Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) is a brilliant scientist that decides to further his work by bringing a dead human to life. When he does, it doesn’t go according to what he had planned.
Director: Terence Fisher
Cast: Peter Cushing, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart, Christopher Lee, Valerie Gaunt.
MPAA Rating: N/A
Run Time: 1hr 22min
Fun Fact: Even though they had been in some films prior to this one, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee didn’t officially meet on set until this one.
After the initial runs of the Universal Monster films, horror seemed to lie low for the next several years. In the 1950’s the science fiction genre started to take hold of the theaters in what was the next hot ticket in Hollywood.
Enter Hammer Studios.
Hammer is a British film company that wasn’t really that big outside of Britain. They had made some films, but they’re not that well known or not remembered as much. It wasn’t until 1957 with The Curse of Frankenstein that the studio was launched into the stratosphere. Horror films were back and people especially in America were interested in what this British production had to offer. The Curse of Frankenstein has the honor of being the first color horror film as well. Hammer had to be careful because Universal had a Frankenstein film themselves and if anything was too similar Universal had the right to bring on any lawsuits, they saw fit. Writer Jimmy Sangster was tasked at making something that would be different but also using the source material as a guide.
The setting of the film is the first thing that you will notice when the film begins. It has a darker and more gothic feel to it. From the very beginning to the end we get a grim mood that fits the story well. The sets and costumes are top notch, and it fits the time period. Hammer had a thing for the 1800’s time period and this is the film that kicked that off. You will feel like you have gone back in time and are in the time period. The camera work even makes the landscape look vast. Christopher Lee portrays the monster in this film and his makeup is fantastic. When the reveal happens, I can only imagine what audiences thought when watching the film. Lee rivals Boris Karloff in the best of the best playing the monster and I have a hard time picking a favorite. Both have great mannerisms, and both looked fantastic under the makeup. If I had to choose, I would give Lee a bit more of an advantage because his monster looks more human, kind of like how it was in the book.
Peter Cushing absolutely owns the role of Victor Frankenstein. Cushing portrays the character as arrogant, narcissistic, know it all, and often times spoiled. It is everything that makes a great antagonistic character. Part of you feels sorry for him due to the fact that he is just wanting to further his scientific studies but how he tries to succeed is what will make you root against him. He will do anything at any cost to get what he wants, and he doesn’t care who he hurts along the way. Cushing shares quite a bit of screen time with Robert Urquhart who portrays Frankenstein’s mentor Paul. If I remember right that the Paul character wasn’t in Mary Shelly’s story, but I believe it is a much-needed character. He is a voice of reason when he feels like Frankenstein is going too far. Paul is a likeable character and Urquhart is fantastic in the role. Most importantly Cushing and Urquhart have a great chemistry and you will believe that these characters have shared many years together. Hazel Court, who I believe is underrated when it comes to being a horror actress delivers a solid performance as well. She’s naive to what’s going on and wants to believe in the good in Frankenstein. Once again Court and Cushing share great chemistry as well in the scenes they have together. Court as shares the same chemistry with Urquhart in the scenes they have together.
For the 1950’s this film was considered more violent. This is the first time that we see some gore in a horror film and in color. The blood really stands out when it is shown. While it’s brief it will be one of the things that you will remember the most after the film is finished. If you look at the film now there is no way this gets past a PG-13 rating. Back then though it was a big deal and Hammer took some risk presenting that and it was pulled off well.
Overall, The Curse of Frankenstein is a fantastic horror film. In a way it was ahead of it’s time in the content department. It was the first Hammer horror film, and it launched horror movies back to mainstream audiences not just in Britain but in other places as well. Peter Cushing delivers one of his best performances in his career as the title character. Robert Urquhart and Hazel Court deliver solid performances as well. In fact, I will say that Robert Urquhart has one of the most underrated performances in any horror film. Christopher Lee is legendary as the monster, and he looks fantastic in the makeup. His monster feels more human, and he acts that way as well. Throw in the gothic setting and you have a horror film that is unique and memorable for a Frankenstein film. If you haven’t seen it yet get on it this Halloween.