Metropol’s 31 Movies of (Hammer) Horror Double Feature: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)/Dracula (1958)

This is where it all….began.

Before The Curse of Frankenstein, the cinematic lanscape was littered in spaceships, mutants and giant monsters irradiated by atomic enegy. While horror was around in the 1950’s, it was mostly on the backburner as Sci-fi took over and nothing much was memorable save for House of Wax and even then, it was built more around the visual gimickry of 3-D instead of growing the horizons of horror. It wasn’t until 1956 with Ricardo Freda’s (and Mario Bava’s) I Vampiri that the horror genre was starting to pick up steam again. But while Vampiri opened the door to the genre  to new cinematic techniques, it was Curse who took our hands and led us through the door.

The movie stars Peter Cushing as the Baron Victor von Frankenstein, a scientist who finds a way to revive life and feverishly ermerses himself in the creation of life. His devotion to this goal frightens his mentor and fellow college Paul Krempe (Robert Urquart) to the point of pleading with him to stop every step of the way. He eventually creates a creature (Christopher Lee) but it escapes. After killing a few people, Krempe shoots and kills the creature. Frankenstein resurrects the creature to use as a murder weapon against his meddlesome maid (Valerie Gaunt), only to destroy it in acid before it attack his brid, Elizabeth (Hazel Court). After confessing everything to a priest in prison, Frankenstein holds hope in Krempe saving him from the guillotine, but to no avail. We are left with Frankenstein being prepped for execution.

What really made this picture besides being the first british horror movie and how graphic for it’s time it was, is director Terence Fisher’s treatment of the doctor as a completely rational man living in an irrational world. Cushing nailed the role perfectly. Where as Colin Clive’s Frankenstein in the Universal version turns into a complete wreck, Cushing’s Frankenstein takes imperfections and faults in stride and seks to perfect them to move forward in his study. A failure doesn’t not exist. it is but another problem yet to be solved. In the world Frankenstein lives in however, those questions aren’t ment to be answered and those who try to are looked upon in fear. So, in this case Frankenstein is the enemy. Now, this doesn’t mean the good doctor isn’t without flaws. His reliance to his intellect has left him somewhat arrogant and looking down at those who he dems ignorant. A precursor to Herbert West of Re-Animator fame. He also used his rationalism and the superstitious nature around it as a weapon

Even though he hated the role, Christopher Lee also stood out in this movie as the creature. Acting it in heavy makeup as a child stuck in a man-suit, Lee conveyed a lack of understanding and pathetic confusion of why he was made and what he truly is. A mirror image of the doctor.Reflecting his emotional distance from society and his immoral opportunism. What was to be the perfected version of Frankenstein turns out to be a creature animalistic in nature and confused of his place.

In my opinion, this is the superior version of Frankenstein. Not only in a technical nature but in a contextual nature as well. While the Universal version made the character popular, it was this version that stuck closer to the original source material. Even if it’s not accurate as in the story, they do identify the true antagonist of the story being Victor von Frankenstein and not the creature. In terms of the Hammer collection, this is a required buy. No collection is ever complete with out this.

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If anything, Dracula (or Horror of Dracula if you’re in the States) is in my opinion the Terence Fisher movie. It has everything from atmosphere to subtile messaging. assisted by the acting duo of Lee and Cushing and the effective Sangster script, this by far the most needed piece of the Hammer collection.

The thing about is that it doesn’t follow the novel. It’s more in line with the Balderson stage play. So we lose things like the travel by ship to Whitby, Carfax Abbey by the Seward Sanitorium and Johnathon Harker, Real Estate Agent. What we get though is Johnathon Harker, Vampire Hunter (Van Eyssen) goes deep cover as Dracula’s (Lee) librarian in order to destroy him. Instead of carrying out the hit, Harker takes out Dracula’s bride (Gaunt) and then gets taken out by Dracula. Harker’s friend, Dr Van Helsing (Cushing) and expert on vampirism, finds the undead corpse of Harker and finds out that the Count has left. Reporting the demise of Harker to his fiance’s high strung brother (Gough), Van Helsing slowly figures out that Dracula is in town and is infecting Lucy (Marsh). It finally takes the undeath of Lucy to bring he brother around to Van Helsing’s side and together they try to stomp out Dracula.

Here’s the cool thing about Dracula. Where Curse is about rationality being used as a weapon against the ignorant and unknowing, Dracula is about a man who uses superstition and fear to get what he wants from a rational society and it’s rationalism that wins out. They’re two sides of a coin. Lee’s acting as well as natural height, brings that point to fruition while Cushing’s dialed down Victor makes an interesting Van Helsing. Add to that the illusion of aristocratic effigy at the time. Dracula was a potshot on the high class. Fisher augments these themes with great pacing and wonderful use of color and sets.

Like the Universal version, Dracula somewhat has a Spanish language version, but neither are totally related. A year before, Mexico’s Cinematografica AbSa put out El Vampiro, a Mexican interpretation of Universal’s Dracula that mostly took place on a rachero. There are some in the Horror community who believe that Jim Sangster took points from the film. Including pointed canine teeth. Thus making El Vampiro the “Missing Link” between the Universal and Hammer versions. While I’m a bit skeptical of the story, I do think German Robles should get some credit for being the first movie vampire to climb out of his box and sports fangs.

Hey! If you have any comment or you’d like to ask a question or two feel free to either leave it in the comment box or email me at [email protected] Love to read from you

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