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Film / The Curse of Frankenstein

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The film that single-handedly launched the Hammer Horror brand, The Curse of Frankenstein was released in 1957. Directed by Terence Fisher, the film stars Peter Cushing as Baron Frankenstein and Christopher Lee as The Creature. Besides being Hammer's first horror outing, it is also notable as the studio's first colour release.

Owing more to the Universal Horror films than the original novel, this film once again tells a story of a scientist who creates life with terrible consequences.

Fascinated with Creating Life, Baron Victor von Frankenstein starts conducting experiments of such with the help of his tutor Dr. Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart). Unlike the well-meaning scientist from the Universal films, Frankenstein is depicted as an unfaithful womanizer who has no qualms against killing people for body-parts and having those who obstruct his work murdered.

It was during this film when Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee met in person and struck a lifelong friendship.

Followed by several sequels beginning with The Revenge of Frankenstein in 1958, and semi-remade as The Horror of Frankenstein in 1970.

This film is cursed with:

  • 24-Hour Party People: The guests at Baron Frankenstein and Elizabeth's engagement party.
  • Adaptation Relationship Overhaul:
    • Victor and Justine are not romantically involved in the book, but in the film they have a clandestine affair.
    • By contrast, Victor and Elizabeth were in love in the book - and here they just have an Arranged Marriage that Victor clearly sees as an obligation.
  • Adaptational Wimp: This version of the Monster is Killed Off for Real, normal weapons can kill him, and does not possesed superhuman strength (altrough he's strong) in comparison with his Universal counterpart, who was inhumanly strong Big Guy and almost invulnerable. He also isn't smart as his novel counterpart, and is most a mindless murderer.
  • Adaptational Ugliness: Oh, sweet Jesus, Christopher Lee's take on the monster is EASILY the hardest to look at, even giving a Pazuzu-possesed Regan a run for her money. The other actors even refused to sit near him in his make-up during the filming of this movie.
  • Adaptational Villainy: We get two examples. Unlike previous or later incarnations, Peter Cushing's Frankenstein is completely lacking in any form of morality or empathy, being willing to commit murder in order to achieve his ends. Likewise, the creature doesn't need to be molded by a cruel upbringing or society's prejudice as he is naturally violent to the point of killing anyone he sees. Though it might be less evil and more the damage to his brain and lingering memory of how Frankenstein murdered the brain's original owner.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Played With. According to Paul, Frankenstein was put on trial for a murder he committed, though he could be lying and was sworn to secrecy. The sequel clears things up but still has several continuity errors.
  • Arranged Marriage: Victor is arranged to marry his cousin Elizabeth, an arrangement that she doesn't mind at all. Victor couldn't care less.
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: Justine, searching Frankenstein's lab for evidence of his illegal experiments, is distracted by cages of cute mice and guinea pigs.
  • Batman Gambit: Justine tells Victor that she is pregnant and that she will reveal his secrets unless he marries her like he promised. Knowing that his laboratory is the first place that she would look, Victor tells her that she'd need evidence if anyone is to believe her. His laboratory being the place where he keeps the Creature captive, this leads to her death at its hands.
  • Blind and the Beast: The film subverts its source material by having the monster meeting a blind man and his grandson, and he immediately murders both.
  • Bottle Episode: Famously made on a low budget, the film features a tiny cast and takes place almost entirely within the Baron's house, aside from the framing story in the prison and a few scenes in the woods. Paul keeps mentioning the town nearby but we never see it or any of the townspeople because Hammer literally couldn't afford to build another exterior set or hire that many extras at the time.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Victor Frankenstein as a child when he dismisses his fawning aunt and hires Paul to be his tutor.
  • Bury Your Disabled: The creature kills an old blind man.
  • Canon Foreigner: Victor Frankenstein, Elizabeth, Justine, the blind man, and the Creature are all from Mary Shelley's novel, but Paul is largely an original character created just for the movie to give Frankenstein someone to play off of in his lab, just like Fritz in the first Universal film. Paul’s surname Krempe is shared with one of Victor’s university professors in Mary Shelley’s novel, but otherwise shares nothing in common with the character.
    • The 2020 Blu-ray’s commentary has film historians Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr note that Krempe essentially inhabits all the moral/good qualities of Mary Shelley’s Victor that are not present in Hammer Horror Victor.
  • Chairman of the Brawl: The creature is subdued after its initial revival when Paul hits it with a chair.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Acid Pool.
  • Creating Life: After discovering the means of resurrection, Victor decides to bring a human being to life.
  • Darker and Edgier: To both the novel and its adaptions at the time, and the horror genre in general. The Creature is depicted as a mindless beast as opposed to a misguided teenager or an innocent child, Frankenstein is actively evil instead of merely irresponsible and negligent, and there is significantly more violence than nearly any other horror films at the time, resulting in an X rating in the UK and an R rating in the USA (that is, after the MPAA rating system was established, though it was approved under the Hays Code on its initial release).
  • Death by Adaptation: The Creature is given a more direct death by dissolving in a pool of acid, rather than his implied suicide in the book.
  • Destination Defenestration: The Creature meets its end when it crashes through a window and falls to the acid pool below.
  • Disney Villain Death: The monster falls into an acid pool.
  • Dramatic Unmask: The Creature dramatically removes the shroud from its face after Victor comes face to face with it.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: The film is told as a flashback story by the Baron who is in jail for murder and awaiting execution. The ending leaves it uncertain whether the events really happened. Especially given Victor's personality, we can usually rely on him to be an Unreliable Narrator.
  • Eye Scream:
    • Not shown, but Paul remarks how the first corpse that he and Victor steal is missing its eyes due to the birds getting to it first.
    • When the Creature escapes the first time, Paul shoots it in the eye.
  • Fanservice: Elizabeth spends the third act of the film in a flattering evening gown that pays generous attention to her cleavage.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: The priest's arrival at the prison is underlined by the tolling of the bell.
  • For Science!: Paul helps Victor with his work early on, but becomes reluctant to help him after Victor's ruthlessness becomes evident.
  • Framing Device / How We Got Here: The film's story is told by Victor in prison as he awaits his execution.
  • Frankenstein's Monster: A more murderous example.
  • French Maid: Justine
  • Gentleman and a Scholar: Professor Bernstein is described as one of the most brilliant minds in Europe, but reminds Dr Frankenstein that men of science are human, too, and must take time out of their work to enjoy life and the company of others. He appears to be an engaging conversationalist and a pleasant houseguest.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: The main characters are mostly upper class, so their clothes are appropriately fancy.
  • Gratuitous Laboratory Flasks: Baron Frankenstein's attic laboratory features a nice array of curvy Victorian retorts and such. Loads of bright, colourful liquids and heavy on the dry ice, it's definitely a feast for the eyes.
  • Grave Robbing: Victor and Paul pick their material from the gallows.
  • He Knows Too Much: Inverted. Justine is bluffing when she says she knows Victor's secrets, but Victor uses her desire for proof as a way to trap her with the creature and get rid of her.
  • Hero Antagonist: Paul, Victor's mentor and adoptive father, who attempts to stop him from going through with the experiment and later turn him over to the authorities.
  • Hollywood Acid: The acid pool, which can disintegrate bodies completely.
  • Hollywood Kiss: There is an intense make-out session between Baron Frankenstein and the maid Justine. It quickly becomes clear, however, that although Justine is in love, to the Baron she is just a fling.
  • Ironic Echo: "Tell what?"
  • Imperiled in Pregnancy: Justine reveals she is pregnant with Victor's illegitimate child and threatens to expose his secrets if he doesn't marry her. He locks her in a room with the creature to get rid of her.
  • In Name Only: It's about a scientist called Frankenstein with a fiance called Elizabeth who creates a monster. The similarities with the novel end there.
  • Instant Thunder: Prevalent in the night when Victor's creation comes to life.
  • Irony: Paul spends the whole film threatening to expose Victor's work to the authorities. In the end he damns Victor by refusing to speak about his work.
  • Kill It with Fire: In the monster's final demise, Victor shoots at it to try and save Elizabeth. While the monster releases her, it is not enough to kill it and it begins to approach Victor with deadly intent. As it comes near him, Victor throws an oil lamp which smashes against the monster's body and causes it to catch fire. The monster tries to subdue the flames but ends up falling to its death in an acid pool.
  • Lightning Can Do Anything: Thanks to an unplanned lightning strike, Victor's creation receives the energy it needs to come alive.
  • Love Triangle: Victor's maid Justine loves him, his arranged wife Elizabeth loves him, but he cares about neither of them, as there is science to be done.
  • Madwoman in the Attic: Victor keeps the Creature chained to the wall of his laboratory after its second revival.
  • Mad Scientist: Guess who?
  • Mad Scientist Laboratory: Victor's laboratory is filled with colourful beakers and electric machinery.
  • Man on Fire: The Creature catches on fire when Victor throws an oil lamp at it.
  • Metaphorically True: Victor tries to claim that the Creature killed Justine and not him. That's technically true, except she was only killed because he locked her in the room with it.
  • Mix-and-Match Man: The bodies used for Victor's experiments are in various sates of decomposition, which forces him to pick the best parts from a variety of corpses.
  • Moe Greene Special: Paul shoots the Creature's right eye out during its first escape.
  • Neck Lift: Upon facing its creator, the Creature starts strangling Victor while lifting from the ground.
  • Never My Fault: Victor cannot stand to face responsibility for what he's done, and prefers to blame Paul instead.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Victor speculates that the only reason the Creature is homicidal is because Paul damaged the brain before implantation, then damaged it further when he shot it in the head. If true, this would mean Paul is just as culpable (albeit indirectly) for the Creature's murders as Victor was. Of course, it could also be argued that the fact that Frankenstein killed the original owner of the Creature's brain pre-disposed it towards homicidal revenge.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: We are not shown how the monster murdered the little boy.
  • The Obi-Wan: This is the first adaptation to completely dispense with Igor or any variation of the subservient lackey assistant. The Baron has no real assistant in this film. In fact, his accomplice, Paul is the one who taught the younger Victor everything he knows about science and Victor respects him as an intellectual equal. Naturally, Victor would be seduced by the dark side of science and take things too far. Paul is also a subversion of the trope as not only does he survive the events of the story, but he condemns his former pupil to execution for a murder that he knows happened somewhat differently from the way the public assumes.note . Being the better man, he also gets the girl in the end.
  • Off with His Head!: Victor is sentenced to be guillotined.
  • People Jars: The resurrectable subjects are kept in a container filled with liquid.
  • Pet the Dog: Victor gets one in the end when he saves Elizabeth from the Creature.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Elizabeth is an heiress, and she wears a number of fancy dresses.
  • Precious Puppy: When Victor is still relatively likable, he and Paul bring a dead puppy back to life.
  • Pretty in Mink: Some of Elizabeth's outfits to help show her wealth. Two have ermine muffs, and one is a blue dress lined with brown fur.
  • Related in the Adaptation: Rather than being an adopted sister to Victor, Elizabeth is now a cousin.
  • Romantic Runner-Up: Paul to Elizabeth.
  • Shooting Superman: Baron Frankenstein shoots the monster with pistol to no effect. He then throws the pistol at the monster. Again, no effect. Thankfully he throws a lantern next time and that seems to work.
  • Smug Snake: Baron Frankenstein, particularly with Justine. In the middle of making out with her, he gloats about how she will be required to wait on her rival Elizabeth.
  • The Sociopath: Victor Frankenstein, in spades. He has no comprehension of right and wrong, only of what he wants.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Unlike her counterpart in the novel, Elizabeth barely survives her encounter with the Creature.
  • Stepford Smiler: Elizabeth increasingly becomes one as she realizes that the Baron is obsessed with his mysterious, possibly evil experiments and cares little for her.
  • They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!: Victor insists that his mistress the maid Justine address him as Baron Frankenstein even when they are kissing.
  • Überwald
  • Villain Protagonist: Dr. Frankenstein, whose villainy would be continued on other films.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Frankenstein has a major one at the end when Paul refuses to testify on his behalf.
  • The Von Trope Family: Victor von Frankenstein.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • The old blind man has his grandson nearby when the creature kills him. It's never said what happened to the child - whether the creature killed him too or he ran for safety.
    • The puppy chases a ball off screen shortly after its resurrection and is not seen again.
  • The X of Y: The Curse of Frankenstein.