The Curse of Frankenstein Reviews
The focus here is on a dark, slow-boiling character study of the titular Frankenstein, deftly played by the ever-magnetic Cushing. Christopher Lee makes a strong impression in his limited screen time as The Creature. The core relationship here is not actually Frankenstein and his creation, but rather with the Doctor and his longtime friend/confidant/teacher Paul. Robert Urquhart's performance as Krempe tends to run through the same emotional beats a few too many times, and the often stilted and bland nature of his performance can be chalked up to the fact that Urquhart was disgusted by the film, bad-mouthing it after release.
Still, "The Curse of Frankenstein" is a game-changing horror film that revitalized the genre for the next few decades with some shocking and memorable moments as well as typically excellent directorial craft (clever as ever, working under ever-tight budget constraints) from Terrence Fisher.
Peter Cushing does a great job portraying the obsessed Baron who is more interested in his creation than in the public's safety. Robert Urquhart was equally good as his foil. Elizabeth by Hazel Court was underwhelming and served mainly as eye candy; one of the first Hammer Girls. Christopher Lee though he has no speaking role an unusual staggering walk that makes the monster menacing, with a hint of anguish and sorrow thrown in, but regrettably we see very little of him in the film.
The fact that the film is in color adds somewhat to the gore of the film but it takes deters from the sense of horror and terror by the original black and white. The monster being evil right from the get-go gets rid of the murky morality questions that the 1931 version had, as this film is a straight up "monster is bad and must be stopped at all costs" flick. Notable was the scene where the monster's face was revealed the first time, as the camera zoomed in on Christopher Lee.
While not the best version of Frankenstein ever, Hammer Horror gives it a fresh take and a new look here that is carried by a strong lead performance. While the scripts were, on occasion, a tad weak, they compensated with strong production values and quality talent on both sides of the camera.
As typical as a 50's Frankenstein flick can get, only with more gore. The script is as dry as as James Bond's Martini, and it takes a good hour before Christopher Lee (doing a great job) shows up as the monster. It is worthy of a look, but it lacks a spark of energy, and is really just an average offering from Hammer at the hight of their power (late 50's, early 60's).
The basic plot is relatively similar to the 1931 "Frankenstein" film. Dr. Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) wants to create human life from a bunch of different deceased body parts. But this is an entirely different Dr. Frankenstein. For one thing, his name is actually Victor, which matched the novel. And rather than being a sympathetic scientist who is regretful for his experiments gone wrong, he is a ruthless, driven, evil genius who cares about nothing but his work. Peter Cushing plays the doctor; most movie-goers know him as Grand Moff Tarkin in "Star Wars" as well as Sherlock Holmes. But he embodies the role of Dr. Frankenstein so well in his mannerisms and conviction of his voice that he's the one I think of when I think of Dr. Frankenstein; Colin Clive is a close second.
The film actually occurs in flashback. Frankenstein is in prison awaiting execution for murder, where he tells his life's story to a priest. At a young age, he lost both his parents and inherited the family estate, where he's then mentored by Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart); as Victor grows up, they collaborate on various scientific experiments, which culminates when they bring a deceased dog back to life. That raises a curious point; Colin Clive never actually tested his experiments on something that was actually dead, like animals. He just went straight for his own creation. Is that smart? But anyway, both Victor and Paul are thrilled, but Victor now wants to create a human being from scratch, which makes Paul very uneasy.
Okay, so the story about creating a monster is the same, but it's the aspects around the main story that make this film so different from its predecessors. Frankenstein's assistant isn't just some henchman that blindly obeys him or is hunchbacked; it's a mature, three-dimensional character that's known him for years and has his share of disagreements with him. He still has a fiancée named Elizabeth (who is actually his cousin...ew?), but he also has an ongoing affair with the maid Justine (Valerie Gaunt), whom he has killed when she threatens to sell him out to authorities. And he exhumes body parts from graves, but rather than just taking a brain from a lab, he actually invites an aging professor to his house and kills him so he can steal it. So forget the idea of Dr. Frankenstein being sympathetic, because he's just a cruel bastard in this film, and Cushing plays him very well.
I really enjoy Victor's scenes with Paul. We see that Paul wants to help him initially because he knows the breakthroughs they are achieving, but backs off when he sees to what lengths Victor will go for his work. He stops helping him, but refuses to leave the house because Elizabeth (Hazel Court) is there as well, and he's concerned of what could happen to her, which makes it very much a battle of wills. I only wish Elizabeth had a more distinguished character; she almost has nothing to do with the story.
The Monster is played by Christopher Lee; again, modern movie-goers know him as Count Dooku in "Star Wars" or as Saruman in "The Lord of the Rings." He's not quite as memorable in this role as Boris Karloff was; let's face it, was it possible for anyone to do so? But he works well with several different facial expressions, although again, we don't really feel much sympathy for him. But I guess it doesn't matter; the Hammer films aren't really about the Monster, they're about the mad doctor. One thing I admire about their horror films is how mature and sophisticated the characters are. We're not just rustling through silly bilge; I feel like everything they say has a degree of weight to it.
Now with that said, this movie isn't always very engaging. Some of what happens just feels unnecessary; like I alluded to, the whole subplot with Elizabeth feels really underdeveloped. There's also a scene where the Monster escapes and meets an old blind man by the woods, which sounds inspired by the scene in "Bride of Frankenstein." But this man just freaks out completely when he hears someone approaching him; why would he just instantly assume that this random person standing near him wants to hurt him and start pointing his cane at him? Well, maybe this sort of thing has happened to him before. The ending is a mixed bag for me. While I do enjoy the final confrontation between Victor and his creation, the last scene where we're back in the jail cell feels off. Some of what's being said just doesn't feel very in-character to me. But it's just a minor tidbit.
Like I said, the Hammer films haven't exactly reached "classic" status, mostly because the Universal films are so famous. But these movies deserve some recognition; Peter Cushing would play Dr. Frankenstein five more times following this movie, and cemented his status as an English horror icon. Anyway, this is probably one of the best ways you can remake a film: by staying true to the source material while also giving it its own identity. It's top-notch and well worth a watch.
Victor Frankenstein is an ambitious scientist that is doing everything possible to create human life and prove to everyone he is a genius. His best friend, Paul Krempe, reluctantly helps but quickly sees the error of Dr. Frankenstein's ways. Krempe will try to protect Frankenstein and his lover, Elizabeth, from the experiments.
"And build what?"
"The most complex thing known to man...man himself."
Terence Fisher, director of Horror of Dracula, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, The Hound of Baskervilles, Island of Terror, The Earth Dies Screaming, and The Mummy (1959), delivers The Curse of Frankenstein. The storyline for this picture is classic Frankenstein mixed with some dynamic side characters and remarkably good acting. The cast delivers very solid performances and includes Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart, and Valerie Gaunt.
"The birds didn't waste much time, did they? The eyes. The head is mostly eaten away."
"Remove the head. I don't have much use for it anyway."
I DVR'd this picture this past Halloween season as I try to grab all of the Cushing and Lee pictures that are brought out of various vaults around the dark holiday season. This picture is one of their better films and is definitely a must see for the fans of classic horror pictures!
"Stop what you're doing before it is too late!"
Having not been able to adapt the orginal book Director Terence Fisher takes Mary Shellys classic story and gives it a grand guignol spin which adds to your enjoyment of the film no end .
Peter Cushing plays the Baron Victor Frankenstein with a mixture of Arogance and sympathy which proves that despite acting in all thses so called genre pictures Cushing was one of the best actors in British Cinema.
Christopher Lee is also on top from here as the creature and though he hardly says a word his performance as the murderous pathetic creature is straight out of the top drawer.
The other great thing thing here is Terence Fishers assured directon ,his use of lurid Technicolour and plenty of Kensington gore gives the film a high sheen of Quality which many critics of the time missed becuase they didnt like horror films .
So while some of the sequels may me a touch ropey this is possibly one of the best versions of the Frankenstein story
Told in flashback, The Curse of Frankenstein tells the story of the arrogant scientist Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing), who has the idea of recreating life. Using portions of dead bodies, Victor manages to create a human being, but his creation (Christopher Lee) ends up as a villainous monster with a villainous mind.
The film also stars Hazel Court as Victor's fiancée Elizabeth, Robert Urquhart as Paul, Victor's tutor and inspiration for the monster creation, Melvin Hayes as a young Victor, and Valerie Grant as Victor's maid Justine.
Let me make one thing clear; I did not enjoy this as much as the American 1931 classic. While there are moments of suspense and terror, the atmosphere of Victor's home and the locations of the place in general were not convincing, due to the poor set designs. The color cinematography was lacking a spark as well, and I truly believed that filming it in black-and-white would have been much more suspenseful. But then again, Hammer's Horror of Dracula had sets and was made in color, and that film was 100% suspenseful, but it was made after this and Hammer improved in the suspense department by then.
As for the differences between the two films (this and the 1931 American version), some were brilliant, some were lacking and filled with inner stupidity. Strong ideas presented here include the idea of telling it in flashback, Victor gaining his brain by killing off a professor inside his own house, and allowing one of his victims to get killed off by the monster. Things I was not to fond of include the monster becoming murderous due to the damage of the smart brain (by a fight between Victor and the tutor), the disappointing ending leaving the idea of a certain character leading to the guillotine, and a very dumb and uninspiring love triangle between Victor, Elizabeth, and Justine the maid. Hazel Court and Valerie Grant were both poor in the roles, and I think they needed to get more experienced acting lessons before doing roles as this.
But the good news is, Christopher Lee was a good monster, though he was nowhere as sinister and menacing as Boris Karloff. I had a feeling beforehand that Lee was not going to outdo Karloff, and even though Lee did not express the evil intentions of his schemes as Karloff, or like his excellent role as Count Dracula, Christopher Lee still convinced me with his makeup and was an entertaining monster. Robert Urquhart has a strong acting role as Paul, Victor's tutor. But the best acting role here is, surprisingly, Peter Cushing as Victor. Despite the poor ideas the producers made in his character, particularly the love triangle part, Cushing managed to be emotionally strong and brilliant in the role of the mad scientist.
As for the score, it's OK. It's forgettable once the film is over, but the score managed to get the job done, with some decently creepy cues.
Christopher Lee is no Boris Karloff, and some of Hammer's takes on the story is not fully convincing, but The Curse of Frankenstein is a decent Hammer film, with a very strong performance from Peter Cushing as Victor, and without this film, Hammer probably wouldn't have survived the business nor have made their brilliant remake Horror of Dracula.
Set up as a flashback driven frame story we follow Baron Victor Frankenstein, an overly ambitious and truly mad scientist who takes it upon himself to play god. His experiments with bringing the dead back to life spiral out of control when his first reanimated human goes on a rampage.
Hammer was practically forced (by threat of lawsuit) to make this as different as they could from Universal's Frankenstein. So they did it by shooting it in color, giving it some supremely awesome gothic touches, having a different looking creature, and favoring some more gruesome aesthetics, even though by today's standards they're pretty tame. Peter Cushing's portrayal of Frankenstein is also a lot more callous, cold-blooded, and evil...and it's a strong, memorable turn as well. Christopher Lee isn't quite as iconic as Karloff as the Creature, but, along with CUshing, this film nevertheless cemented them as Hammer's go-to actors for their various horror films.
Director Terence Fisher does a really good job here, and I love the stylish gothic touches that he uses to enhance the mood and atmosphere. This film is admittedly a bit on the slower side, and is sometimes uneventful, but the build ups do lead to some nice payoffs, so it's not that big of a deal.
Overall this is a fun and creative reboot, and it kicked off it's own lengthy series, so, if you want to see how the Brits brought their own unique touch to a classic, then give this a watch.