The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
The 2012 Blu-ray release of Hammer Studio's The Curse of Frankenstein is a visual delight. The use of Eastman colour and the outstanding cinematography by Jack Asher are sumptuous and the new restoration does the film justice. This unique British horror movie introduced a new visceral style and brooding quality to the genre back in 1957. Despite a modest budget the creative production design evokes a truly Gothic horror atmosphere. The studio also introduced graphic violence along with a strong undercurrent of sexuality. These lurid aspects of the film proved particularly successful with the post war audience and became an integral part of the marketing campaign.
Previous versions of Frankenstein have tended to depict the Baron as misguided and ultimately overwhelmed with the magnitude his endeavours. Peter Cushing’s charming, obsessed and menacing Victor Frankenstein is an unusual and far more interesting exploration of the role. He seduces the maid, betrays his wife and blackmails his best friend Paul Krempe (Richard Urquhart). He is a far from a sympathetic character yet despite all this, Cushing still manages to make the audience pity him at the end. There is also an extraordinary performance from Christopher Lee, as the “monster”. Despite having no dialogue and little character development he still manages to convey an air of despair and confusion.
Some aspects of The Curse of Frankenstein have nominally dated. There is a tendency towards melodrama and the pace is somewhat leisurely but it’s still a potent and morally ambiguous film. It has a dour and morbid tone to it, which is reflected in the way it handles scenes of horror. The removal and disposal of a head in acid, along with the purchase of human eyeballs from morgue are depicted in a somewhat clinical and ghoulish manner rather than sensational. What The Curse of Frankenstein ultimately achieved was establish a clear blue print for future Hammer horror movies. They may well have become more explicit and lurid overtime but they always managed to maintain a degree of class. It was a winning formula that changed the genre permanently.