Film

Don't Open That Door! #26: 'The Curse of Frankenstein' (1957)

Welcome to our weekly field guide to 1950s horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them. This week: Hammer Horror reboots their image with The Curse of Frankenstein.


The Curse of Frankenstein

Director: Terence Fisher
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart, Paul Hardtmuth
US Release Date: 1957-06-25

Alternative titles: Prometheus Unbound; Oh Man That's Some Nasty Scar Tissue You Got There

POSITIVES:

Great performances from Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, the Lennon & McCartney of Brit horror.

Terrific overstuffed sets and overall look.

Grim black humor and general sense of evil.

Monster makeup is gruesome.

Clever framing device.

NEGATIVES:

Not many come to mind, though the female lead is a bit ditzy.

SYNOPSIS: Chances are you know the general story. Wacky Victor Frankenstein, a Bavarian Baron with a strong British accent, gets the idea of bringing recently-dead things back to life but quickly tires of this trick and moves on to bringing long-dead things back to life that probably, really, ought to stay dead. Complicating matters is his ditzy cousin Elizabeth, who moves into the house with matrimony on her mind, and his tutor-turned-partner-turned-opponent Paul, who gets cold feet about the whole playing God thing. For his part, Victor figures he's as good as anybody else—including God—at playing God, and he whisks off to various distant points, collecting body parts, in order to make his case.


The toughest item to collect, naturally, is the brain, but fortunately, Victor knows a few bright lights among the city's intellectuals. Soon enough, one of them accepts a dinner invitation that he really ought to have passed up. However, a slight accident damages the brain, so that when the monster wakes up—oh yeah, there's a monster, and yeah, it wakes up—it goes on a rampage. This is quickly put brought under control, but when the monster wakes up again, it goes on another rampage, this time with more public consequences. After picking on a blind guy, in a neat homage/twist on the famous scene from 1935's Bride of Frankenstein, the monster is taken out for good and the adventure seems to be over. But wait—that can't be right, can it?

Happily: no. Victor was never a guy to give up easily, and he ain't about to start now. Before you can say, "Slow learner, eh Vic?" he's back to his old ways, and worse. Without Paul's supervision, Victor is free to take out his wrath on anyone who crosses him, starting with the maid. (Really! The maid, for Pete's sake.) Soon it becomes apparent that Evil Vic is becoming More Evil by the minute, and the monster he made isn't the only one around. And on top of everything else, there's the wedding to attend to, as Elizabeth prepares to become the Bride of Frankenstein in more ways than one.

Best line of dialogue in the movie: "Let him rest in peace… while he can."

What gets sundered into countless tiny pieces: a smart guy; a not-so-smart gal; one hodgepodge; one guy who got some Bad Ideas and ended up turning Evil.

What gets saved: Not too much, though the sneaky guy-with-a-crush-on-his-buddy's-fiance does all right in the end.

Moral of the story: Leave science to the scientists! …oh wait, that's totally not the moral of the story.

Did you know? Hammer Films had been in existence for many years producing such movies as Spaceways (1953), a Cold War space-race thriller also directed by Terence Fisher; but Curse of Frankenstein was the first in its hugely successful line of "Hammer Horrors." The hugely profitable response to this movie ensured the release of 1958's Horror of Dracula, plus The Mummy and The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1959. All would be directed by Terence Fisher and star Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and these men would continue their association with Hammer for many years.

Did you notice? When the creature is subdued and strapped to the table, it's wrapped in bandages. When it escapes, we next see it trundling through the woods in pants and a long overcoat. All it needs is a top hat. Also, the church bell tolls about thirty times at the start of the movie. What's up with that?

Somehow their careers survived: Peter Cushing (Victor)'s career started back in 1939 in The Man in the Iron Mask; besides the Hammer movies cited above, he would also star in The Abominable Snowman (1957), The Flesh and the Fiends (1960), Island of Terror (1966) and many more. Robert Urquhart (Paul) also enjoyed a long career, including such war dramas as Dunkirk (1958) and Foxhole in Cairo (1960), while Hazel Court (Elizabeth) exchanged roles in such movies as Devil Girl From Mars (1954) for an extensive TV career in the '60s and '70s. Christopher Lee (the creature) would go on to play both Dracula and the Mummy in many Hammer films; later credits include The Wicker Man (1973), Jinnah (1998), The Lord of the Rings parts 1, 2 and 3 (2001, 2002, 2003), and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005). Berlin-born Paul Hardtmuth (Prof Bernstein—that accent is real) had previously appeared in The Gamma People (1956).


BOTTOM LINE: All-around great, and a nice warm-up for the following year's Dracula.

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