Throwback Thursday: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Posted: January 21, 2010 by Rebecca in Horror Movies, Throwback Thursday
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Directed by Terence Fisher

“The creature created by man and forgotten by nature!”

The Curse of Frankenstein is an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, Frankenstein, and was produced in 1957 by Hammer Films.  It is the story of Victor Frankenstein’s (Peter CushingDracula, The Mummy) pursuit to create a living man out of the body parts of the dead.  The story begins with Victor Frankenstein in jail, asking to speak to a priest so that he can tell his strange tale.  He tells him of how, after his parents died, he hired a tutor, Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart), to school him in science, medicine, and other areas of knowledge.  They become friends, and also partners, and perform science experiments together.  In an experiment they perform towards the beginning of the movie, they bring a dead dog back to life.  After this, Victor Frankenstein decides that the next thing he will pursue will be to create a living man out of the parts of the dead.  Krempe does not agree with Victor’s new pursuit, and eventually tells him that he will not help Victor.  He stays in the house though to try and protect Victor’s bride-to-be, Elizabeth (Hazel Court), from Victor’s experiment.  Victor goes around collecting body parts, and eventually resorts to murder in order to procure a brain.  Of course the monster (Christopher LeeDracula, The Mummy, The Wicker Man) is brought to life, and is not the nice, cooperative man that Victor thought he was creating (due in part to Krempe’s damaging the brain that was placed in the monster).  Death and destruction ensues…

When Hammer Films decided that they wanted to produce a new version of Frankenstein, they originally wanted to film it in black and white, hire Boris Karloff to play Victor Frankenstein, and have it be a more close adaptation of the 1931 version of Frankenstein.  However, Universal Studios did not want any aspects of their version to be duplicated, so an entirely new adaptation had to be created.  Of course, the novel was in the public domain, so the story is still very similar, but Hammer Productions decided to film in color, and new make-up had to be created for the monster, by make-up artist Phil Leakey.  In this version both Victor Frankenstein, as well as the monster, are much less sympathetic characters.  Victor murders in order to get a brain for his creation, and he also has an affair with his maid (Valerie Gaunt), who he then has the monster kill when he learns that she is pregnant, and plans to blackmail him into marriage.

Both the 1931 film and this version of the Frankenstein story are both great films.  I actually prefer the monster’s character design in the movie, better than the 1931 version.  It seems much more realistic to me, and more terrifying, because this monster actually looks like a dead person come to life.  I also like that this version adds a layer of ambiguity to the movie.  The story that Victor Frankenstein tells the priest from jail can be taken literally, but can also be interpreted as a figment of Victor’s imagination, or a story created by Victor to try and get out of the murder of his maid.  Since the whole story of the monster is in his words, and no one actually verifies his story, we can make up our own minds how we want to interpret the movie.

Some quick facts and tidbits

–        This was Hammer Film Production’s first color film, and also the first version of Frankenstein to be filmed in color.

–        Christopher Lee’s monster make-up, created by make-up artist Phil Leakey, was designed at the last minute, and was a combination of cotton and household materials.  It had to be crated from scratch each day of filming.

–        Although this movie was not the first time Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing had been in the same film, this was the first time that the two actors actually met.

–        Christopher Lee was chosen to play the monster primarily due to his height of 6’4”

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