Sunday, October 5, 2014

#1 The Curse of Frankenstein

That's right Monster Kids - number one on my top-ten favorite Frankenstein films is The Curse of Frankenstein! Hammer Studios' first foray into gothic horror is a full-blown Technicolor masterpiece.
(Though I just learned today that this film was pitched to Hammer by the man that would go on to head Amicus Films - the 'other' great British house of horror).

There will never be a greater Dr. Frankenstein than Peter Cushing (nor a better Van Helsing for that matter). If Cushing was of the correct age he could have easily been the guy in the early Universal Franken-films. A perfectly convincing classic horror actor - who just as easily wears the shoes of a hero or a villain. And in The Curse of Frankenstein make no mistake, Cushing is the villain..

The movie is one of only two Hammer retellings of the Shelley' Frankenstein tale. All the other Hammer-Franks are penned outright by filmmakers. The film starts with the young doctor taking on an in-house science tutor name Paul Krempe. Flash forward to Dr. Frankenstein as a young adult and Krempe as his contemporary, who later essentially becomes a reluctant assistant. They successfully 'torture' a dead puppy back to life (in the name of film science I suppose) and create some crazy electro-paddlefans and that is enough for the good doc to go off the deep end and cave in fully to his ego.

Though at no time does the doc seem to have a second to spare he apparently maintains proper with his bride-to-be cousin Elizabeth (horror actress Hazel Court) and random booty-calls with slightly-too inquisitive house-maid Justine (Valerie Gaunt - Horror of Dracula).

Between debauching the 'servantry' and ignoring every bit of life advice from Krempe, the doc hasn't just been raiding the gallows and crypts - but outright murdering people to piece together a truly horrifying Monster (Christopher Lee). The monster is utterly hideous and entirely malevolent. Few Frankenstein films were made by anyone outside of Universal to that point so the appearance of the monster is pretty much established as the block-headed Karloff/Strange creature.
I would have LOVED to been in the cinema when that 1957 audience gets their first, horrifically zoomed, full-color look at the Chris Lee monster, who in all intents and purposes looks more human and terrifying than the Universal creatures. The monster literally looks like a re-assembled, very pruned corpse. Horrifying!

Not a chap you would want to run into in the woods, especially with your old, blind granddad!

An all-time very favorite horror-film visual is when Justine has snuck into the forbidden laboratory and surveys the trouble she might get into. Unbeknownst to her, the monster is just behind her - but we only see the extremely frightening shadow of his arm moving from the darkness towards her..

The movie to an extent becomes a tense, high-stakes "get out of the room" thriller with some characters just making it - and others not. The music is as forceful and unrelenting as the monster and for the first of many times the legendary, always recognizable (but never the same twice) Down Place at Bray Studios would be cast as the Frankenstein Castle..

The Curse of Frankenstein was considered so gory and frightening in 1957 that it was derided by writers of the day as an affront to good-hearted god-fearing audiences. Funny how today it is almost unanimously hailed as the best Hammer film made.

Well there you have it folks - the top ten is complete. The Curse of Frankenstein trumps em all!
If you see the list differently don't hesitate to share yours! Until the next top ten, "Rarrrrrrrrrrr!"

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