Review: The Curse of Frankenstein / Cert: 12 / Director: Terence Fisher / Screenplay: Jimmy Sangster / Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Robert Urqhart, Hazel Court / Release Date: Out Now
It's perhaps hard to imagine now, but this movie was a revelation when it first hit the cinema screens of drab '50s Britain. A combination of charnel house Gothic and gaslight costume drama, it wowed audiences with opulent colour cinematography and James Bernard's pant-wettingly ominous score. As a result, it established the Hammer look and set that studio fair for a decade of success, ushering in the most important cycle of horror films since Universal's back in the '30s.
Jimmy Sangster's script draws on only the barest bones of the original source novel. Working with Paul, his erstwhile tutor, Frankenstein (Cushing) goes from reviving a dead dog to a mad scheme to build his own person from scratch. “A man with a perfect physique, the hands of an artist and the matured brain of a genius!” You can just tell it's going to go horribly wrong. Understandably, Paul (Urquhart) gets cold feet, especially when Frankenstein's fiancée Elizabeth (Court) comes to stay, but the driven scientist presses on, eventually creating a snaggle-toothed, wall-eyed and putty-faced monster played by Christopher Lee.
Sturdily dramatic though the script and Terence Fisher's direction are, it's Peter Cushing's performance that elevates the film into something out of the ordinary. His Frankenstein is no doomed romantic; rather he's a sociopath with ice-water in his veins, whose strange obsession with cobbling his own creature together can be read as an outward manifestation of his contempt for everything and everyone. (And you can see why he might feel that way. After all, his best friend, Paul, is a sponger on the Frankenstein fortune, as is Elizabeth, who has been living on handouts her entire life.) When Elizabeth asks if she can help with his experiments, he gives a nasty little smile and replies, “Who knows, my dear, perhaps you will... one day?”
This dual-format release offers both fullscreen and pillar box versions of the film. The picture quality isn't quite as sharp as on some other recent Hammer HD transfers, but check out that mixed bag of extras. There's a lengthy “making of”; a melancholy piece about Cushing's later years; and a whole other movie, Four Sided Triangle (1953), an early Terence Fisher-helmed SF flick from the days before Hammer hit their winning formula – it's a bit quaint and stiff, but hey it's a freebie. Pick of the bunch, though, is Tales of Frankenstein, a super creepy short from 1958. Mist swirls and retorts bubble. Frankenstein brings the monster to life, then threatens him with a really tiny gun. “Don't destroy everything now because of a hideous face and grotesque body that aren't yours!” the widow of the man whose brain now resides in his head begs the monster. Frankenawesome.
Extras: Frankenstein Reborn – the Making of a Hammer Classic / Life with Sir / Four Sided Triangle / Tales of Frankenstein / World of Hammer featurette / Stills