The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
DIRECTOR: Terence Fisher.
CAST: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart, Valerie Gaunt, Melvin Hayes, Paul Hardtmuth.
SYNOPSIS: The young Baron Frankenstein (Hayes) finds himself fascinated by life and death, and as an adult (Cushing), sets out on a daring experiment in creating life, with help from his lifelong mentor and friend, Paul Krempe (Urquhart). Krempe sees danger ahead and drops the experiment, but the zealous Baron continues unabated, and it is not long before his creation is revealed. The tormented creature (Lee) can only wreak havoc and terror, however, and soon it appears too late to save his final victim -- Elizabeth, the Baron's fiancee (Court).
COMMENTS: This was the film that began Hammer's long legacy in the realm of gothic fantasy. It was a turning-point in horror cinema: Never before had such gore and terror been seen in vivid technicolour, and the result was a sensation for the audiences, and a thorough panning from most of the critics. It was the beginning of Hammer's worldwide fame, however, and saw the launch of the studio's most famous partnership, that of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, who were soon to team up again in 'Horror of Dracula' (1958), 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' (1959) and 'The Mummy' (1959).
The famous Universal film with Boris Karloff (1931) was still under copyright, and so it was Hammer's responsibility to create an entirely new look for the Frankenstein monster, resulting in a memorable make-up by Phil Leakey.
The feel of the film was both terrifying and darkly ironic, a tone that continued throughout the ensuing series of Frankenstein films, especially those under the direction of Terence Fisher. Curse of Frankenstein is also notable for its stirring score by Hammer veteran James Bernard and excellent production design by Bernard Robinson, who always managed to make Hammer's relatively cheap productions look lushly expensive. Script was by studio stalwart Jimmy Sangster (who later turned director, albeit with far less success), and Jack Asher was the cameraman responsible for the film's atmospheric lighting and photography.
Aficionados will recognize the locations as Black Park (woodland scenes), Oakley Court (exterior of Frankenstein's home) and the courtyard of Down Place at Bray Studios (prison scenes), Hammer's permanent home until 1967.
It spawned six sequels, beginning with 'The Revenge of Frankenstein' (1958), followed in the '60s by 'The Evil of Frankenstein' (1963), 'Frankenstein Created Woman' (1967), 'Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed' (1969) and then in the 1970s, 'Horror of Frankenstein' (1970) and 'Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell' (1974).