, as well as The Horror of Dracula and many of its sequels.

Before he was Saruman, Christopher Lee was scaring the pants off your parents as every old-school monster ever, including Frankenstein’s monster. Cushing takes up the crazed titular role in The Curse of Frankenstein, explaining his story of life, death, and life again to a priest while he rots away in prison. The plot of The Curse of Frankenstein has more in common with the 1931 Universal film than the 1818 novel by Mary Shelley, portraying the monster as a grotesque, massive, shambling, bloodthirsty man. Lee does a great job, his towering figure filling up the frames he’s in compared to Cushing’s relatively average height. I wish he spent more time on screen, because both his performance and the make-up used kept your eyes glued to him as long as you could. Cushing also knocks it out of the park. His cold, calculating face gives Baron Victor von Frankenstein the deranged and twisted performance he deserves. The cast is rounded out by Hazel Court who plays Frankenstein’s fiancé turned bride Elizabeth and Robert Urquhart as Dr. Paul Krempe, Frankenstein’s laboratory partner turned ex-laboratory partner. Both Court and Urquhart do a fine job, but both are always outshined by Cushing or Lee when they are in frame with them.

Past the performances, The Curse of Frankenstein was a little underwhelming. The only Hammer horror film I have seen so far has been The Horror of Dracula, which surprised me with how violent and fast paced it was for 1958. Remember kids that”fast paced in 1958″ means that if you’re bored by the original Star Wars movies because not enough happens in them, then you’re going to pull your hair out trying to watch The Horror of Dracula and you might possibly die while watching The Curse of Frankenstein. This movie is slow. It clocks in at a slim 83 minutes, but it feels two hours long. It is punctuated with some exciting scenes, but a lot of it is exposition and set-up without payoff. Majority of the scenes involving Frankenstein getting materials or working directly in his lab are fun and engaging, however the film seems to keep pushing Frankenstein’s relationships, future marriage, and infidelity into the audiences’ faces. Sure, I understand that Fisher is trying to make Frankenstein look deplorable, but shouldn’t the fact that they show him graverobbing, murdering, and buying human organs enough to make us think he’s even a little bit scummy?

The production value was pretty solid throughout the film. Between Lee’s makeup and prosthetics, the great set and costume design and Fisher’s eye for directing, there’s a lot to see and soak in visually in The Curse of Frankenstein. Fisher restrains himself for the most part, keeping the blood and guts away from the audience save for the couple defining shots sprinkled throughout the film. I think this method of filming worked to the movie’s advantage, making the violence more powerful when it finally was shown on screen. Even the sequences with off-screen mutilation can make you wince (or cheer if you’re a horror junkie), as Fisher knows you need nothing more than a good reaction shot of Urquhart followed by Cushing wiping blood off his hands on to his coat to get the point across.

So, was The Curse of Frankenstein scary? Will it haunt me forever? Obviously not, but it definitely has the same kind of charm that The Horror of Dracula had. The Curse of Frankenstein is definitely a background movie for me. While only a year apart, I found Dracula far superior to The Curse of Frankenstein. The acting and visuals are good, and Christopher Lee kills it as the monster, but the script and pacing can make this one a bit of a slog to get through. Overall I enjoyed it, but I mostly chalk that up to my love of older and cheesier horror movies. I’d recommend it if you want a not-so-spooky Halloween flick to watch once the leaves start turning and a chill enters the air. I’ll definitely be checking out some more of the classic Hammer horror films, as well as the 1931 Frankenstein, just to see how this one chalks up to it.

-David

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