Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
UK --- horror/ science fiction

Dir: Terence Fisher

Mary Shelley's classic novel "Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus" changed the world of literature forever. The tale of a mad scientist bent on the prospect of creating new life from his bare hands has had long-lasting ruminations. The ideas of the basic storytelling conflicts are all here, be it in man -vs- nature, man -vs- society, or man -vs- himself. They're all right there in FRANKENSTEIN. The story has been put to film ever since film was invented, going back as far as Thomas Edison's foray into film production. Though many of the adaptations haven't come anywhere near to being 75%-100% faithful to its literary counterpart, including the famous Universal James Whale feature, some at least has brought some of the novel's gothic spirit.

This leads us to the 1957 Hammer Studios effort with "The Curse of Frankenstein". While it isn't the end-all/be-all of Frankenstein films, it is must definitely a shining hallmark for its graphic depiction of the iconic characters. Peter Cushing puts in an absolute pitch-perfect performance as a brazen power-mad (but no quite as loony as Colin Clive's) and downright evil bastard version of Baron Frankenstein.
The film is told in flashback, from the perspective of Baron Frankenstein, as he recites how he came to be imprisoned for the murders of several people. He pleads his innocense, stating that true monster is his creation, a reanimated corpse compiled of multiple body parts. The baron, assisted by the increasingly reluctant Dr. Paul Krempe, begins his strange experiments on animals first. Then forays into using human body parts. Whilst having an illicit affair with his maidservant, the baron is anticipating the arrival of his arranged wife to be Elizabeth. But all the while, he and Paul begin to collect body parts for the monster. Played by Christopher Lee, when Frankenstein's monster is finally given life, it is an insane creature that only knows murder, and the doctor is not above apeasing his creation's blood thirst. Frankenstein and assistant Paul eventually come to a rift in their beliefs, as Paul begins to show affection for Elizabeth and attempts to stop Frankenstein from his mad machinations.

The Hammer Studios has a long tradition of great horror films, being influential to Hollywood as well as the rest of the world. In hindsight, you can see parts of every great filmmaker from Mario Bava to Tim Burton in these early Hammer horror films. All worth exploring.