It’s time for me to rewatch—actually, in most cases, watch for the first time—the series of Frankenstein movies produced by Hammer Films from the late fifties through the mid-seventies. There are six films starring Peter Cushing as Baron Victor Frankenstein:
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)
The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)
Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)
The first two tie together more or less, then the third is basically a reboot with the continuity picking up again after that, after a fashion. I’ll address continuity or lack thereof in the individual posts. I’ll be watching the Cushing films in order, then 1970’s definitely out-of-continuity The Horror of Frankenstein, with Ralph Bates stepping in as Frankenstein. And I’ll be writing snarky spoiler-filled comments, so let’s get to it.
First up, The Curse of Frankenstein, in which Christopher Lee (Dracula to Cushing’s Van Helsing in the Hammer Dracula series) plays the unfortunate creature stitched together by Frankenstein and his increasingly reluctant tutor/assistant, Paul Krempe. Yes, you read that right, Krempe starts as a tutor (hired by the young Frankenstein himself !) and then just stays with the baron until he becomes his worried sidekick.
But let’s back up to young Frankenstein, so to speak. We meet him early in the film after his mother dies, and we immediately see that, for the most part, the teenage baron (his father died years earlier) is a self-centered, unlikeable jerk weasel. He doesn’t grow out of it.
The adult Victor brings his cousin Elizabeth to his estate to become his bride, apparently only for appearances, because he exhibits no real affection for her and spends very little time with her, as that would cut into his experiments as well as the time he needs for boinking the maid.
As Frankenstein ruthlessly gathers the necessary parts for his Creature, Krempe increasingly spends all his time 1) telling Frankenstein to stop, without doing much of anything to actually stop him, and B) telling Elizabeth she should leave, without telling her why. For her part, Elizabeth is always cutting Frankenstein slack, even though he continues to treat her abominably (that final word choice may have been influenced by Peter Cushing having been in the lesser-known Hammer Film The Abominable Snowman ).
The maid has more spine than Krempe and Elizabeth put together, threatening to expose Frankenstein for all his shenanigans (including knocking her up), and then she actively looks for evidence in the laboratory. Unfortunately for her, this allows Frankenstein to lock her in a room with the Creature. Problem solved for the Baron . . . or so it seems.
But, wait, the Creature! Lee doesn’t appear until fifty minutes into the eighty-three minute film—what with earlier experiments and then finding the necessary parts and sticking them together and all—and once he’s finally unwrapped, he has frightfully little to do. As in the Boris Karloff version of the story (and unlike the original novel) Frankenstein’s creation doesn’t speak, and after various mishaps reduce his brain to chip dip, he’s little more than a half-trainable animal that, one imagines, would make a lot of messes on the carpet if he survived long enough for Frankenstein to try to housebreak.
But high jinks ensue, and the Creature ends up dead and dissolved in acid, which pins the maid’s murder—justly so—on Frankenstein. Krempe has apparently gotten up the courage to lie to the police so that Frankenstein is the only person claiming there was a reanimated monster at his estate. As the movie ends, the baron is being led to the guillotine and the audience has no reason to feel sorry for him as he begs for his life.
All that said, you may think I dislike the movie, but, no, I’m quite fond of it. Although the baron is twisted and evil and the other main characters generally simpering and ineffectual, there is something about the unreserved glee the film takes in its Grand Guignol plot that still entertains. Although tame by today’s standards, the amount of blood and body parts—in vivid color, no less!—were shocking in its day, and the performance of Peter Cushing still infuses much of the film with a disturbing creepiness. And one could argue that the aristrocratic baron prefigures characters like, say, Patrick Bateman of American Psycho: rich, privileged, self-involved, and devoid of genuine human feelings.
It’s a solid and gruesome start to the series. Next time, The Revenge of Frankenstein.