Neither Wicked Nor Insane

I’ve harmed nobody, just robbed a few graves!

– Baron Victor Frankenstein

I decided to start this year’s Fright Festival off with a stone classic – 1957’s Curse of Frankenstein, from Hammer Film Productions. Directed by Terence Fisher, and starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, it was Hammer’s first colour film, as well as the beginning of what’s popularly known as ‘Hammer Horror’, so it seemed an appropriate way to start this year’s horror binge.

It’s been a fair few years since I last watched this one – I tend to err on the Dracula side of things when it comes to Hammer’s output – and I’d remembered it being longer. Possibly because it packs a lot into its just-shy-of-ninety-minutes running time.

It’s definitely Cushing’s film, that much is evident from the jump. Watching him, you can see why Hammer decided to go the route it did with its Frankenstein franchise. His Frankenstein is an amoral psychopath, despite Robert Urquhart’s assertions to the contrary, and is the driver for everything that happens in the film. He allows his obsession to override his common sense, and his every decision makes a bad situation worse. It’s impressive in its way. Cushing invests Frankenstein with an utterly loathsome charisma – he’s at once compelling and awful.

In contrast, Lee’s monster makes a negligible impact. Despite having an instantly iconic look, there’s little to the creature save its appearance. Lee does his level best to imbue the monster with the same feral dynamism he’d later bring to Dracula, but it’s an uphill struggle. With no dialogue and little interaction with the other characters, the monster comes across as little more than an animal, lacking even the tortured humanity that Lee would bring to the mummy two years later.

Watching it this time, I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of film it might have been if Lee had been given some of the dialogue from the novel to work with. Imagine Lee snarling out some of the monster’s choicest lines as he confronts Cushing – fair gives me chills to think about. It strikes me as a missed opportunity, and I can’t help but wonder what the reason for it was.

Regardless of this, the film is eminently enjoyable, and I highly recommend it to any lover of horror cinema, if only for Cushing’s performance.

And that’s one film down, thirty to go. Fright Festival 2021 continues tomorrow…