...Frankenstein starts here...Who or what is Frankenstein?Mary Shelley's novel FrankensteinEarly film and theatre adaptations
            of Mary Shelley's novel FrankensteinUniversal Studios Frankenstein films...
            do you know Karloff?Hammer Studios...
            meet Peter CushingFrankenstein movies from the 1970s-1990sMad Professors and monstrous creations...
            Robocops, Re-Animators and androidsMarvel Comics Frankenstein MonsterAny questions ?Read more about Frankenstein!Frankenstein links on the internet!

The Monstrous Baron: Hammer Films' Frankenstein series

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)


The Monster gets a facelift...
            Almost a decade after Universal Studios' last Frankenstein movie and after several years without any significant Frankenstein films, new life was injected into Mary Shelley's story and the Frankenstein myth was re-animated again when in 1957 British production company Hammer started their own series of adaptations with The Curse of Frankenstein. But this time everything was different: While the continuing element in Universal's series was the Monster, Hammer chose the person of Victor Frankenstein as their focal point and continuing element throughout the series.
This drastic deviation from the concept established earlier by Universal Studios probably resulted from concerns by producers Hinds and Carreras. Although their Frankenstein film was supposed to be based on Shelley's novel, which in 1957 was already in the public domain, they feared that Universal Studios might sue them for copyright infringement, when early drafts of the screenplay by Max Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky contained too many similarities to the Karloff films. Consequently, they comissioned several rewrites and finally hired Jimmy Sangster for the final draft.


The Curse of Frankenstein is set around 1880. Baron Victor Frankenstein, who is in prison facing execution, tells his life story to a priest. The narrative then shifts back to Frankenstein as a 15-year old boy. Victor employs his new teacher Paul Krempe, who soon becomes his companion and friend. They begin their experiments and their first success is the reanimation of a puppy. Years later they steal the body of a hanged highwayman from the gallows, Victor buys eyes, hands and several other body parts, which they stitch together. Finally, the only thing Victor needs to complete his creation, is a brain, "the mind of a genius". 

One night Victor invites his old mentor Professor Bernstein to his house. While showing him a painting, Victor pushes Bernstein down the stairs and manages to make his death appear like an accident. The night after the burial Victor sneaks into the crypt and removes Bernstein's brain. But he is interrupted by Paul Krempe, who no longer wants to be part of Victor's experiments. Paul accuses Victor of having murdered the Professor.

Baron Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing)


Soon the Monster will be born again (Cushing, Urquhart and Lee)
They have an argument and during the fight Krempe accidentally damages the brain. Frankenstein still uses the brain and brings his creation to life. The Monster, a creature with extraordinarily horrifying facial features, turns out to be a speechless, violent brute and instantly tries to strangle Victor. It then escapes to the woods, where it kills a blind man. Paul and Victor then confront the Monster, and it is shot in the head by Paul Krempe. 

Against Paul's will Victor reanimates his creature once again and performs some brain surgery on it to make it behave. At the same time Victor's mistress, his servant Justine, is trying to blackmail him into marrying her. She threatens to tell Victor's fiancée Elizabeth, who has moved into the  Frankenstein house, that she is pregnant from him. When Justine sneaks into the laboratory to find out what is hidden in there, Victor locks the door and the Monster kills her.

After their wedding Elizabeth sneaks into the laboratory where she is abducted by the Monster. In an attempt to rescue Elizabeth, Victor accidentally shoots her and then burns the Monster, which falls through the roof to its death. Now the film's narrative shifts back to the prison, where Baron Frankenstein is visited by Paul Krempe. Frankenstein begs him to confirm his story to the priest in order to save him, but Paul Krempe refuses. The last thing we see is the guillotine by which Frankenstein is to be beheaded.
The Monster obviously does not know how to say, "Thank you daddy!"


Would Professor Bernstein (Paul Hardtmuth) still enjoy
his cigar and drink if he knew what was to come?
         Screenwriter Jimmy Sangster and director Terence Fisher made radical changes to Shelley's original novel, many of them inspired by or taken from former adaptations. Firstly, they dropped the framework of Walton's narrative and substituted it with Frankenstein telling the whole story while he is in prison. Most characters from the book were also dropped or changed, e.g. Justine is now Victor's lover, and Henry Clerval is substituted by Paul Krempe. But the most radical and important changes were made to the characters of Victor Frankenstein and the Monster. 
Victor, played by the then 40-year old Peter Cushing, is no longer a young student, but a dandy-like aristocrat, a man who is both genuinely charming and dangerous. He is not the naive man from the novel, who wants to create a race of superior beings, but a cold and villainous madman who is totally obsessed with his work and even murders to continue his experiments. Victor kills a Professor to implant his brain into the creature. Later, to prevent his lover Justine from telling the police about his experiments, he even sets up her death. An utterly amoral character, Victor is completely detached from the moral consequences of his crimes.

These crimes have no equivalent in Shelley's novel, where Frankenstein never kills anyone. (In the novel Justine is hanged because Victor cannot tell anyone the truth about his monster. However, one could argue that by keeping his silence, he indirectly contributed to her death.) In The Curse of Frankenstein Victor is the true villain, who shows no remorse for his horrible crimes. "We are given a Frankenstein to hate, a Frankenstein [...] who is the real monster, a villain who ends the film facing the guillotine", as literature critic Paul O'Flinn points out (1). In the BFI Companion to Horror Hammer's Frankenstein is called a "ruthless, predatory creature, not much inclined to self-justification or self-pity" (2). However, actor Peter Cushing did not deem his role to be that negative. In an interview he stated, "I do not agree that he (Frankenstein) is an evil man; his motives are for the eventual good of mankind, but like many a real life genius, he is misunderstood and mistrusted and thus forced to use unorthodox and sometimes ruthless methods to carry on his work and research." (3). Yet it is doesn't come as a surprise that most critics do not share Cushing's point of view. It rather seems that in the interview he referred more to Shelley's Frankenstein than to his impersonation of the Baron.
Cushing also stated that he based his interpretation of the character upon Dr. Robert Knox, a 19th century anatomist who used illegally obtained bodies for anatomical studies. Cushing said, "I have always based my playing of Frankenstein on Robert Knox, though with variations based on the demands of the script and differing degrees of ruthlessness because no one will ever leave him alone to work."

Frankenstein even destroys the women that surround him:
Elizabeth (Hazel Court)...

...and Justine (Valerie Gaunt)
            Since Cushing's Victor Frankenstein was so drastically different from the character in Shelley's novel, where he is a romantic and guilt-ridden student, further changes had to be made. In The Curse of Frankenstein this role is taken over by Victor's assistant Paul, who constantly warns him to stop his experiments. In the end he deserts Frankenstein because of his ruthless behaviour and his inability to see the consequences of his work. The introduction of Paul's character is necessary because otherwise the audience would have nobody to identify with, apart from the rather inactive Elizabeth.
This also removes Hammer's films from the Universal Studios series, where Frankenstein's assistant is usually a dumb  dwarf/hunchback, not a good-looking, intelligent young student.


            The changes made to the character of the Monster are no less drastic. From the moment the Monster awakens it is destined to be evil. It kills a blind man and a young girl - Justine - without any reason and attacks its creator the first moment it sees him. Unlike in Shelley's novel it does not posses any intellectual capabilities and is unable to speak. Neither does it seem capable of showing emotions and feelings.  It can only obey simple orders like "sit", "walk" or "stand up". To explain this deficit Hammer went the same road that James Whale' had taken more than 25 years earlier: its aggressive behavior was caused by a damaged brain.

The only similarity to the Monster in Shelley's novel is its grotesque and horrible appearance. 

In Curse of Frankenstein the Monster also has a much smaller role than the monster in the novel or in previous films. In fact, it appears for the first time when more than half of the film is already over. And after that it only has a few scenes
on screen, most of them killing innocent victims or being hunted by Krempe and Frankenstein. This further emphasises the shift of focus from the Monster to the Baron in Hammer's Frankenstein films. 
The appearance of the Monster, played by Christopher Lee, bears no similarities with Boris Karloff's flathead monster. Hammer were not allowed to use
the Karloff/Jack Pierce make-up because Universal Films had copyrighted their design. When they heard that another company was working on a new Frankenstein film, Universal threatened to sue Hammer if they used anything from their 1931 film that was not in the novel. Therefore Hammer had to make their monster look different. It does not have any of the features of Karloff's monster, such as the flat head or the bolts in the neck. Hammer opted to give Lee's Monster a face with blisters and scars and a dead eye, making him look even more grotesque and disgusting than Karloff's mask.

Christopher Lee as the Monster

            When The Curse of Frankenstein was released in 1957 it was an instant box office hit. The film, which was intended as a commercial product and not a faithful retelling of the novel, aimed particularly at a young audience. According to O'Flinn one of the indications for that is the changing of Frankenstein's age from a young student to a man of about forty. Hammer Films did not want to present their audience a villain that was as old as they were but an older man from whom the 12 to 25-year old could detach themselves more easily. "A film pitched largely at adolescents could evoke hostility towards the protagonist more easily by transforming him from one of their own kind into a standard adult authority figure" (4). O'Flinn also sees the film in the context of the time it was made. The 50ies were an age where for the first time mankind was threatened by total annihilation through science, in particular atom bombs. The Curse of Frankenstein offers a kind of Gothic escapism from this atmosphere of cultural hysteria and public fear because it "locates the source of anxiety in a deranged individual, focuses it down to the point where its basis is seen as one man's psychological problem" (5). A similar interpretation is offered in the BFI Companion to Horror, where the Science Fiction films of the 50ies are seen as a paranoid reaction to the cold war and Peter Cushing's Frankenstein as a metaphor for the scientists who created the atomic bomb. (6)


            The Curse of Frankenstein was also a film that had a strong effect on subsequent horror movies and changed the genre forever. Not only was it the first Frankenstein film in colour, it was also the first horror film to show all the frightening details. Audiences could see eyeballs, brains in glass jars, the Monster's awfully disfigured face, and Peter Cushing unwrapping a pair of disembodied hands. Film critic Bill Warren writes that Hammer "weren't into Gothic, Germanic horror; they were into full-blooded Grand Guignol, in which the shock effects depend on what is shown" (7). This was a complete contradiction to the traditional American horror films of the 1930s and 1940s, where no horrific and gory details were shown - undoubtedly a consequence of the rigid censorship by the MPPDA - and the real horror always happened off-screen. Curse of Frankenstein and its sequels "created a new sensibility for the horror film, one far more open in dealing with sexuality and graphic violence" (8). In regard to that Hammer's Curse of Frankenstein can be seen as the first predecessor of a horror film genre that became most popular in the late 70s, the so-called splatter film.


"Could you please give me a hand?"
Frankenstein and his assistant Paul Krempe

            Stylistically, The Curse of Frankenstein is gothic horror at its finest, with gloomy castles, eerie graveyards, and dark vaults galore. Director Terence Fisher masterfully uses costumes and stage props that recreate the period of the second half of the 19th century. The film is colourful and atmospheric, but never looks unreal or fantastic. The result is a very materialistic and realistic setting. Fisher's directing style is free of complicated camera movements, relying on precise and balanced compositions.

            After the success of The Curse of Frankenstein Peter Cushing instantly became a star. From that moment on in the public opinion he was Baron Frankenstein. He played this role several times in almost all of Hammer's Frankenstein sequels. But Christopher Lee, who had played the Monster, had to wait one more year until stardom. Although he never again returned to the role of Mary Shelley's monster, he became famous as another monster from literature: Lee played Count Dracula in 1958's Horror of Dracula (along with Cushing as Van Helsing) and in its numerous sequels.

Hammer Studios had been around since 1934, but before Curse of Frankenstein their only entry into the horror genre had been The Quatermass Experiment (1955) and its sequel. However, their newly discovered formula of producing cheap horror films on their own studio lot in England proved to be so successful, that producers Anthony Hinds and James Carreras decided to specialise in the genre. In the 1960s Hammer's unique style dominated the gothic horror genre and their movies enjoyed world-wide distribution. Their titles constantly increased the amount of sexuality and violence that could be shown on the big screen, which alongside the lavish production design contributed largely to Hammer's success, which lasted until the early 1970s.


Click above to watch the original trailer in full color on youtube.com


Cast & Crew:  
Victor Frankenstein Peter Cushing
Elizabeth Hazel Court
Paul Krempe Robert Urquhart
Monster Christopher Lee
Justine Valerie Gaunt
Professor Bernstein Paul Hardtmuth
Screenplay Jimmy Sangster
Music James Bernard
Cinematography Jack Asher
Producers Anthony Hinds
Anthony Nelson Keys
Michael Carreras
Director  Terence Fisher




Karloff creates new life in Frankenstein 1970
As a side effect, the unsuspected success of Hammer's first Frankenstein movie triggered the return of the great Boris Karloff to the Frankenstein franchise. In 1958's Frankenstein - 1970 Karloff plays Victor von Frankenstein, a descendent of the original Frankenstein. The movie, directed by Howard Koch, is set in the 1970s and combines classic Frankenstein gothic horror with typical 1950s atomic age scares.
Disfigured and tortured during World War II by the Nazis, Frankenstein allows a TV crew to shoot at his famed castle in order to raise money for his experiments. He builds a creature using body parts and his butler's brain and revives the creature using nuclear power.
Considered a prime example of bad 1950s low-budget movie-making, Frankenstein - 1970 is a seriously flawed experience, that cannot even be salvaged by the return of Karloff, who was to turn out much better performances in the 1960s, for instance Roger Corman's loose E.A. Poe adaptation of The Raven.


Another Frankenstein adaptation from the 1950s worth mentioning is director Herbert Strock's low-budget I Was A Teenage Frankenstein. Produced by  AIP in 1957 as a follow-up to I Was A Teenage Werewolf (starring Bonanza's Michael Landon), the movie presents a descendent of Victor Frankenstein (Whit Bissell), who continues his work in the USA. He assembles a monster (Gary Conway) from teenage car accident victims and has the monster kill his fiancee. Later Frankenstein sends the horribly disfigured creature out to find a suitable new face. He successfully transplants the face of a good-looking teenager, who was murdered by the creature, onto the monster's ugly head.  In the end the creature kills Frankenstein, who plans to dissect his creation and ship it to Englad. When the police arrive at the laboratory the frightened monster is killed by electricity. The movie was moderately successful, but by today's standards it only qualifies as a schlock cult classic, due to its low-budget, extremely bad make-up effects, silly plot and ridiculous dialogue.


The lusty Teenage Frankenstein monster (Gary Conway)
and his first victim (Angela Blake)




1 O'Flinn, Paul, "Production and Reproduction: The Case of Frankenstein". Frankenstein: Contemporary Critical Essays. Ed. Fred Botting (London: Macmillan, 1995)  41.
2 Newman, Kim, ed. The BFI Companion to Horror (London: British Film Institute, 1996) 146.
3 Del Vecchio, Deborah. "20 Questions: Peter Cushing". Fangoria 100, March 1991: 13
4 O'Flinn 1995: 41
5 O'Flinn 1995: 43
6 Newman 1996: 85
7 Warren, Bill. "History of Horror: The 1950s". Fangoria 100, March 1991: 27
8 "Hammer Films", Microsoft Cinemania 96, CD-ROM, Microsoft 1995.

© 2000-2006 Andreas Rohrmoser

Revenge of Frankenstein