“I’m harming nobody. Just robbing a few graves.”
Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) is in prison awaiting execution. In flashback he tells the story of how he came to be sentenced to death, to a priest (Alex Gallier). Victor’s mother died leaving the young boy the sole heir of her estate, his father having died earlier. Victor is now the Baron Frankenstein. He hires a tutor, Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart), to teach him medical science. Through the years Victor learns everything Paul can teach him. They work side by side on various experiments.
Victor develops a fascination for the origins of life. They reanimate a dead puppy. Not satisfied with that Victor wants to bring a man back to life. At first Paul gets caught up in Victor’s passion. They rob graves and cut dead people down from gallows. Piece by piece a human begins to take shape. Eventually Paul has reservations about the experiment.
Then Elizabeth (Hazel Court) comes to live at the manor. Victor and Elizabeth were betrothed when they were children. Victor has no qualms about having Elizabeth in the house while he is tinkering with his monster. He also has no qualms about having an affair with the maid. Elizabeth is clueless of all of this.
The creature looks like crap but Victor is not deterred. He believes that if he has a great brain in his monster everything will fall into place. He invites the distinguished Professor Bernstein (Paul Hardtmuth) to dinner. He tosses him down the stairs and kills him. Victor wants his monster to have a sharp mind with a lifetime of knowledge. He has the professor buried in the Frankenstein family vault. At night he attempts to harvest the professor’s brain. Paul intercedes and the brain is damaged.
Victor uses the brain anyway and brings his creature to life. The monster (Sir Christopher Lee), having a damaged brain, turns out psychotic and quite violent. By now so is Victor.
“The Curse of Frankenstein” was released in 1957 and was directed by Terence Fisher. It is a Hammer Studios film. Hammer did seven Frankenstein movies. “Curse of Frankenstein” was the first.
Although deviating quite a bit from Mary Shelley’s book, “The Curse of Frankenstein” is an astonishing piece of art. Everything from the sets to the acting is top notch. Cushing’s portrayal of a sociopathic egomaniac is spot on.
This is both Cushing’s and Lee’s first foray into the horror genre as well as Hammer’s first color horror film.
To avoid issues with Universal’s hold on the Frankenstein monster look created by Jack Pierce, Hammer hired Phil Leakey to come up with an entirely new monster make-up. Having tried using a cast of Lee’s head and failing, Leakey came up with the make-up the day before shooting began. He applied it directly to Lee’s face using household materials. Since no latex or molds were used, Leakey had to recreate the entire look every day. The result was a tall, skinny, green monster with a Paul McCartney hair-do.
Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing's friendship was sparked when Lee stormed into Cushing's dressing room, complaining that "I've got no lines!" Cushing kindly responded, "You're lucky. I've read the script."
The young Elizabeth was played by Hazel Court’s daughter Sally Walsh.