The Curse of Frankenstein
The Curse of Frankenstein is a 1957 British horror film by Hammer Film Productions, loosely based on the novel Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley. It was Hammer's first colour horror film, and the first of their Frankenstein series. Its worldwide success led to several sequels, and the studio's new versions of Dracula (1958) and The Mummy (1959), and established "Hammer Horror" as a distinctive brand of Gothic cinema.
|The Curse of Frankenstein|
Original theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Terence Fisher|
|Produced by||Anthony Hinds|
|Screenplay by||Jimmy Sangster|
by Mary Shelley
|Music by||James Bernard|
|Edited by||James Needs|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Budget||£65,000 or $270,000|
|Box office||$8 million|
728,452 admissions (France)
The film was directed by Terence Fisher and stars Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein and Christopher Lee as the Creature, with Hazel Court and Robert Urquhart. Professor Patricia MacCormac called it the "first really gory horror film, showing blood and guts in colour."
In 19th-century Switzerland, Baron Victor Frankenstein is awaiting execution for the murder of his maid Justine. He tells the story of his life to a visiting priest.
At fifteen, the death of Victor's mother leaves him in sole control of the Frankenstein estate. He agrees to continue to pay a monthly allowance to his impoverished Aunt Sophia and his young cousin Elizabeth. Soon afterwards, he engages scientist Dr. Paul Krempe to tutor him. After two years of intense study, Victor and Paul begin collaborating on scientific experiments. One night, after a successful experiment in which they bring a dead puppy back to life, Victor suggests that they create a perfect human being from body parts. Paul assists Victor at first, but eventually withdraws, unable to tolerate the continued scavenging of human remains, particularly after Victor's fiancée—his now grown-up cousin Elizabeth—comes to live with them.
Frankenstein assembles his creation with a robber's corpse found on a gibbet and both hands and eyes purchased from charnel house workers. For the brain, Victor seeks out an aging and distinguished professor so that the monster can have a sharp mind and the accumulation of a lifetime of knowledge. He invites the professor to his house in the guise of a friendly visit, but pushes him off the top of a staircase, killing him in what appears to others to be an accident. After the professor is buried, Victor proceeds to the vault and removes his brain. Paul attempts to stop him, and the brain is damaged in the ensuing scuffle. Paul also tries to persuade Elizabeth to leave the house, as he has before, but she refuses.
With all of the parts assembled, Victor brings the creature to life. Unfortunately, the creature's damaged brain leaves it violent and psychotic, without the professor's intelligence. Frankenstein locks up the creature, but it escapes and kills an old blind man it encounters in the woods. After Paul shoots the creature in the head with a shotgun, he and Victor bury it in the woods. However, after Paul leaves town, Frankenstein digs up and revives the creature. Justine, with whom Victor has been having an affair, claims she is pregnant by him and threatens to tell the authorities about his strange experiments if he refuses to marry her, prompting him to have her killed by the creature.
Paul returns to the house at Elizabeth's invitation the evening before she and Victor are to be married. Victor shows him the revived creature, and Paul says that he is going to report Victor to the authorities immediately. During the scuffle that follows, the creature escapes to the castle roof, where it threatens Elizabeth. Victor throws an oil lantern at it, setting it aflame; it falls through a skylight into a bath of acid. Its body dissolves completely, leaving no proof that it ever existed.
The priest does not believe Victor's story. When Paul visits, Victor begs him to testify that it was the creature who killed Justine, but he refuses and denies all knowledge of the experiment. Paul leaves Victor and joins Elizabeth, telling her there is nothing they can do for him. Victor is led away to the guillotine.
- Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein
- Melvyn Hayes as Young Victor
- Christopher Lee as the Creature
- Hazel Court as Elizabeth
- Sally Walsh as Young Elizabeth
- Robert Urquhart as Dr. Paul Krempe
- Valerie Gaunt as Justine
- Noel Hood as Aunt Sophia
- Paul Hardtmuth as Professor Bernstein
- Fred Johnson as Grandpa
- Alex Gallier as Priest
- Claude Kingston as Little Boy
- Michael Mulcaster as Warder
- Andrew Leigh as Burgomaster
- Ann Blake as Wife
- Middleton Woods as Lecturer
- Raymond Ray as Uncle
Producer Max Rosenberg originally approached Michael Carreras at Hammer Films with a deal to produce Frankenstein and the Monster (Rosenberg claims that he came up with the title) from a script by Milton Subotsky. Later, both men were cut out of their profit participation making only a $5000 fee for bringing the production to Hammer. Rosenberg and Subotsky later established Amicus Films, Hammer's main rival in the production of horror films during the 1960s.
Screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, who adapted Mary Shelley's novel for Hammer, never mentioned seeing Subotsky's script or being aware of Rosenberg's involvement. Sangster had worked as a production manager and said that he was keenly aware of production costs and kept the budget in mind when writing the script. Sangster said that his awareness of cost influenced him to not write scenes involving the villagers storming the castle that was typically seen in the Universal horror films "because we couldn't afford it". Sangster in an interview with film historian Jonathan Rigby indicated that he hadn't seen any of the Frankenstein films that Universal made. He just adapted the book "the way I saw it".
Peter Cushing, who was then best known for his many high-profile roles in British television, had his first lead part in a movie with this film. Meanwhile, Christopher Lee's casting resulted largely from his height (6' 5"), though Hammer had earlier considered the even taller (6 '7") Bernard Bresslaw for the role. Universal fought hard to prevent Hammer from duplicating aspects of their 1931 film, and so it was down to make-up artist Phil Leakey to design a new look for the creature bearing no resemblance to the Boris Karloff original created by Jack Pierce. Production of The Curse of Frankenstein began, with an investment of £65,000, on 19 November 1956 at Bray Studios with a scene showing Baron Frankenstein cutting down a highwayman from a wayside gibbet. The film opened at the London Pavilion on 2 May 1957 with an X certificate from the censors.
The film was remastered in the open matte aspect ratio of 1.37:1 for its 2013 release on Blu-ray. The restored film includes the magnified eyeball shot, missing from the U.S print, but not the head in the acid bath scene which remains lost.
In its first week at the Paramount on Broadway, Variety reported,"Curse" Wham $72,000" and noted,"it gave the Par flagship its biggest opening week on straight-film policy in the last two years".
Variety continued to be impressed with its box office numbers: first week Los Angeles, "Curse" Terrif $30,900" when the average ticket price was 60 cents to $1.10. In an era when horror films typically played for one week, "Curse" was often held over for two and sometimes three weeks in major markets like Boston.
When it was first released, The Curse of Frankenstein outraged many reviewers. Dilys Powell of The Sunday Times wrote that such productions left her unable to "defend the cinema against the charge that it debases", while the Tribune opined that the film was "Depressing and degrading for anyone who loves the cinema".
In the United Kingdom, the Monthly Film Bulletin declared that the Frankenstein story was "sacrificed by an ill-made script, poor direction and performance, and above all, a preoccupation with disgusting-not horrific-charnelry" The review did praise some elements of the film, noting "excellent art direction and colour" and the film score.
Reactions were mixed in the United States. Film Bulletin wrote "rattling good horror show . . . the Frankenstein monster has been ghoulishly and somewhat gleefully resurrected by our English cousins". Harrison's Reports, "well produced but extremely gruesome. The photography is very fine, and so is the acting". Bosley Crowther in The New York Times was dismissive "routine horror picture" and oddly enough opined that "everything that happens, has happened the same way in previous films." Variety noted, "Peter Cushing gets every inch of drama from the leading role, making almost believable the ambitious urge and diabolical accomplishment. Direction and camera work are of a high order".
The film was very popular with the public, however, and today's directors such as Martin Scorsese and Tim Burton have paid tribute to it as an influence on their work. Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 81%, based on 16 reviews, with a rating average of 7.04/10.
Unlike the Universal Frankenstein series of the 1930s and 1940s, in which the character of the Monster was the recurring figure while the doctors frequently changed, it is Baron Frankenstein that is the connective character throughout the Hammer series, while the monsters change. Peter Cushing played the Baron in each film except for The Horror of Frankenstein, which was a remake of the original The Curse of Frankenstein done with a more comedic touch, and it featuring a young cast headed by Ralph Bates and Veronica Carlson.
In other media
The film was adapted as fumetti by Warren Publishing in 1966 (along with Horror of Dracula).
It was also adapted into a 20-page comic strip published in two parts in the December 1976 and January 1977 issues of the magazine The House of Hammer (volume 1, issue #'s 2 and 3, published by General Book Distribution). It was drawn by Alberto Cuyas from a script by Donne Avenell (based on the John Burke novelization). The cover of issue 2 featured a painting by Brian Lewis of the Baron being attacked by his creation.
- "Curse of Frankenstein". Monthly Film Bulletin. Vol. 24 no. 276. British Film Institute. 1957. p. 70.
- Hearn, Marcus (2011). The Hammer Vault (illustrated ed.). Bankside, London, UK: Titan Books. p. 15. ISBN 9780857681171. OCLC 699764868.
- Tom Johnson and Deborah Del Vecchio, Hammer Films: An Exhaustive Filmography, McFarland, 1996 p124-126
- Box office information for Terence Fisher films in France at Box office Story
- "The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)".
- "BFI Screenonline: Hammer Film Productions Biography". www.screenonline.org.uk.
- Sinclair McKay (2007) A Thing of Unspeakable Horror: The History of Hammer Films
- "Frankenstein: Behind the monster smash". BBC. 1 January 2018.
- Interview with Max Rosenberg for the Blu-ray of "Asylum", December 2017
- "The British Entertainment History Project - Jimmy Sangster -". historyproject.org.uk.
- Rigby, Jonathan, (2000). English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema. Reynolds & Hearn Ltd. ISBN 1-903111-01-3.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Hammer film site "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 16 July 2012. Retrieved 28 June 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) retrieved 28 June 2012
- "archive.org". Variety. Retrieved 4 May 2019.
- "Picture Grosses". archive.org. Retrieved 4 May 2019.
- "Film Bulletin Vol 25 July 8, 1957 pg 24". Media History Digital Library. Film Bulletin Company. Retrieved 16 May 2015.
- "Harrison's Reports Vol 39 June 22, 1957 pg 98". Media History Digital Library. Harrison's Reports, Inc. Retrieved 16 May 2015.
- Crowther, Bosley. "New York Times Review August 8, 1957". New York Times. Retrieved 16 May 2015.
- "Variety Vol 206 May 15, 1957 p. 22". Retrieved 20 April 2019.
- "The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes.com. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 10 July 2019.
- "BFI Screenonline: Curse of Frankenstein, The (1957)". www.screenonline.org.uk.
- "The Horror of Frankenstein (1970) - Jimmy Sangster - Review - AllMovie". AllMovie.
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