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.


Posted by Exquisite Terror

Born from a love of horror, ponderous thoughts and meandering topics, Exquisite Terror is a periodical that takes a more academic approach to the genre.