Giving Life to Man and Genre

Of course Peter Cushing’s Dr. Frankenstein is an ethics-less madman; it’s what the story demands. But this portrayal is eccentric, even jovial. When questioned as to his methods, he doesn’t see anything wrong because he’s, “just robbing a few graves,” as if everyone regularly digs up the dead.

Cushing isn’t the definitive Frankenstein, but only because he didn’t come first. There’s nuance in his performance, beginning rationally until temptation overtakes reason. Suddenly he can’t stop. He doesn’t want to either. There’s something unnerving in how Frankenstein so readily rejects people, yet is so warm when among his beakers and electricity. It’s as if he only relates to what he creates, and his few moments of happiness happen when his delusions allow him to think others share his madness.

Blinking lights and beakers filled with unidentified liquids grant Curse of Frankenstein glamour

Curse of Frankenstein doesn’t reinvent Mary Shelley’s work. It picks at the original’s bones, but covers them in a more graphic visual exterior. Look to the design of the monster: While nowhere near as iconic or memorable, pasted to Christopher Lee’s face is a disfigured mass of scarring. There was an empathetic humanity to Boris Karloff’s flat-headed creature; to see Lee’s revolting flesh solidifies Frankenstein’s total separation from reality. No sane person sees that image and accepts it as scientific progress. This enhances the fear as much as Cushing’s characterization.

Adding to the deviance, Frankenstein is an adulterer. Something censors in the 1930s undoubtedly labeled too salacious, time allowed fewer restrictions, and as such, a more gruesome villain. This Frankenstein did create life – but with the maid, not his wife. His shock and aggression upon learning he’ll be a natural father is an emotional tipping point. Fear isn’t coming from the monster potentially choking someone to death, rather how far Frankenstein will go to preserve his own symbol of inhumanity.

A switch to lavish color helps. While domineering black & white conveys its own soullessness, the stolen brain’s fleshy, gooey reds look alarmingly real, drawing attention to this artificial reality, but also convincingly horrific. Blinking lights and beakers filled with unidentified liquids grant Curse of Frankenstein glamour. Even as the laboratory lacks Universal’s hauntingly tall scale, Hammer’s smaller take appears more makeshift, akin to the spare parts used to make the monster itself. And thus, increasing the scattershot thinking of the man who put it together.

Video

Via Warner Archive, this is a new 4K master in a trio of aspect ratios, spread across two discs. It’s a personal choice which version is best suited, but the result is the same. Given a now glowing color space, the period costumes and scenery dazzle in their saturation. Vibrant flesh tones peak a bit outside norms, if within reason. Blood red joins other primaries in their impressiveness.

Pristine at the source, restoration removes any and all damage. Dust/dirt no longer factor in either. Firm grain exists naturally, even if some chroma noise does appear. It’s minor, and causes no great harm.

By way of the cinematography,Curse of Frankenstein doesn’t explode with fidelity. It’s softened at the lens, the resulting images lacking firmness. Textural qualities fall to the wayside. Even at peak sharpness, there’s a dull quality allowing only light detail. Still, an improvement from previous efforts.

Audio

Brought into the modern sound era by way of 1957, the thinness audible at the topmost end is ordinary for the time. There’s no mastering fault, and if anything, digital tools expand the range a bit. A little meat on the low-end generates a tiny thrust.

Dialog safely mingles amid the score or action, all balanced precisely.

Extras

On the first disc (containing the two widescreen versions), historians Constantine Nasr and Steve Haberman bring their expertise to a commentary. The second disc offers up a 1.37:1 open matte edition followed by four new featurettes, totaling near one hour, focused on Hammer’s legacy and the film itself. Each is excellent.

The Curse of Frankenstein
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
4

Movie

Ushering in the Hammer horror era, The Curse of Frankenstein is stellar on its own even when removed from its important legacy.

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