The Curse Of Frankenstein REVIEW
"Just a few adjustments and my potato wine will be perfect!"
Release Date: 15 October 2012
1957 | 12 | 83 minutes | £22.99 (double-play Blu-ray)
Director: Terence Fisher
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart
The Curse Of Frankenstein created Hammer as we know it. Bringing Mary Shelley’s creation into blood-smeared colour for the first time and adding a dash of sex appeal, it ushered in a new era of horror. Outings for more of Universal’s pantheon of greats – Dracula and The Mummy – would follow, establishing a template the studio would mine for the best part of two decades. That landmark film is now the subject of one of Hammer’s latest batch of painstaking restorations.
Back then, it revolted critics, but today it seems surprisingly tame. Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein may saw the head off a rotting corpse and drop it into acid, but we never get a good look; it’s easy to forget how shocking the mere sight of Cushing absent-mindedly wiping blood on his lapels was. Mind you, a scene where the Creature gets shot right in the eye still packs a jolt.
The film is a little too confined and stagey; we don’t see enough of Christopher Lee’s pathetic, pathos-inspiring puppet of a Creature; the female characters are functional at best; and for all its bubbling beakers of brightly-coloured fluids, the Baron’s lab is no match for that of Colin Clive in the 1931 Frankenstein. But Cushing skilfully conveys the Baron’s sociopathic monomania with flashes of those intense blue eyes, and imbues even the most mediocre dialogue with the spark of life.
The film looks immaculate after a meticulous clean-up – admittedly, not as slick as the forthcoming Studiocanal releases of The Devil Rides Out and The Mummy’s Shroud, but that’s down to the quality of the source material available to work with.
A Making Of (33 minutes) makes use of old clips with Jimmy Sangster and producer Michael Carreras (both now deceased), but is otherwise mostly populated with Hammer experts; the one exception is Melvyn Hayes (who briefly plays the young Frankenstein) who enlivens proceedings with some good anecdotes. Our favourite: apparently, the only reason Christopher Lee got the gig as Frankenstein was that his agent asked for £8 a day, while the representative of the equally towering Bernard Bresslaw (later to become a star of the Carry On films) wanted £10 a day!
Two of those Hammer savants (Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby) also provide a fascinating commentary, crammed with trivia, Making Of facts and discussion of script variations and BBFC reaction.
The standout, however, is “”Life With Sir”, a touching 12-minute interview with Joyce Broughton, Peter Cushing’s personal secretary for many years. An extremely intimate, personal piece which doesn’t shy away from discussing Cushing’s thoughts of suicide after the death of his beloved wife (Houghton recalls how her employer would often cry, and how she’d hold him to comfort him), it confirms what a lovely man he was.
Other goodies include an intriguing curio: the 1959 pilot episode (25 minutes) for a US TV series, Tales Of Frankenstein, starring Anton Diffring as the Baron; a Curse-focussed episode of ‘90s clip-show The World Of Hammer; an 18-page PDF booklet; an extensive image gallery; and Four-Sided Triangle, an early SF effort for Hammer revolving around a matter duplicator (yes, a whole other feature film – what a bargain!). You also have the option to watch the film in either 1.37:1 ratio (which the restoration team believe was the original intention – though there’s some debate about that) or in 1.66:1 widescreen.
Ian Berriman twitter.com/ianberriman
Read our blog on the Devil Rides Out restoration.
Read our review of Hammer Films: On Location.
Read more of our DVD reviews.