Hammer Studios came out with their updates of the Universal Horror icons in the late 1950s, and kicked off their reboots in 1957 with this film, The Curse of Frankenstein. Peter Cushing plays as the mad doctor Victor von Frankenstein and Sir Christopher Lee plays as The Monster. Unlike the Universal adaptation, or the novel, Curse of Frankenstein changes up the story by making Victor himself the villain.
Cushing would later come to be known for his performances as the heroic Van Helsing in the Hammer series of Dracula flicks, and his dual role as leading man in both of Hammer’s flagship series reveals just how talented at playing heroes or villains Cushing was. Curse of Frankenstein, begins with Victor in prison and recanting his tale of what lead him there to a priest. We learn how Frankenstein created the monster with his mentor and colleague Paul. We also learn about some of his seedier inclinations. In one of the biggest deviations from the source material, we see Victor carousing with the maid, cheating on his one true love Elizabeth. In all other adaptations, Victor’s love for Elizabeth was one of his redemptive values. This version of Victor has nothing to redeem. When the maid threatens to blow the whistle on the affair, Victor locks her in the room with the monster to be murdered. Oh, and the brain of the creature is taken heartlessly from a professor that Victor murders. He’s a heartless and magnificent bastard, and this is what makes this series work.
The Curse of Frankenstein is the first of the adaptations to be done in color. Hammer would capitalize on this by making it as bloody (for its time) as it could be. Near the ending, Paul shoots the Monster in the eye and blood pours out from the wound. By 1958 standards, this was quite shocking and the nastiness of it still holds up. As far the monster goes, Sir Christopher Lee stumbles and bumbles around as best as he can. The make up effects are the only real characterization the Monster has in this one; although Lee’s frame and dark eyes add to the intimidating appearance. His ghoulish visage is made the most of during an iconic shot near the end where his lifeless body hangs in the lab, awaiting to be brought back to life by his creator.
I’ve seen Curse of Frankenstein a couple of times over the years, and honestly, it’s a film I don’t really like. Not to say I hate it, but it just never clicked with me. I think Lee is wasted in the role of the Monster and the pacing is slow. However, Cushing’s performance is top notch and Hammer’s portrayal of him as villain-protagonist is an idea that would make full use of in the much better sequels. Every good idea has to start somewhere, and I’ll give Curse of Frankenstein credit for this.
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