In a world of restraint, Terence Fisher’s THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is a lightning bolt. This 1957 picture from Hammer Film Productions is often cited as a harbinger of a sort of newly exotic and erotic horror, a kind of sin from across the proverbial pond. It is, of course, a take on Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s 1818 chiller FRANKENSTEIN; OR, THE MODERN PROMETHEUS. It is rich and involving for all its blood and tissue, perhaps more akin to what the young author intended when she dilated upon so “very hideous an idea” in the first place.
The frame is established with Peter Cushing as Baron Victor Frankenstein. He’s in prison and he seeks a priest with which to divest himself. He tells the priest of his life and curiosity, like how he hired Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) to tutor him after the death of his mother. Victor and Paul grew close in research and eventually unlocked the secret of life itself, bringing a dead dog back to existence. But Victor wanted to push things further and fabricate an actual being. The process, as explained to the priest, is dreadful.
Most are familiar with the tale of Frankenstein and his monster. In this instance, the monster is portrayed by Christopher Lee. The design is an apt hodgepodge of parts and drippings, something that feels altogether inhuman and inhumane. Something that feels like it could come apart at any moment. Cushing is terrified of his creation and fascinated by it. He pushes the realm of research further, letting it occupy his personal life and his questionable relationship with his cousin Elizabeth (Hazel Court). He also lets it solve the problem of Justine (Valerie Gaunt), a maid he’s been prodding.
Make no mistake: THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is a work of Gothic sin. Cushing’s Frankenstein begins as a palatine orphan played by Melvyn Hayes, the sort of kid destined for malevolence because nobody’s made him wear a seatbelt. When he grows up, he feels eligible to everything under the sun and most things under the moon. He conquers graves and charnels, entitled to the body parts within to construct his creature. The very world owes him and must thus grant him unspeakable power. His arrogance leads to atrocity and Fisher’s film captures the evil of ego with such colour and blood that it can hardly be contained.