Saturday, March 3, 2012

#565. The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) - Hammer Horror Movies

Directed By: Terence Fisher

Starring: Peter Cushing, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart

Tag line: "Not recommended for people of nervous disposition"

Trivia:  For many years this held the distinction of being the most profitable film to be produced in England by a British studio

This is the movie that started it all. The first in Hammer's long line of horror films, The Curse of Frankenstein kicked off a cinematic love affair between studio and genre that would last the better part of two decades. 

While in a prison cell awaiting execution, a frantic Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) tells a priest (Alex Gallier) what it was that brought him to this lowly state, how he ignored the warnings of his good friend and teacher Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) and assembled a man from body parts he had harvested from the dead. Victor even somehow managed to bring this new “man” of his (played  by Christopher Lee) to life! 

Frankenstein's ultimate objective was to construct the perfect human being, possessing both physical strength and a genius's intellect. He resorted to drastic measures to see this dream become a reality, at one point even murdering the aging Professor Bernstein (Paul Hardtmuth) to gain access to his superior brain. 

When Frankenstein's behavior became erratic, Paul tried to convince Elizabeth (Hazel Court), Victor's fiance, to flee the castle for her own safety. But the moment Victor's “creation” sprung to life, it was too late to save any of them from the horror the good doctor had unleashed on the world. 

Though not as iconic as the monster played by Boris Karloff in the 1931 classic, Christopher Lee's creature in The Curse of Frankenstein was more faithful to what Mary Shelley, the author of the original novel, had in mind. In her book, she described the monster as having “yellow skin” and hair that was “black and flowing”, which matches Lee's look in this film. But unlike its Universal counterpart, The Curse of Frankenstein isn't so much about the creation as it is the creator

Cushing shines as Victor Frankenstein, a man whose desire to create life has become an obsession. He argues with Paul over the moral dilemma of harvesting body parts from the dead, which Victor feels is perfectly acceptable, considering the scientific advances his “experiments” will bring about. In one scene, after the two have stolen the body of a freshly-hanged criminal, Paul points out that birds have already eaten away the man's face and eyes. Casually, Victor grabs a knife, and when a shocked Paul asks what he's doing, he replies he is going to cut the cadaver's head off. “ It’s no use to me anyway”, Victor says, removing the head and dropping it into a vat of acid. Victor’s unwavering dedication to the task at hand is apparent, and he won't allow anything - not decency or even the law - to distract him from his work. 

Boris Karloff's performance, coupled with Jack Pierce's makeup, made Universal's Frankenstein a movie that will forever be linked to its monster. In Hammer's The Curse of Frankenstein, it's the scientist who takes center stage. Lee, Urquhart, Court, and director Terence Fisher were all in top form, but The Curse of Frankenstein was - and is - the Peter Cushing show, and the great actor was more than up to the task.

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