The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

*. A landmark film, at least within its lane. The Curse of Frankenstein was Hammer’s first attempt to cash in on the famous Universal monsters of the 1930s. It would be followed by six more Frankenstein movies, as well as various Dracula and Mummy features, as Hammer went all-out in mining this rich vein of cinematic ore. And some of these movies were actually pretty good, so it’s worth acknowledging where it all began.
*. There were other firsts as well. It was Hammer’s first horror film in colour, and the colour certainly impressed contemporary audiences. It’s not a gory movie — even, I think, by the standards of the time — but seeing any blood on screen must have been more upsetting when it was actually red. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee had appeared in the same film (though not together on screen) as far back as Olivier’s Hamlet, but this was Cushing’s first leading role on the big screen (he’d been on television a lot) and Lee was still relatively unknown (he was cast here mainly for his height, and the fact that he was cheap). They’d go on to be quite a team.
*. Fun film anecdote: Apparently Lee complained to Cushing when he found he didn’t have any lines (he wouldn’t have many as Dracula or the Mummy either). Cushing told him he was lucky, as he’d read the script.
*. Along with Cushing and Lee the rest of the classic Hammer gang was here too. Meaning it was directed by Terence Fisher and written by Jimmy Sangster. Apparently Sangster hadn’t seen the Universal Frankenstein movies but adapted Mary Shelley’s book directly. Though this is a long way from Shelley’s Frankenstein.
*. There are two big changes made to the classic story (Shelley’s and Universal’s) that are really striking. First of all, this Victor Frankenstein (Cushing) is a dark figure. He’s not just a mad/obsessed scientist but a truly bad man. He’ll screw around with the help right under his fiancée’s nose. If he even thinks the old professor is going to get in the way of his experiments he’ll throw him over the balustrade. Or through the balustrade. A shocking scene, but not one you’ll want to pay close attention to as you can clearly see where the balustrade has been prepped to break before it does, and when the professor hits the floor below you can see it (the floor) bounce. In any event: Victor here is pretty awful, and deserving of his date with the guillotine. Though his friend Paul’s betrayal at the end was an unexpected twist. That Paul is a sketchy figure too, isn’t he? Sending his buddy to the razor while walking away with his girl? That’s cold.
*. The other change is in the monster’s appearance. I’m not sure, but I think they had to give him a new look because Universal had the rights to Jack Pierce’s iconic make-up. I think what they did here, apparently at the last minute, is great, with Lee’s face being a ghastly fish-belly white and one eye clouded over. I’d also add that the tank the monster is revived in was inspired. I don’t think that had been done before.
*. Both of these changes are bold and I think both work wonderfully well. This isn’t a remake or rehashing of the old story but a new invention that made a ton of money and set Hammer on its way for the next decade-plus. Today I think its boldness is harder to pick up on, and I imagine most people see it as downright stuffy. But it made quite an impact at the time, and not just in Britain. John Carpenter is one director who considered it a formative work, and Guillermo del Toro has said it’s one of his favourites. I don’t think it’s a great movie, suffering from Hammer’s inability to quite overcome period stuffiness, but for genre fans it’s a now classic work in its own right that deserves searching out.

30 thoughts on “The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)


    I think it’s the stuffiness that I like now. The drawing room conversations, how polite Frankenstien is. Oh, and one of your profile pics seems to have snuck its way in at the end; just sayin’!

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Frankenstein is rigidly formal, but he’s a total heel here. And he gets worse in the series. But the drawing-room stuff does satisfy a nostalgia fix.

      That pic gets results on all the dating apps. Chicks dig the alt look.

      1. Bookstooge

        Nope. I’m dedicated to surveying. Marketing is for people like actors, ie, people with no purpose or any real skills to make the world a better place.

      2. Bookstooge

        Oh man, don’t get me started.
        You know how many idiots pull out their phones and show us a tax map and say something stupid like “the property line is here, see in this photo…”
        And gps isn’t good enough in forested or hill areas. Go under a cluster of pine trees and whoopsie daisy, no signal!

        That being said, I’m seeing a lot of talk about drones and surveying. I’m kind of intrigued by that idea and how it could be used.

      3. Alex Good Post author

        I’ve used the tax map, or at least tax bill argument. “This is how much land I’m paying taxes on, so that’s how big the property is.” Makes sense to me!

      4. Bookstooge

        This is the level of ignorance I have to deal with on a weekly basis. And you wonder why I’m cynical.

        Frankenstein would have had his property surveyed. That way he’d know where to put up the no trespassing signs..

      5. Alex Good Post author

        So I can get a survey from you that will reduce my tax bill? Somehow I don’t think that’s in the cards . . .

      6. Bookstooge

        If you were to get a survey, you could submit it to the town and get a more accurate tax bill.
        Of course, the cost of the survey would probably set you back a bit. You don’t do that kind of thing just for fun.

      7. Alex Good Post author

        Yeah, the only time I had a survey done it was thirty or more years ago and it was insanely expensive. Why does it cost so much? Doesn’t seem to take that long.

      8. Bookstooge

        I can’t speak for yours, but most surveys are boots on the ground (as opposed to what we call a paper survey, which is just stitching together other surveyors plans together in the office). Manual Labor is expensive for trained techs. We’re not landscapers after all.

      9. Alex Good Post author

        Still doesn’t add up. I mean drainage work takes boots on the ground and also requires surveying for getting the rise and fall of the land and way more equipment and as much training, but surveying costs way more per hour. I always thought it had something to do with insurance.

      10. Bookstooge

        It is the level of liability. A drainage guy screws up, you have to redo your drains. A surveyor screws up and somebody could build a house on land that is not theirs.
        Plus, a licensed surveyor (my boss, not me) is pretty much an expert on legal matters pertaining to land and land law. So when he stamps a plan, he’s putting all of that authority on the line.

  2. Riders of Skaith

    The Paul character irritated me tremendously, because unlike F, he obviously has enough of a moral compass to know what they’re doing is wrong, not to mention ILLEGAL, HELLO–but all he ever does when the thought disturbs him is sit around and wring his hands limply about it. One might think he had designs on the fiancee from the beginning and just chose the easy way of getting rid of the man he’s mentored from a youth.

    1. Alex Good

      It’s a pretty good reveal too, as the Monster takes the bandages off his head himself. I really like that they did something original with the look.

  3. WakizashiGray

    1957! Wow. And I love the practical effects. That face is frightening. One day I hope to revisit the Hammer films. I loved them as a kid, but pretty much wrote them off as I got older.

    1. Alex Good Post author

      This is pretty good. Unfortunately I think Hammer has become a bit of a nostalgic cult, and while some of their product punches above its weight and holds up well, they were never a major studio and it’s hard to think of any of their stuff as being great.

  4. Lashaan Balasingam @ Roars and Echoes

    It must be quite complicated to understand why this is so beloved and mind-boggling back in the day when watched today but with proper knowledge, I can definitely see why through your review. I’ll have to make it a goal to get through this dude’s movies someday.

    1. Alex Good

      A must for genre fans. I can’t see it as having a lot of appeal for anyone else. There’s a sort of cult of Hammer horror that I think is not always deserved. But maybe they’re like cozy mysteries. A sort of comfort food.


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