It was both the first Frankenstein movie and it's parent studio's film shot in color, and the first horror movie with mature content. The movie that made England's Hammer Films internationally famous, 1957's The Curse of Frankenstein is a well crafted thriller whose cast and director manage to overcome a so-so script by Jimmy Sangster.
In a prison cell awaiting execution, a deparate man tells his tale to a priest. Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) devotes his life to discovering the method of restoring life back to the dead. With the help of former tutor Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart), Frankenstein succeeds in bringing a dog back to life. But the Baron has bigger ambitions. He wants to create life itself, using (as in the Mary Shelley novel) the parts of dead bodies to literally build a new being. Resorting to grave robbing and charnel house shopping, Frankenstein, despite Paul's protests, creates a creature (Christopher Lee) whose donated brain is, sad to say (for Frankenstein, not the audience) damaged. Murder and deception quickly follow.
As writer Bill Warren and others have noted, The Curse of Frankenstein was released at a time when the glut of low-budget science fiction films, mostly shot in black and white, were waning. Horror, thanks in part to the old Universal film versions of Frankenstein and Dracula now being shown on TV, was making a comeback. Hammer Films not only reintroduced the horror film genre to new fans at this time, but they ramped up the thrills by shooting in bright, eye popping color and by taking a more adult attitude only previously hinted at before by other films. Such an attitude is seen by Frankenstein's caddish treatment of his maid with whom he has an affair with (which also introduced a more mature take on sex in this genre) while engaged to his cousin Elizabeth (the gorgeous Hazel Court) and his blase attitude when collecting the needed body parts to complete his creature.
And let's not forget the gore. When Frankenstein's creature is shot in the eye, the audience at the time this film came out must've freaked!
Director Terrence Fisher keeps things brimming along at a rapid pace. He also manages to overlook various holes in Jimmy Sangster's less-than-average screenplay. (One big goof: we never actually see the creature kill anyone. Sure, he comes towards his victims, but then the scene fades to black. That's what we call a cheat!) The performances by Urquhart, Court and Lee (who, with no dialogue and ugly makeup, succeeds in creating a memorable character by miming and subtle body language) are fine, but it's Peter Cushing's Frankenstein that gets the audience's attention. With that mad gleam in his eye when unwrapping a pair of hands he just happened to acquire, or wiping blood off his hands onto his fancy jacket, Cushing is spellbinding. Despite the horrible acts he performs, the audience can't help but be on Frankenstein's side!
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