Cinema, Month of Madness

Day Three: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Wednesday October 3

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Tonight’s movie was the first horror film to come out of Hammer Studios. Prior to 1957, the studio had released several dramas and was doing respectably, but the success of The Quatermass Experiment, a space alien thriller, in 1955 led the studio to look into horror properties for its future films. The Curse of Frankenstein was released in 1957 to great acclaim and made international stars of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (who you might recognize from a popular trilogy of films out just a couple years ago). The success of Curse began a nearly twenty-year boom for Hammer Studios, in which they produced some of the finest horror films I’ve ever seen.

The Curse of Frankenstein is absolutely one of their best. The story, a loose retelling of the original, features a neat wrap-around device in which Peter Cushing, as Baron Frankenstein, pleads for his life while waiting to be executed for murder. We all know what happens when the Baron decides to make life from death, and make a man from spare parts. Curse takes those familiar story elements and makes a fresh, chilling, and smart film from them.

And I have to say, Peter Cushing is so unendurably and terrifying handsome in this movie.

I’ve never seen him in a romantic role before and I was so astonished to see him making out with a chick early on in the film, I must have rerun the scene five times. He was incredible. As he continued to make films for Hammer and other studios throughout the 60s and 70s, Cushing would most often play a noble crusader for good; brilliant, methodical, honorable. But not really hot and smoky. Here, though, he’s sort of an evil anti-hero and he smolders with a passionate craziness that will make your pumpkin mellowcremes melt. I could not get enough of him.

 

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I must, of course, mention the creature in the film. Here we have Christopher Lee, later to be Hammer’s premier Dracula, pathetic and horrifying as the twisted creation of the Baron Frankenstein. He is mute, save for a few groans, but his face, even layered under make-up and appliances, is so exquisitely expressive. He is frightening, yes, but his very existence is disturbing at the most basic levels of your soul. Boris Karloff’s classic portrayal of the monster brought a deep pathos and even a bit of humanity to the creature. Lee takes that pathos further and turns his portrayal into a piteous lament.

And then, he would go to lunch.

 

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This film is the epitome of the Hammer genius: through a combination of great writing and the best acting on Earth, the viewer does not fear the creature in this film so much as you fear the creator.

Four passionate screams.