Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

The first of Hammer's successful Frankenstein series (and the only to feature Christopher Lee as the Monster, though Peter Cushing would recur as Victor Frankenstein) also launched the studio's long genre-leading run, establishing production values and aesthetics which continue to influence filmmakers. Dodging Universal at every turn (lawsuits were threatened if the new film in any way resembled their iconic versions), Sangster's screenplay cribbed much from Mary Shelley's novel which had been discarded by James Whale, focusing on Frankenstein's immoral studies, propensity to murder, and descent into Mad Science rather than on the monster he creates. Still, the movie follows the "graverobbing" aspect again, begging the question: If Frankenstein can resurrect an entire dead dog, why does he not just do the same for a whole human, a reasonable specimen? Why piece one together? (Shelley is vague about the creation/life process, suggesting the Creature is alchemically gestated, like a homunculus.) But why quibble over the otherwise universally accepted idea of the Patchwork Zombie? Terence Fisher's film is a feast for the eyes, summoning a suitably Gothic atmosphere straight away; Phil Leakey's make-up for Christopher Lee (hired for his height, not necessarily for his acting chops) veered considerably from Jack Pierce's famous Karloff applications -- giving the Creature a more stitched-up, gruesome visage. The film was panned for excessive violence and convincing gore, though of course it all seems tame now. Subtle nuances seem to have been lost on such critics: Was the Monster a figment of murderous Frankenstein's imagination? Or is his former accomplice Paul Krempe simply getting the last laugh as the Baron is led to the scaffold, the place where he acquired so many of the parts that went into his work? Either way, this is a story of dark deeds which garner harsh consequences, and truly a cornerstone in modern horror.

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