Sunday, June 15, 2014


I first saw THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) on a double-bill with Hammer's HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) in the early '60s at the old Austin Theater on South Congress. If memory serves me correctly, they were the first two Hammer horror films I saw. I loved them both. I watched THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN for the first time in years the other night and thoroughly enjoyed it.

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was a groundbreaking film in many ways. It was the first full-color film based on the Frankenstein story by Mary Shelley and it was the first time the Frankenstein monster had been seen on the big screen since ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948). It was the first of the wildly successful cycle of Gothic horror films produced by Britain's legendary Hammer Studios. In addition to featuring a fresh, new interpretation of the classic story and a new look for the creature, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN also offered four key elements that came to define mid-century Hammer horror films. Blood, bosoms, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

Peter Cushing is first rate as the mad Victor Frankenstein who will stop at nothing in his single minded quest to create life from dead bodies. He's reluctantly aided by Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) who continually begs Victor to cease his experiments. Victor will have none of that. Victor and Paul keep working until an unexpected wrench is thrown into the mix: the arrival of Victor's cousin Elizabeth (the oh-so-lovely Hazel Court). She wants desperately to be a part of Victor's life and that includes finding out just what exactly is going on upstairs at the castle behind that always locked door.

What's behind the door is, of course, the monster (Christopher Lee). Lee is magnificent in the part of the horribly scarred creature. He has no dialogue but Lee's physical presence is enough to carry the role. Things come to a fiery climax, the monster is destroyed (or is he?) and Victor  faces the blade of the guillotine, as he has been found guilty of murder. He blames the crime on his creation but alas, cannot produce the monster as evidence. The film ends with Victor going to his death but THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN proved so financially successful (much like the 1931 Universal FRANKENSTEIN) that a sequel starring Cushing was planned for the following year. THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958) was the first of six more Hammer Frankenstein films with Cushing playing Dr. Frankenstein in all but one film (THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970)).

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is capably directed by genre legend Terence Fisher who would go on to be one of the chief architects of the Hammer horror phenomenon. Fisher gets the most out of his limited budget, a handful of sets and a solid cast. Cushing is the stand out here and I love the way he's constantly wiping his hands on his blood stained frock coat.

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN holds up remarkably well for a film that's almost as old as I am. I loved watching it again the other night. It brought back lots of very fond childhood memories.

Warren Publications issued a magazine in the mid-'60s that featured fumetti versions of THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HORROR OF DRACULA. The stories of both films are re-told using black and white stills with comic book style word balloons and captions. As I kid, it was the only way I could own a version of these films since video tape did not exist at the time. I still have a copy of this magazine (seen below) and it's one of my most prized monster magazines.


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