This week as part of Classic Film & TV Cafe‘s Hammer Horror Blogathon, it is my ghoulish delight to review for you the 1957 Hammer Films classic, The Curse of Frankenstein. The 1950s were a fertile period for B Horror; America had William Castle and a young upstart named Roger Corman, and Britain had Hammer Films. The instant camp classics these folks produced are worth a second glance. Their gruesome horror pushed boundaries on censorship just as much as the French filmmakers’ discussion of sex. It’s easy to accuse Hammer Films, and especially its most famous film The Curse of Frankenstein of being cheesy or derivative, but it’s also a filmic tribute to things that go bump in the night. The success of Hammer Films proved that we like to be scared, and so The Curse of Frankenstein is, for good or for worse, a direct ancestor of today’s blockbuster horror films.
Of course, The Curse of Frankenstein is derivative. Mary Shelley’s novel was a meditation on the question of the human soul. James Whale’s film was an allegory about persecution. The Curse of Frankenstein is a mess of madness. Elements of the story remain the same: Victor Frankenstein creates a monster that terrorizes the countryside. However, the real monster of the film is Victor Frankenstein, played with scene-stealing relish by Peter Cushing. Frankenstein isn’t simply a madman, he’s a sociopath. The majority of the film is actually concerned with Frankenstein building the monster, a detail both the novel and the 1931 film skipped. Frankenstein cuts down hanged men, digs up freshly dead factory workers, and eventually resorts to outright murder in order to piece together his monster.
Once the monster lives, the chaos grows. Under all of that bizarre makeup is actually Christopher Lee, starting his decades-long career in horror and science fiction. He looks bizarre, speaks not a word, and murders anything put directly in front of him. A shout out to Whale’s film comes in the form of the kindly blind man, who is murdered by the monster before a touching scene about humanity can play out. Eventually, the monster murders one person too many, and Victor buries the monster in acid before Victor is arrested for the crimes he now cannot prove he did not commit.
If you were going to read too much into the film, it would be easy to see the monster as the embodiment of Frankenstein’s madness. It’s a walking, growling id in prosthetic makeup. This is a common theme in monster movies, everything from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to Forbidden Planet has toyed with the idea. However, while that argument can definitely be made, to read so much into the film is to miss the joy and intent of it. The Curse Of Frankenstein is horror at its most basic; immediate, visceral, and something you laugh at until the lights flicker out.
Be sure to check more of Classic Film & TV Cafe’s Hammer Horror Blogathon! Do you have a favorite B Horror movie? Comment below!