Sorry for the delay guys and dolls, it’s been quite a day, I’ve just recently finished watching today’s film and right now I’m writing this review. Why is that? Because I’m going away! Yes, once again I’m travelling to the south of my country, to Valdivia to be more exact, and there I shall be tweeting and writing about the movies I’ll be seeing at the Valdivia International Film Festival. I shall still be doing these posts (to the best of my habilities). So, a new batch of films is set to appear in our incredible journey, the Frankenstein Hammer series of films! A few years ago I managed to see all the Dracula Hammer films thanks to James Rolfe’s Cinemassacre’s Monster Madness, and this year I can watch the Frankensteins! Here you can watch his video review of the first installment, ‘The Curse of Frankenstein’ (1957) and you can read my review down below.
The original Frankenstein films done under the Universal brand and under the direction of James Whale are among the best horror films ever made, with a masterful approach towards cinematic horror, the films manage to put the horror before anything else, with great visuals and amazing acting from Boris Karloff as the silent brute creature. I was looking forward to compare them to this first (and following) films of the Hammer Frankenstein series, in particular with this one, that is so particularly well regarded by most horror aficionados. So, what happened? I freaking loved this movie from beginning to end, it’s one of those rare ones that have a lot of talking, a lot of exposition, very little of the creature, and still it manages to get its point forward, creating a sensation of dread and a place in which we could stay and live in, a world created in the mind of Doctor Victor Frankenstein.
The movie starts with jail and the impending execution of Frankenstein. A priest comes to hear him speak, trying to put the word out that he didn’t do anything that was charged guilty of. He tells the story in a wonderful fashion, as the film leads us to a build up of his personal character, first by being a lonely kid with the whole baron for himself, then finding a tutor for his learning, the man that would later be his partner in science in the discoveries of reviving dead tissue (the first ressurrected being is a cute small puppy). Now, the only thing that I truly miss in this movie is the reasoning behind the sudden madness of Frankenstein, something that is explained as a simple change of character due to stress and the fact that he was keen on doing something revolutionary to the rest of the world. Maybe it’s hinted (very lightly) that it’s because both his mother and father died when he was very young, thus having a responsability with being the Baron from a very young age, and thus, being damaged and wanting to find the way to ressurrect the dead.
Now, his logic here is a bit faulty, but the steps he makes are wonderful, when he decides that the next logical step is a creature made by stiching up parts from the best possible parts, as to make a wonderful being: the body of a huge criminal that was hanged by the side of a muddy street, the arms of a famous sculptor and maybe the greatest scene of the film, the way he gets the brain, by killing the best doctor of physics in the world at the moment… he was invited to the house of Frankenstein, only to be thrown from a high altitude and then have his brain put out. I love the build up that this film has, it’s just near the 50 minute mark when we finally see the fully realized creature in the exceptional makeup and the wonderful acting chops of Christopher Lee. Some say that the film kinda fails a bit from here on forward, but I possibly can’t see why, the movie just keeps on going with the exploits of the creature and the way that is demonstrated in an assured way that Frankenstein is a master at what he does, even though the creature is shot when runs away, he manages to operate the brain and make it even better than before!
I leave for last what is the most perfect thing in the whole film: Peter Cushing. Peter Cushing might as well be the best actor I’ve ever seen perform in a horror film in my entire life, he’s just the master at everything that he does, his antics as Van Helsing were impressive, but here he just manages to put forward this seething evil that grows and grows at every second that the movie goes forward. At first we see him as a desperate man in the jail cell, then we see his knowledge grow, as well as his confidence, and then slowly we see the cruelty and anger fill his eyes as the movie draws nearer and nearer to a close. And then, the ending, he’s just mad, his eyes look the part, it feels real, it hurts a lot to see how no one seems to believe what he says. It’s a really sad film with very sad consecuences, but at the same time a lot of fun, mainly because of the great performance by Cushing. Just remembering some of the lines give me some chills down my spine, like “I’ll get it”, when he refers to the brain that he has to find.
This film is wonderful, there’s no other way around it, the cinematography is amazing and at times truly breathtaking, specially when you see how efficiently it was directed, having a great amount of intelligence towards what it needs to be shown and what doesn’t. The ending still seems a bit rushed, but it has some great imagery and moments. For being the first real horror film done in the Hammer studios, this one is an auspicious start, and of course a great jump start to a series of films that we shall be reviewing and seeing in the next few days.