Thirty years of horror: Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Chris: This movie felt like a good place to start the journey into this era of horror films, mostly because it has a number of “firsts” going for it: first color (and how) Hammer Films monster movie, and the first mainstream color horror movie with red blood…and lots of it.

After the jump, it was alive

Chris: Christopher Lee plays the creature with a feral air more animalistic than monstrous. The real evil in the movie is reserved for Dr. Frankenstein himself. Peter Cushing plays the scientist as a dangerous, malevolent sociopath bent on killing anything in the way of his science.

Tom: I loved seeing a younger Peter Cushing. But the style of the era is really killing it for me. The color is lovely, and the costumes are especially gorgeous. But the pacing is so glacial and I have such a hard time seeing past the declamatory style of acting from back then. At least I can see Cushing’s uncompromising sense of commitment. What a fantastic actor, even (especially?) in schlock. My favorite Hammer movie is Twins of Evil, which has it all: better pacing, a variety of characters, Peter Cushing at his best and most tormented, and some seriously hot cheesecake with two Playboy models as the twins (only one of which is evil, but never mind the technicalities). Curse of Frankenstein just feels like dated Hammer to me.

Chris: In Curse of Frankenstein’s most famous scene, the creature is shot in the eye and blood pours from the wound. That’s less interesting to me than another bloody scene earlier in the movie. After Dr. Frankenstein has just acquired the criminal’s cadaver from which he’ll make his monster, he’s got to remove the head to make way for the new one. The camera lingers over the scalpel, leering at it almost sexually (I thought of the gynecological instruments in David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers). The Doctor picks it up and begins to saw away on the neck just out of the frame. Having completed removing the head, Cushing/Frankenstein casually wipes his bloodied hands on the lapels of his coat, leaving a wonderfully morbid red smear that stays on the jacket throughout the film.

Tom: Yes, that was quite literally my favorite scene! I loved how effective it was, without having to show a dopey special effect of a head being sawn off a corpse. It was understated, evocative, and gruesome. That’s the sort of thing I look for when I watch a movie: Is there something so well done that it makes the time spent worthwhile? Cushing wiping blood on his lapel was fantastic. I also liked the scene shot from waist level when Dr. Frankenstein is buying eyes (I wondered if maybe they shot that on a day when Cushing wasn’t available), the shot of the professor thrown off a balcony so his brain could be harvested (obviously a stunt man, but a stunt man really earning his pay!), and the reveal of the Christopher Lee monster (freaky and not the usual “he’s alive” you expect in a Frankenstein movie!).

(So what’s this “thirty years of horror” thing?)