For me, The Curse of Frankenstein would mark the official change of the guard in horror films from Universal to Hammer. Not only did it revamp the now stagnant monster franchise, but propelled a new identity in the Gothic scene thanks to the vision of its director Terence Fisher; its two leads Peter Cushing in stoic form as the titular Baron Frankenstein and the heavily made up Sir Christopher Lee as the creature; but also the X factor charged with and championed by the films’ producers, setting a tone that would be replicated for another couple of decades to come. It also would have in its company writer Jimmy Sangster and composer James Bernard, who would both be part of Hammer’s signature. Above all else though, it would be Hammer’s first colour creature feature; one that would highlight all the blood, gore, and extravagant costumes with a vibrancy not seen on the big screen before.
Cushing and Lee would also prove to be a formidable duo before the camera for Hammer, for another 7 times with varying degrees of success. Lee would have to endure two to three hours in the makeup chair as Phil Leakey crafted the final, repulsive look from mortician’s wax, cotton wool, and rubber. The look deliberately steered away from Universal’ previous incarnation due to legal rights, allowing Hammer to present a unique spin on Mary Shelley’s classic tale.
The narrative is told in flashbacks as Baron Frankenstein awaits a trip to the gallows, but never wavers from his pursuit of achieving and creating life beyond the grave. What is starkly different from its predecessor is the cold and meticulous manner that Frankenstein’s actions are driven to in order to attain his goal. It is this characterisation and Cushing’s portrayal that offers a darkly disturbing version and one that is explored further throughout the various instalments that follow, most notably Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed which Cushing and fellow star Veronica Carlson believed crossed the boundaries of good taste.
The British press would initially turn up their noses to Hammer’s adaptation, with a general feel that it was purely for sadists. Both the British and American public would lap it up, which may or may not say something about our society. Regardless, it was enough of a reaction that was considered huge for its time that it would cement the foundations for Hammer Films and pave the way for their success to follow. It would also spawn a cult following and be an inspiration for many filmmakers to come.
- Saul Muerte