The Curse of Frankenstein


1h 22m 1957
The Curse of Frankenstein

Brief Synopsis

A scientist's attempts to create life unleash a bloodthirsty monster.

Film Details

Genre
Horror
Period
Adaptation
Release Date
Jul 20, 1957
Premiere Information
London opening: 2 May 1957; San Diego opening: 10 Jul 1957; Los Angeles opening: 17 Jul 1957; New York opening: 7 Aug 1957
Production Company
Clarion Film Productions; Hammer Film Productions, Ltd.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
Windsor, England, Great Britain; England, Great Britain
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (London, 1818).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 22m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Warnercolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1, 1.66 : 1

Synopsis

An hour before his execution, Baron Victor Frankenstein calls for a priest. Refusing spiritual comfort, he begs the priest to listen to his story: As a wealthy, young orphan, dissatisfied with the local schoolteacher and eager for knowledge, Victor advertises for a tutor and hires Paul Krempe, who becomes his mentor and later his partner in scientific inquiry. In the laboratory above Victor's mansion, they discover the key to life and are able to revive a dead puppy. Although Paul wants to share their discovery with fellow scientists, Victor wants to continue their work using humans. After bringing the dead back to life, he now wants to create life and convinces the reluctant Paul to help him retrieve the corpse of a recently hanged man to use as the basis for a new human. When Victor gathers high-quality body parts from the charnel house, Paul becomes increasingly uneasy, finally reaching the point of refusing to assist. While Victor travels to another city to obtain the hands of a recently-deceased, famous sculptor, his cousin Elizabeth arrives, after the death of her mother. Having loved Victor since childhood, she is eager to marry him, in fulfillment of an arrangement their mothers made. Although Paul hopes that her presence will persuade Victor to discontinue his grisly experiments, Victor, who is having an affair with the maid, Justine, behaves courteously, but remains unchanged. After mentioning that he needs the brains of a genius for his creation, Victor invites the elderly Professor Bernstein for an extended visit. The professor is grateful for the hospitality and for what he thinks is Victor's interest in his work. In a conversation with Paul, Elizabeth and Victor, the professor suggests that having knowledge is different from knowing what to do with it and explains convincingly the scientist's dilemma of handing over discoveries to people who mishandle the information. At the end of the evening, while leading the professor to his bedchamber, Victor maneuvers him into falling over the balcony's banister to his death. Appearing to act out of generosity, Victor buries Bernstein, who has no living relatives, in his family vault, but later robs his grave. Knowing that Victor is using the professor's brain for his experiment, Paul accuses him of murder and mutilation. When their resulting fight results in the lab being damaged, Victor orders Paul to leave. Before going, Paul enters Elizabeth's bedchamber to beg her to leave with him, claiming he has stayed only to protect her. He tells her that Victor, although neither wicked nor insane, is so wrapped up in his experiments that he cannot see the consequences and warns her that she is in physical and mental danger. However, Elizabeth is in love with Victor and wishes to help with his work, even though she knows nothing about it. Later, when Victor is ready to use an electrical charge to bring his monster to life, he asks for Paul's help. Paul at first refuses, until Victor threatens to train Elizabeth for the job. Fearing that Elizabeth would be traumatized to learn the truth about Victor's work, Paul unhappily agrees to help. Victor and Paul then harness electricity during a storm to bring the creature to life. Its first act is to try to strangle Victor, but Paul stops him and the creature is then strapped down. To no avail, Paul urges Victor to destroy the monster, but Victor refuses. The creature then escapes and kills an old blind man who is hiking in the mountains with his young grandson. Without alerting the police, Paul and Victor track down the monster, and Paul shoots it in the head, against Victor's wishes. They bury the creature, but Victor later unearths it and resumes his experiments, soon returning it to life. Upon learning of Victor's plans to marry Elizabeth, Justine tells him that she is pregnant. When he refuses to marry her, she threatens to inform the authorities about his sinister work. During the night, she sneaks into the laboratory, and after Victor locks her inside, she is killed by the creature. On their wedding night, Victor leaves Elizabeth to work in his laboratory. Paul, who missed the wedding ceremony, arrives that night and learns that the monster, which is now a brain-damaged, cowering creature, has been revived. Blaming Paul's bullet for the change in the creature's demeanor, Victor says he plans to find a new brain for him. Paul leaves to alert the authorities, and Victor follows, hoping to dissuade him. From the mansion's ground they see that the creature has broken his chains and wandered out onto a roof carrying Elizabeth, whom he captured after her curiosity led her into the laboratory. Victor shoots at the monster, but wounds Elizabeth instead, and the monster moves toward him. In the ensuing struggle, Victor attacks him with a lantern, causing the monster to catch fire and fall through the roof skylight into an acid bath. In his jail cell, Victor tells the disbelieving priest that his "life's work" was destroyed. Paul, the only person who can confirm Victor's story, arrives, but refuses to corrorborate his account. The priest, warden and Paul then leave Victor's cell. Outside, Paul, who has always cared for Elizabeth, tells her that "there is nothing we can do for him now" and takes her home. Later, Victor, who is sentenced to die for the murder of Justine, Bernstein and the old man, is taken to the guillotine.

Film Details

Genre
Horror
Period
Adaptation
Release Date
Jul 20, 1957
Premiere Information
London opening: 2 May 1957; San Diego opening: 10 Jul 1957; Los Angeles opening: 17 Jul 1957; New York opening: 7 Aug 1957
Production Company
Clarion Film Productions; Hammer Film Productions, Ltd.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
Windsor, England, Great Britain; England, Great Britain
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (London, 1818).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 22m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Warnercolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1, 1.66 : 1

Articles

The Curse of Frankenstein


Often acknowledged as the most influential and successful British horror film released in the post World War II era, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) not only increased the popularity of horror films with its much more violent, highly sexualized approach but also revitalized the British film industry, establishing Hammer Studios as an internationally renown production company. The film, directed by Terence Fisher, opens with Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) in jail, recounting his reprehensible tale of reanimation to a priest, and then flashes back to that fateful time before a charge of murder landed the Baron in prison.

In a catacomb of laboratories beneath his mansion, Victor Frankenstein and his faithful assistant Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) work on radical experiments to reanimate the dead. They start with small animals, but when Frankenstein begins talking about playing God with human beings, Paul becomes wary. When Frankenstein's beautiful, trusting fianc¿Elizabeth (Hazel Court) comes to stay in the castle before their marriage, Paul warns her that there is danger brewing in the basement laboratories.

Plundering graveyards and procuring body parts at the Municipal Charnel House, Frankenstein assembles a creature he imagines will astound the scientific community. The only element he lacks is the brain of a genius. But the devious Frankenstein finds a way of procuring that too, killing a fellow scientist for a much-needed body part. When his demented monster, implanted with an accidentally damaged brain escapes from Frankenstein's laboratory, a reign of terror and bloodshed is unleashed across the countryside.

The Curse of Frankenstein is invested with a sense of sexual and criminal perversity rarely conveyed in the more staid and restrained movie renditions of Mary Shelley's classic Frankenstein (1818) novel. Peter Cushing's Baron Frankenstein is a study in science without conscience, and a villain who uses murder, theft and deception to realize his ambitions. Ultimately, his Frankenstein is a far more grotesque monster than the pathetic creature he assembles in his laboratory. In his private affairs, Frankenstein is a cad too, seducing his comely maid Justine (Valerie Gaunt) with a promise of marriage, while his own fianc¿is a guest in his house.

Cushing, largely a TV actor of some renown in Britain before being cast in this career-defining role, is exceptional as Frankenstein and brilliantly conveys the decadence lurking beneath Frankenstein's facade of an upper-crust gentleman. That gift for conveying Baron Frankenstein's complexities explains why Cushing so often appeared in Hammer productions, including an entire cycle of Frankenstein films: The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) and Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell (1974, which was also director Fisher's last film for Hammer). Cushing also appeared in Hammer productions as Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Van Helsing (Dracula's nemesis) and other icons of the horror and mystery cinema.

Hazel Court, who plays Elizabeth, the baron's fianc¿ went on to become one of the more famous scream queens in the horror cinema (Dr. Blood's Coffin (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), The Masque of the Red Death, 1964). That's her own daughter, Sally Walsh, who plays young Elizabeth in the flashbacks, and regarding her wardrobe Court revealed (in Peter Cushing by Deborah Del Vecchio and Tom Johnson) that her period dresses were "actually part of a real Victorian wardrobe that had [been] handed down over the years." The monster was played by Christopher Lee, who also made a name for himself in Hammer horror films, appearing twenty-two times alongside Cushing. Lee played a variety of monsters and fiends, from the Mummy to Dracula, from Fu Manchu to more realistic villains like Rochefort in The Four Musketeers (1974).

Lee's make-up in Curse was designed to be more realistic looking and in-keeping with the descriptions of the monster in Shelley's Frankenstein. It was also created so as not to imitate the copyrighted Jack Pierce make-up for the monster in James Whale's 1931 version of Frankenstein. Director Terence Fisher was once quoted as saying "We wanted a thing which looked like some wandering, forlorn mistral of monstrosity, a thing of shreds and patches."

In the biography, Hammer Horror by Tom Johnson and Deborah Del Vecchio, cameraman Len Harris recalled that the actual filming posed numerous risks: "We had some near-misses. When Peter Cushing pushed the professor off the balcony, we had part of the floor padded - the part where the stunt man's head (Jock Easton) should have hit. Well...he missed! Easton also doubled for Lee in the climactic fire. "This was an extremely dangerous stunt," said Harris. "We had more men with fire extinguishers on the set than you could count! They don't pay these chaps enough!"

The Curse of Frankenstein's lurid storyline is well-accentuated with the shocking colors that characterized the look of Hammer productions and was quite a dramatic departure from the black and white look of the Universal horror films. Now there were garish red pools of blood and the ghastly chalky blue face of Frankenstein's monster glows with a sickly, gory intensity.

Though critically attacked by many for its sadism and unprecedented emphasis on gore (criticism which would continue to dog the studio and undoubtedly helped advertise and attract younger audiences), The Curse of Frankenstein was a huge financial success (it only cost $250,000 to produce) and inaugurated Hammer's 10 year domination of the horror film. Once again Frankenstein's monster and other famous creatures had the power to terrify audiences anew and were no longer seen as comical as they were in the late forties when the horror genre descended into self-parody with fare like Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).

Director: Terence Fisher
Producer: Anthony Hinds
Screenplay: Jimmy Sangster (based on the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley)
Cinematography: Jack Asher
Production Design: Bernard Robinson
Music: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing (Baron Victor Frankenstein), Christopher Lee (The Creature), Hazel Court (Elizabeth), Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart), Valerie Gaunt (Justine), Noel Hood (Aunt Sophia), Marjorie Hume (Mother).
C-82m.

by Felicia Feaster
The Curse Of Frankenstein

The Curse of Frankenstein

Often acknowledged as the most influential and successful British horror film released in the post World War II era, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) not only increased the popularity of horror films with its much more violent, highly sexualized approach but also revitalized the British film industry, establishing Hammer Studios as an internationally renown production company. The film, directed by Terence Fisher, opens with Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) in jail, recounting his reprehensible tale of reanimation to a priest, and then flashes back to that fateful time before a charge of murder landed the Baron in prison. In a catacomb of laboratories beneath his mansion, Victor Frankenstein and his faithful assistant Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) work on radical experiments to reanimate the dead. They start with small animals, but when Frankenstein begins talking about playing God with human beings, Paul becomes wary. When Frankenstein's beautiful, trusting fianc¿Elizabeth (Hazel Court) comes to stay in the castle before their marriage, Paul warns her that there is danger brewing in the basement laboratories. Plundering graveyards and procuring body parts at the Municipal Charnel House, Frankenstein assembles a creature he imagines will astound the scientific community. The only element he lacks is the brain of a genius. But the devious Frankenstein finds a way of procuring that too, killing a fellow scientist for a much-needed body part. When his demented monster, implanted with an accidentally damaged brain escapes from Frankenstein's laboratory, a reign of terror and bloodshed is unleashed across the countryside. The Curse of Frankenstein is invested with a sense of sexual and criminal perversity rarely conveyed in the more staid and restrained movie renditions of Mary Shelley's classic Frankenstein (1818) novel. Peter Cushing's Baron Frankenstein is a study in science without conscience, and a villain who uses murder, theft and deception to realize his ambitions. Ultimately, his Frankenstein is a far more grotesque monster than the pathetic creature he assembles in his laboratory. In his private affairs, Frankenstein is a cad too, seducing his comely maid Justine (Valerie Gaunt) with a promise of marriage, while his own fianc¿is a guest in his house. Cushing, largely a TV actor of some renown in Britain before being cast in this career-defining role, is exceptional as Frankenstein and brilliantly conveys the decadence lurking beneath Frankenstein's facade of an upper-crust gentleman. That gift for conveying Baron Frankenstein's complexities explains why Cushing so often appeared in Hammer productions, including an entire cycle of Frankenstein films: The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) and Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell (1974, which was also director Fisher's last film for Hammer). Cushing also appeared in Hammer productions as Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Van Helsing (Dracula's nemesis) and other icons of the horror and mystery cinema. Hazel Court, who plays Elizabeth, the baron's fianc¿ went on to become one of the more famous scream queens in the horror cinema (Dr. Blood's Coffin (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), The Masque of the Red Death, 1964). That's her own daughter, Sally Walsh, who plays young Elizabeth in the flashbacks, and regarding her wardrobe Court revealed (in Peter Cushing by Deborah Del Vecchio and Tom Johnson) that her period dresses were "actually part of a real Victorian wardrobe that had [been] handed down over the years." The monster was played by Christopher Lee, who also made a name for himself in Hammer horror films, appearing twenty-two times alongside Cushing. Lee played a variety of monsters and fiends, from the Mummy to Dracula, from Fu Manchu to more realistic villains like Rochefort in The Four Musketeers (1974). Lee's make-up in Curse was designed to be more realistic looking and in-keeping with the descriptions of the monster in Shelley's Frankenstein. It was also created so as not to imitate the copyrighted Jack Pierce make-up for the monster in James Whale's 1931 version of Frankenstein. Director Terence Fisher was once quoted as saying "We wanted a thing which looked like some wandering, forlorn mistral of monstrosity, a thing of shreds and patches." In the biography, Hammer Horror by Tom Johnson and Deborah Del Vecchio, cameraman Len Harris recalled that the actual filming posed numerous risks: "We had some near-misses. When Peter Cushing pushed the professor off the balcony, we had part of the floor padded - the part where the stunt man's head (Jock Easton) should have hit. Well...he missed! Easton also doubled for Lee in the climactic fire. "This was an extremely dangerous stunt," said Harris. "We had more men with fire extinguishers on the set than you could count! They don't pay these chaps enough!" The Curse of Frankenstein's lurid storyline is well-accentuated with the shocking colors that characterized the look of Hammer productions and was quite a dramatic departure from the black and white look of the Universal horror films. Now there were garish red pools of blood and the ghastly chalky blue face of Frankenstein's monster glows with a sickly, gory intensity. Though critically attacked by many for its sadism and unprecedented emphasis on gore (criticism which would continue to dog the studio and undoubtedly helped advertise and attract younger audiences), The Curse of Frankenstein was a huge financial success (it only cost $250,000 to produce) and inaugurated Hammer's 10 year domination of the horror film. Once again Frankenstein's monster and other famous creatures had the power to terrify audiences anew and were no longer seen as comical as they were in the late forties when the horror genre descended into self-parody with fare like Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). Director: Terence Fisher Producer: Anthony Hinds Screenplay: Jimmy Sangster (based on the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley) Cinematography: Jack Asher Production Design: Bernard Robinson Music: James Bernard Cast: Peter Cushing (Baron Victor Frankenstein), Christopher Lee (The Creature), Hazel Court (Elizabeth), Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart), Valerie Gaunt (Justine), Noel Hood (Aunt Sophia), Marjorie Hume (Mother). C-82m. by Felicia Feaster

Quotes

Let's let our friend here rest in peace...while he can.
- Baron Frankenstein

Trivia

For many years this held the distinction of being the most profitable film to be produced in England by a British studio.

The first Frankenstein movie to be filmed in color

The idea originated with Milton Subotsky, who went on to co-found Amicus Films, Hammer's main rival during the 1960s and early '70s. The script was revised several times to avoid repeating any elements from the Universal Frankenstein series. As part of this effort, new Monster make-up had to be devised especially for this film.

Christopher Lee's monster make-up was almost literally done at the "last minute". After previous attempts to design a monster make-up using a cast of Lee's head had failed, make-up artist Philip Leakey made the final design the day before shooting began, directly onto Lee's face, using primarily cotton and other 'household' materials. Since he didn't use any latex or moulds, the make-up had to be recreated from scratch every day.

The original concept for this film was a black and white feature with Boris Karloff as Baron Frankenstein. Universal threatened a lawsuit if Hammer copied any elements from the classic Universal version. Hammer had Jimmy Sangster completely redo the script and had Jack Asher shoot it in Eastmancolour.

Notes

Before the opening credits the following written prologue appears: "More than a hundred years ago, in a mountain village in Switzerland, lived a man whose strange experiments with the dead have since become legend. The legend is still told with horror the world over...It is the Legend of...." The title card then appears in gothic script: "The Curse of Frankenstein." Christopher Lee's opening credit reads: "and Christopher Lee as The Monster." The order of opening and end cast credits vary slightly.
       There are discrepancies between the onscreen credits and the list of credits in the Variety review. Although the onscreen credits show Andrew Leigh as the "Burgomeister," the Variety lists Hugh Dempster in that role. For the role of the "Uncle," the onscreen credits show Raymond Ray and the Variety, J. Trevor Davis. The Variety review also has a credit for Henry Caine as "Schoolmaster." Although the onscreen credits list no "Schoolmaster," they do include a role called "Lecturer," which is credited to Middleton Woods. Although Variety lists Leonard Salzedo as providing music for the film, no other source includes him and his contribution to the film, if any, has not been determined.
       The Curse of Frankenstein, which was shot entirely in England, marked the first collaboration of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and is considered by many film scholars to be one of the most significant horror movies ever made. According to the Variety review, "The emphasis [of the film] lies not so much on the uncontrollable blood lust of the created monster as on the gruesome, distasteful clinical details whereby the crazy scientist accumulates the odd organs." The Hollywood Reporter review also noted Baron Frankenstein's collecting of body parts, which were "lovingly and clearly photographed" in the film. Several reviews noted that the gore was shown in Eastman Colour (which was erroneously listed as Technicolor in the Los Angeles Times review and WarnerColor in the copyright statement and Hollywood Reporter review). The Variety review stated that "this is the first time the subject has been depicted in color...all the grim trappings are more vividly impressive." The Hollywood Reporter review stated, "Blood is very red in a color film." Despite the horrific and gruesome scenes, the monster is never seen killing anyone.
       The Los Angeles Examiner review reported that Warner Bros., which had a production deal with Hammer, called the film's midnight-through-dawn series of premieres a "Horror-Thon" and that printed warnings in the form of legal notices were published in newspapers "admonishing those of faint heart...to come at their own risk." However, according to a modern source, many lurid scenes were cut for Western audiences and the unedited version was released only in Japan.
       Mary Shelley's 1818 classic has been the source for numerous films as early as the Edison Mfg. Corp.'s 1910 Frankenstein, which was directed by J. Searle Dawley (see AFI Catalog. Film Beginnings, 1893-1910). For information on other films based on Shelley's novel, see the entry for the 1931 Universal production Frankenstein in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1998

Released in United States Summer July 1957

Shown at Tokyo International Film Festival (British Film Festival) October 31 - November 8, 1998.

This was Hammer's first foray into their now famous gothic horror genre.

Released in United States 1998 (Shown at Tokyo International Film Festival (British Film Festival) October 31 - November 8, 1998.)

Released in United States Summer July 1957