THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)

peter cushing curse frankenstein

Without really intending to, I seem to be going through a schlocky old-school horror movie phase.  I blame society.

The Curse of Frankenstein was Peter Cushing’s first Hammer film, but he goes into it with all guns blazing.  He’s Baron Victor Frankenstein, the man with the penchant for charnel houses and the creator of one nasty Creature (Christopher Lee).  He’s also perhaps the least sympathetic of Cushing’s roles, a man at once a coward and a villain, coldly sacrificing everyone he’s close to in pursuit of his monomania.

The plot is the familiar one, with a few Hammerian touches to give it extra oomph: Victor’s assistant is Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart), not Igor; the good doctor is not particularly in love with Elizabeth (Hazel Court), but is having it off with his maid Justine (Valerie Gaunt).  The Creature only shows up part way through the film, and then promptly dies.  There’s plenty of decapitation, heaving bosoms, and bright red blood that we come to expect from a Hammer outing.  Victor’s cruelty is also on display: he viciously murders an old doctor for his brain, he imprisons Justine with the Creature when she reveals that she’s pregnant, and threatens to sacrifice Elizabeth if Urquhart doesn’t help him finish his work.  Gone is the tragic doctor of Mary Shelley; this is Franky as the mad scientist.

And who can object to that? Cushing gives his character a cold, calculating gaze, his clipped accent perfect for a man obviously missing a mirror gene or two.  Unlike some of the other actors – Hazel Court, for instance – Cushing rolls over the more ridiculous dialogue without letting it throw him off.  Despite his cruelty, it’s something of a disappointment when he doesn’t get away with murder in the end.

The Hammer films seemed to get better as the 50s moved along, and finally really hit their stride in the early 60s, and this one still shows signs of being uncertain of itself.  There’s an awful lot of build-up to the introduction of the Creature, and when it arrives I was sort of disappointed.  No rampaging around the village, no angry mobs, no torchlit processions.  The Creature sort of wanders around the woods, kills a blind man and then gets shot in the head. Even his final rampage is perfunctory.  It’s a shame, because behind all that decaying make-up is Christopher Lee and it would have been nice to give him a bit more to do.

At the end of the day, while Curse of Frankenstein is not my favorite Hammer film, or even my favorite Frankenstein film, it’s still good fun.  This was a film that basically resurrected classic horror, and brought Peter Cushing into the Hammer fold.  There’s no way to argue with that one.

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