Hammer’s first color film The Curse of Frankenstein made in 1957 and its worldwide success not only established the studio as a Gothic house of horror but spawned numerous sequels and lead to Hammer’s reinvention of Dracula in 1958 and The Mummy a year later.
Released in a wonderful Blu-Ray edition by Lionsgate packed with amazing extras it is a wonderful chance to revisit the classic Hammer horror looking as good as when it was first released and surprisingly as fresh and interesting in its take on Mary Shelley’s epic story as the many adaptations that followed it.
Opening in a prison cell where Victor Frankenstein, played by the amazing Peter Cushing, awaits his punishment a priest visits to give him his final rights. Victor now nearly raving mad takes the chance to recant his story to the servant of God in hopes of salvation and understanding and perhaps even escape.
Detailing his youth and the inheritance of his families wealth and estate he is mentored by a much older man named Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) who tutors Victor in all things including science which the boy takes a great liking too.
Years pass and Victor is now fully grown and the pair have become equals working on the most exciting and world changing project either can imagine, bringing the dead back to life. After succeeding to reanimate a deceased dog Victor is enthused and excited and proposes that their next experiment should be in creating a human life of their own.
Paul is less keen however and unable to stop the young scientist from performing his warped plan the friends fall apart. Seeing that Victor is journeying down a dark and dangerous path Paul remains in the castle to watch over Victor and his young bride Elizabeth (Hazel Court) whom he fears will fall foul of the doctors unhealthy obsession.
As Frankenstein privately builds the perfect human being from the dead parts of other people his single mindedness blinkers him to the moral and ethical wrongs he is committing and soon he will let nothing stand in the way of his experiment to create life even if it means he has to kill to complete it.
Well directed by Terence Fisher who made many other Hammer movies including Dracula: Prince of Darkness and the simply amazing The Devil Rides Out, The Curse of Frankenstein is elevated above many other horrors of the period by theoutstanding cast and the excellent characterization of Victor Frankenstein, the linchpin of the entire movie.
Unlike many other versions of this classic story Cushing’s Frankenstein is neither a misguided hero nor a grief stricken genius but a cold blooded man of science whose only concern is his creation. This brilliant take on the overdone character especially in the hands of such a brilliant actor like Cushing makes for a much more exciting story as Victor lies and cheats murders and manipulates in his apathetic quest for immortality through his monster.
An excellently ironic subplot sees Victor having an affair with his maid behind his wife’s back but when their liaisons lead to the maid telling Frankenstein she is pregnant he dispatches his abominable creation to destroy her thus murdering his unborn natural child using his artificial monster born from science.
Frankenstein is so obsessed with mastering making life he loses all respect and understanding of it resulting in him creating more death for all around him in the frightening physical form of his monster played by Christopher Lee who gives a brilliant physical performance as the creature thrashing its way through Frankenstein’s world driven by fear, hate and anger.
In our modern society where plastic surgery, genetic engineering and cloning are an everyday reality the morality of science and the limits human kind should go to in toying with matters of life and death are even more important now than they ever where when Mary Shelley’s book was first published and that is The Curse of Frankenstein and why its legacy has lasted so long.