Sunday, 28 June 2015

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

I won't go over the plot of Frankenstein as I'm sure everyone knows at least the main thrust of the story - man creates monster, monster kills, monster dies. The Curse of Frankenstein is Hammer's attempt at bringing Mary Shelley's tale of creation and the quest for knowledge to the silver screen and although it discards a lot of the more expensive parts of the plot (I don't think Hammer could have afforded to replicate the frozen Arctic wastes) it does stick to the main themes of creation, science, knowledge, religion, morality and pulls it off very nicely in only 86 minutes.

Hammer did seem to have a problem leaving behind the Gainsborough-like melodrama that Britain churned out in the previous two decades but this only adds to the shock when we finally see the creature for the first time in that amazing zoom-shot to its face in one of the best reveals in horror cinema. At 6'4" Christopher Lee is perfect as the shambling and pitiful creature with his spastic almost involuntary movements; in my opinion far superior to the famed 1931 Universal monster.

Peter Cushing meanwhile is the coldest Baron Frankenstein ever committed to film. He is egotistical, obsessed, manipulative and willing to go to any lengths in his search to create life. In fact he is almost sociopathic in his inability to empathise and to balance his work with morality. Which brings me to the Baron's friend Paul, who is nominally his moral compass but fails completely in this regard when he damages the creature's brain, refuses to accept responsibility and continues to blame his friend for the actions of the creature. In fact, even though Frankenstein is a murdering dick, you have to wonder just what would have happened had the brain not been damaged?

The belief that some things are better left untouched still holds true for a large number of people today: GM crops, cloning, stem cell research, and the large hadron collider. Should science advance at any cost, should it be tempered by morality or does it stand above these very human principles? According to Greek myth Prometheus was the god who created mankind and then gave us the fire he stole from Olympus; have we reached godhood ourselves and if we have, can we be trusted with this knowledge?

Although The Curse of Frankenstein doesn't hit the lurid and gruesome highs that Hammer became known for it's an excellent take on a genre classic and should be watched by everyone interested in horror history... in fact go read Shelley's novel as well.

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