In this 1957 Hammer adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee star as the hapless Baron Frankenstein and his gruesome monster respectively. What will follow from fanatical Frankenstein constructing a creature from corpses?
Like most film adaptations of the book, this presents Frankenstein as a science vs nature debate, where the book is more to do with the responsibilities of the creator to the created and the consequences of ostracism. In Shelley’s novel, both Frankenstein and the monster are flawed but well intentioned, and the resulting unpleasantness comes about through Frankenstein’s blinkered obsession, and the treatment the at first good tempered “monster” receives thanks to his hideous appearance.
The Curse of Frankenstein opts for a retelling closer to most people’s general impressions of the story, that is a scientist who is obsessed to the point of psychopathy, and a monster that is evil because it goes against nature. This is still and interesting idea, but, as in most adaptations, the monster here is not a fully realised character but a scary face, exhibiting zombie-like behaviour, designed to create fear. Lee manages to inject some pity for this creature, thanks to his physical performance in the dialogue-free role, but it’s a far cry from Shelley’s vision even if it is a more sensible approach for a horror film.
The best of the Hammer Horrors I’ve seen to date, this may not be as scary as Dracula, but looks better, with more attention given to props and sets. It also has good characters and serious drama between characters, as Frankenstein and his collaborator Paul (Robert Urquhart) fall out over the creation of the monster. Peter Cushing is absolutely outstanding as Frankenstein, bringing a level of emotion that elevates this above the hastily made, disposable horror fare that became the hallmark of later Hammer.
While not outright terrifying, this is a film with atmosphere in buckets and a soundtrack to match its cinematography. It’s subtly gruesome and brilliantly captures the tone of the warped Victorian science experiment that’s crucial to a good Frankenstein.