Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Short Take: The Curse of Frankenstein

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

The Curse of Frankenstein, the 1957 Hammer Films adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic novel, doesn’t concern itself with the moral, philosophical, and allegorical aspects of the book. Like most pop-culture treatments of Shelley’s material, it is content with being a reactionary horror melodrama. The story couldn’t be more familiar: A misguided scientist plays God and builds a creature from the remains of human corpses; the creature turns out to be a violent brute; the scientist and the creature confront each other, and only one survives. But director Terence Fisher and scenarist Jimmy Sangster do a better job with it than most; the story is told with an admirable economy. And they hit upon an idea that served the producers well through a number of sequels: the real monster of the film isn’t the creature; it’s the scientist. Their Dr. Frankenstein is a vicious monomaniac. His experiments are all that matter to him, and pity anyone who gets in his way. Peter Cushing plays the role with such sinister relish that one begins to think the character welcomes being interfered with. The body count is part of what makes his work enjoyable. The fresh portrayal of the scientist more than makes up for the letdown of the creature (Christopher Lee, buried under a shoddy make-up job). The monster here is neither tragic nor especially scary; it’s just pathetic. All one wants is for it to be put out of its misery. The real drama is in waiting for Dr. Frankenstein’s comeuppance. With Robert Urquhart, who does an effective job playing Frankenstein's teacher and the movie’s conscience.

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