Monday, October 4, 2010

The Curse of Frankenstein

While I started thee horror movie reviews with Dracula and there will be plenty more vampires to come, Frankenstein as always been my favorite horror movie staple. I have always enjoyed the religion versus science undertones as well as the exploration of what it means to be different, misunderstood, and lonely. You do not get that with any of the Dracula stories.

I enjoy both the universal and Hammer Films interpretations of Frankenstein. They are markedly different. The Universal series are more about the alienation of the Frankenstein Monster, albeit with decreasing quality as the film series progressed. The Hammer Films emphasize Baron Frankenstein’s obsession in reanimating life and increasing evil. Universal’s version is a much more humanitarian type. Taken together, both series pint a fascinating picture that no filmmaker, in my humble opinion, at least, has ever combined effectively I one film. Perhaps if someone ever lets me make a movie myself.

Peter Cushing, Grand Moff Tarkin himself, plays the demented Baron Frankenstein very effectively. In an interesting twist that allows us to not stray too far from the previous films reviewed, the Monster is played by Christopher Lee. It is difficult to tell that is him under all that make above, but it is. You will also note the make up job insignificantly different from what you would normally visualize in your mind’s eye. Universal had exclusive rights to the traditional design and only allowed hammer Films to use a similar make up scheme once its series of Frankenstein films had died off. I like the Hammer Films version better. Perhaps it is blasphemy, but the Hammer Films version looks far more like a reanimated corpse than the giant, square headed green giant.

The story is told in flashback as Baron Frankenstein relates his exploits to a priest while in prison. Frankenstein and his assistant successfully brought a do back to life. The assistant is ecstatic and wants to present their findings to a medical convention. Frankenstein has loftier ambitions. He wants to use human body parts instead of canine..

Frankenstein’s quest to gather the body parts is a gruesome endeavor. He takes much of them from a hanged man on the allows. The brain he takes from a professor. The brain is damaged in a scuffle, so when the Monster comes to life, he is instead psychotically violent rather than an intellectual.

The Monster escapes from Frankenstein twice before he is ultimately destroyed by falling into a vat of acid. One has to wonder if it was the real monster, however, since Frankenstein murders his maid who wants her to marry him because she is carrying his child and threatens to go to the police an tell all about his experiments if he does not. It is for her murder he winds up in jail, set to be executed.

The Curse of Frankenstein began Hammer Films’ revival of gothic horror films in 1957 because of its popularity with moviegoers. Critics, on the other hand, hated the film because of its excessive violence and deviation from the 1931 Universal original. I have already addressed my thoughts on the differing perspectives of the two series above. If you area Frankenstein purist, you may not like the Hammer Films version. It is definitely more for those who like true horror films rather than an existential look at the human tendency to fear that which is different. I am very much into the latter myself, but cannot dismiss the entertaining virtues of what The Curse of Frankenstein set into motion.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

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