No-one would associate Peter Cushing with body building, and yet that is exactly what he did over a space of twenty years in Hammer's other great film series.
Last year I finished covering the Hammer Dracula series, a mammoth nine film run which not only chronicled the misadventures of Christopher Lee's Count, but the on-going crusade of various generations of Van Helsings who all looked exactly like Peter Cushing.
Cushing carried a Dracula film twice without Lee's satanic presence and similarly, in the Hammer Frankenstein cycle, it is his Baron Frankenstein who is the lead character in each film, not the misbegotten creature.
I've always been a bigger fan of the Dracula films, preferring their sensuality and atmosphere to what essentially amounts to the gory 'body horror' of the Baron's medical malpractices, but in hearing these films praises sung by everyone from Podcasters to Martin Scorsese, I suspect that I've probably been missing the point.
Naturally, I enjoy anything Hammer, especially if it stars Peter Cushing, and have probably seen most of these films in the distant past, but feel it's only fair to give them the same respect as the Dracula series, and evaluate them properly through fresh, newly transplanted eyes.
After all, it is this first film which not only paired Cushing and Lee for the first time, but established Hammer as the house of Horror for decades to come.
|The Baron and his life-long mentor Paul Krempe in the world's first colour Frankenstein laboratory.|
Curse of Frankenstein (1957)Although hated by contemporary critics, this film made 70 times it's budget on original release and its significance to not only Hammer but all modern horror cinema can't be over-stated. So I will try not to go on about it and focus on the film itself.
With severe limitations placed upon Hammer by Universal studios over any encroachment on their 1931 version (including the iconic Boris Karloff make-up) this is a perfect case of restrictive circumstances nuturing greater creativity. It was quickly recognised that the Monster (even that word had to be replaced by creature) would never replace the Karloff version in the public's acceptance, so the emphasis had to be shifted elsewhere - to Baron Frankenstein himself. This was an extremely risky premise, the classic Monster had made such an impression on popular culture that he had achieved that rare trick of evolving from a figure of terror to a comforting icon, even in the children's toy market. How could a mere physician rival this? You cast Peter Cushing, of course.
|The definitive Baron Frankenstein, disposing of a spare part. In an acid bath. |
Directly beneath a skylight. Note: this architectural feature may be significant later on.
Cushing's Baron Victor Frankenstein is charming, but ice cold in his ruthless pursuit of science. Taking life quickly becomes merely the next practical step in his plans (involving a headfirst plunge of one victim from a balcony which still makes me wonder how the stuntman didn't break his neck - and how Frankenstein ever thought this was the best approach to obtain an undamaged brain). The Baron seems in complete control of himself, so the charge of insanity can't help him at the film's conclusion. I strongly suspect this won't be the case as these films progress, however.
|The Bloody red Baron: he wouldn't let it lie...|
|The lovely Hazel Court. Did we mention this film is in colour?|
As much as I enjoy many elements of this production I also suspect that I'm just too familiar with the basic Frankenstein story, which makes me look forward more to the many sequels, where Hammer will be forced to innovate further and flex their creative muscles.
|"In my next film for Hammer, I will be utterly irresistible to women."|