The Curse of Frankenstein

The Curse of Frankenstein
The Curse of Frankenstein

original film poster
Directed by Terence Fisher
Produced by Anthony Hinds
Max Rosenberg
Written by Jimmy Sangster
Starring Peter Cushing
Christopher Lee
Hazel Court
Robert Urquhart
Music by James Bernard
Cinematography Jack Asher B.S.C.
Editing by James Needs
Studio Hammer Film Productions
Distributed by Warner Brothers
Release date(s) May 2, 1957
Running time 83 min.
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget £65,000.00

The Curse of Frankenstein is a 1957 British horror film by Hammer Film Productions, based on the novel Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. It was Hammer's first colour horror film, and the first of their Frankenstein series. Its worldwide success led to several sequels, and the studio's new versions of Dracula (1958) and The Mummy (1959) and established "Hammer Horror" as a distinctive brand of Gothic cinema.[1] The film was directed by Terence Fisher and starred Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.



The film starts with Baron Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) in prison awaiting execution for murder, where he tells the story of his life to a priest. The story begins in his youth when his father's death results in his succeeding to the Frankenstein estate. He is mentored by a man named Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) and, as Victor ages, the two begin to collaborate on scientific experiments. One night, after a successful experiment in which they bring a dead dog back to life, Victor suggests that they create a human life from scratch.

Krempe assists Victor at first, but eventually withdraws, unable to tolerate the continued scavenging of human remains. The body parts of Frankenstein's monster are assembled from a corpse found swinging on a gallows and both hands and eyes purchased from charnel house workers. For the brain, Victor seeks out an aging and distinguished professor so that the monster can have a sharp mind and the accumulation of a lifetime of knowledge. He invites the professor to his house in the guise of a friendly visit, but subsequently pushes him off the top of a straircase, killing him in what appears to others to be an accident. After the professor is buried, Victor proceeds to the vault, but Krempe finds him there and the brain is damaged in the ensuing scuffle.

With all of the parts assembled (including a damaged brain), Frakenstein finally brings life to the monster (Christopher Lee). Unfortunately, the creature Frankenstein creates does not have the professor's intelligence and is both violent and psychotic. Frankenstein locks the creature up, but it escapes and kills an old blind man it encounters in the woods. Victor and Krempe hunt it down, shoot it, and bury it in the woods.

After Krempe leaves town, Frankenstein digs up and revives the creature. He uses it to murder his maid, Justine (Valerie Gaunt), when she threatens to tell the authorities about his strange experiments. Eventually, however, the creature escapes again and threatens Victor's bride, Elizabeth (Hazel Court). Victor again pursues it, and this time burns it with a lantern, causing it to fall into a bath of acid. Its body is completely dissolved, leaving no proof that it ever existed and Victor is imprisoned for Justine's death. He implores the returning Krempe to testify to the priest and his gaolers that it was the creature that killed Justine, but Krempe refuses and Victor Frankenstein is led away to be executed. The viewer is left uncertain whether Frankenstein's story is true or simply the ravings of a homicidal lunatic.



Peter Cushing, who was then best known as a ubiquitous television star in Britain, was actively sought out by Hammer for this film. Christopher Lee's casting, meanwhile, resulted largely from his height (6'5"). Hammer had earlier considered the even taller (6 '7") Bernard Bresslaw for the role. Universal fought hard to prevent Hammer from duplicating aspects of their 1931 film, and so it was down to make-up artist Phil Leakey to design a new-look creature bearing no resemblance to the Boris Karloff original created by Jack Pierce. Production of The Curse of Frankenstein began, with an investment of £65,000, on 19 November 1956 at Bray Studios with a scene showing Baron Frankenstein cutting down a highwayman from a wayside gibbet.[2] The film opened at the London Pavilion on May 2, 1957 with an X certificate from the censors.


The Curse of Frankstein began Hammer's tradition of horror film-making. It also marked the beginning of a Gothic horror revival in the cinema on both sides of the Atlantic, paralleling the rise to fame of Universal's Dracula and Frankenstein series in the 1930s.

Hammer's version of Frankenstein differed from Universal's in several important ways:

  • the films were in colour, not black-and-white,
  • the focus was on Baron rather than the creature,
  • Frankenstein was assisted by young men eager for greater knowledge rather than hunchbacks (like Fritz in the 1931 version of Frankenstein).

Critical reception

When it was first released, The Curse of Frankenstein outraged many reviewers. Dilys Powell of the Sunday Times wrote that such productions left her unable to "defend the cinema against the charge that it debases", while the Tribune opined that the film was "Depressing and degrading for anyone who loves the cinema". The film was very popular with the public, however, and today's directors such as Martin Scorsese and Tim Burton have paid tribute to it as an influence on their work.[3] In the years following its release, reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, with the film holding a 100% "Fresh" approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Many fans regard the film to be a horror classic and one of the best Hammer Horror films ever made.


Unlike the Universal Frankenstein series of the 1930s and 1940s, in which the character of the Monster was the recurring figure while the doctors frequently changed, it is Baron Frankenstein that is the connective character throughout the Hammer series, while the monsters change. Peter Cushing played the Baron in each film except for The Horror of Frankenstein, which was a remake of the original (Curse of Frankenstein) done with a more satiric touch, and it featured a young cast headed by Ralph Bates and Veronica Carlson.

A novelization of the film was written by John Burke as part of his 1966 book The Hammer Horror Film Omnibus.

Notes and references

  1. ^ Sinclair McKay (2007) A Thing of Unspeakable Horror: The History of Hammer Films
  2. ^ Rigby, Jonathan, (2000). English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema. Reynolds & Hearn Ltd. ISBN 1-903111-01-3. 
  3. ^ Sinclair McKay (2007) A Thing of Unspeakable Horror: The History of Hammer Films

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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