The first colorized version of the Frankenstein story (well… something based off the Frankenstein story anyway), Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein from 1957 helped get the studio on an impressive footing for horror films.
Few viewers then or now don’t know the bare bones of the source novel, so films are always needing a new narrative, a touching monster, or a charismatic scientist. This version provides just enough of all the above to hold our interest.
Told in a quasi-flashback, Baron Victor Frankenstien (Peter Cushing) relates the trouble he runs into while science-ing with tutor and colleague Paul (Robert Urquhart) and his betrothed cousin Elizabeth (Hazel Court). The two men succeed in first reviving a dead creature (a really cute puppy!), whereupon Victor suggests making a from-scratch person out of parts. Oops! Because Paul is not down with that at all, at which point the science-bros begin to have a falling out. Despite Paul’s occasional tirades, Frankenstein continues in his feverish Tampering In God’s Domain nonsense, culminating in his monster – an almost-unrecognizable Christopher Lee hobbling about looking super-emo. Weirdly, despite Frankenstein’s genius, instead of chucking out a damaged brain on its first or second time getting mangled, the Baron keeps insisting, “It’s still good!” Once you’ve murdered a couple times, is it really that hard to accept you need to go out and get a fresh brain?
Different viewers will give you different reports on when they started to know Baron Frankenstein is not just a cold-blooded scientist, but a villainous, horrid dude. For me, it was his sneaking-off to make out with his servant Hazel (the lovely Valerie Gaunt, who only worked in two films – including Hammer’s The Horror of Dracula from 1958). Preying on your employees, who are entirely constrained by class and gender such as it were? Ewwwww!
I love Hammer horror – each film more than the last. But I would guess this project would probably not work if it weren’t for Cushing’s performance and the trademark, lavish setpieces. That said, the movie has too many charms to resist. Highlights: a freakishly-convincing head-plant from the landing of a staircase, and the very creepy response of the Baron after Paul asks the scientist’s plan for acquiring a brain.
This film is featured in episode two of the Hammer horror podcast 1951 Down Place, an excellent resource for Hammer horror fun. Be warned: once you start watching Hammer, you won’t be able to stop!