The Curse of Frankenstein (Devil’s Advocates)


REVIEW Lloyd Haynes

The Curse of FrankensteinThe cultural and cinematic importance of Hammer’s Curse of Frankenstein has been documented so extensively for several decades now — from David Pirie’s groundbreaking A Heritage of Horror (1973) through to works by Peter Hutchings (Hammer and Beyond, 1993) and Jonathan Rigby (English Gothic, 2000), among others — that it’s refreshing to find an analysis of this milestone in the history of the horror genre that is relevant, readable and illuminating.

Author Marcus K. Harmes examines the film’s relationship to its cinematic past, its literary source material (Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein) and the adaptations of Shelley’s book which preceded it (Thomas Edison’s 1910 FrankensteinLife Without Soul, directed by Joseph W. Smiley in 1915; Eugenio Testa’s Italian-made Il mostro di Frankenstein, 1920; and Universal and James Whale’s classic 1931 Frankenstein).

Offered is a close analysis of Jimmy Sangster’s script and the major differences between film and book; Shelley’s novel was used as the starting point but the film deviates from its source material in a radical fashion with characters, plot and dialogue either condensed or ignored entirely (an economical trick performed by Sangster again the following year for Dracula). The film’s lack of textual fidelity, argues Harmes, marks it out as a ‘transgressive’ adaptation.

Interestingly, the author considers The Curse of Frankenstein to be as much of a Gainsborough-style period drama as a horror movie, and examines the close connections between Hammer and Gainsborough: both were small-scale production outfits who employed a repertory company of technicians and actors and even shared some recurring thematic concerns (aristocratic villainy, for example). Also focused on is the film’s production history and its key creative personnel. The use of Eastman Colour added an essential garishness to Britain’s first colour horror film, and the modest £64,000 budget looks considerably more thanks to the ingenuity of the production team. And, no monograph on The Curse of Frankenstein would be complete without covering the savage overreaction by the British press when the film was released in the spring of 1957, which only helped to increase the picture’s commercial fortunes.

Well-written and thoroughly researched, Marcus K. Harmes’ excellent study is a testament to the enduring appeal and enthusiasm for The Curse of Frankenstein, and leaves room for other individual examinations of Hammer’s classic output from the late 1950s and early 1960s.


Win: Housebound

HouseboundKylie Bucknell is forced to return to the house she grew up in when the court places her on home detention. Her punishment is made worse by the fact she has to live there with her mother Miriam who’s convinced that the house is haunted. Kylie dismisses Miriam’s superstitions. However, when she too becomes privy to unsettling whispers and strange bumps in the night, she begins to wonder whether she’s inherited her overactive imagination, or if the house is in fact possessed by a hostile spirit.

Housebound is available on DVD now. To win a copy, enter details below.

Black Sunday (Devil’s Advocates)


REVIEW James Gracey

Black Sunday

With Black Sunday, Mario Bava created what many consider to be one of the most definitive titles in Gothic horror cinema. Adapted from a short story by Nikolai Gogol, the film was banned in Britain for eight years, largely because of its strangely poetic fusion of morbid sexuality and graphic violence, highly unusual for the time.

Through an examination of the critical reaction to Bava’s work and how it has significantly shifted over the years, Martyn Conterio convincingly argues that while auteur theory is not as highly regarded in academic circles as it perhaps once was, it’s tailor-made for Mario Bava, with his ‘distinct visual authority’, recurring themes and hands-on approach. The writer was granted access to the BFI’s files and the original notes made by censors, detailing what they found so objectionable and offensive about Black Sunday. It makes for fascinating reading and further highlights how groundbreaking Bava’s film was, having shocked as much as it did. The writer details specific sequences censors found to be problematic and explores the various edits imposed on the film as well as the myriad titles it was released under.

Throughout, he rigorously contextualises Black Sunday to demonstrate its place at the forefront of a new generation of films that blended eroticism and horror. Released in the same year as Peeping Tom, Psycho, The Fall of the House of Usher and Eyes Without a Face, Conterio identifies the film as a work which significantly pushed cinematic boundaries in terms of sex and violence and further contextualisation highlights its significance in post-war cinema and the birth of Italian horror.

A page-to-screen analysis details not only the source material but other influential texts. By exploring Black Sunday’s story and themes within a historical milieu, Conterio identifies the influence of European folk tales, the legend of Countess Bathory, various European witch trials, Bram Stoker’s “Dracula’s Guest” and Alexis Tolstoy’s “Family of the Vourdalak”. Interestingly, he also looks at the film’s place in vampire cinema — he cites Black Sunday as a major influence on Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Dracula — representations of the figure of the vampire in folklore, literature and cinema, and addresses the blurry line Bava established between vampires and witches. Also delved into is Black Sunday’s peculiar marriage of fairy-tale conventions and surrealist irrationality,  including its utilisation of romantic notions of beauty and death and its depiction of women, suggesting the figure of Asa personifies a subversive threat to patriarchal conventions.

Throughout, Conterio’s approach, while immensely in-depth, is conversational in tone and very accessible. His humour (he describes one character as Asa’s bitch) and breathtaking insight ensure this monograph is an invaluable read for anyone with an interest, not only in Bava’s work, but in the history of Italian horror cinema. Essential.