Tag Archives: Hammer Horror

RetView #49 – The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Title: The Curse of Frankenstein

Year of Release: 1957

Director: Terence Fisher

Length: 83 mins

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Hazel Court, Robert Urqhuart, Valerie Gaunt

Like Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), The Curse of Frankenstein was another Hammer Films production and, along with Dracula (1958) and The Mummy (1959), is now seen as a cornerstone of the British institution’s considerable repertoire. The premise is obviously based on Mary Shelley’s classic 1818 tale Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus. It was the first of the Frankenstein series, the very first Hammer movie to be made in colour, and has retrospectively been dubbed the first “Really gory horror film” by Professor Patricia MacCormac. It has also been credited with revitalizing a stagnating genre. All things considered, it makes perfect RetView fodder.

The story is told in flashback form when, in 19th Century Switzerland, Baron Victor Frankenstein (Cushing) is on trial for murder and confesses his story to a visiting priest. The film then cuts to a newly-orphend 15-year old Victor who hires a private tutor, Dr. Paul Krempe (Urqhuart), to teach him science. Together, the pair start a sequence of experiments geared toward bringing dead animals back to life. The experiments are successful, but when his cousin Elizabeth (Court) moves in and Frankenstein suggests making a ‘perfect’ human being from scavenged body parts, Krempe opts out. However, he is brought back into the fold when the monster (Lee, who was awarded the role primarily due to his 6’5” frame and his modest £8-a day fee), now equipped with a damaged (ie defective) brain, escapes into the nearby woods and kills a blind man. What a blind man is doing in the woods by himself is anyone’s guess, but anyway…

Realizing it is out of control, Krempke shoots the monster and the men bury it in the woods. However, as soon as Krempke departs, Frankenstein digs it up again and reanimates it. The rotten bastard. Back at the house, his maid Justine, with whom he has been having an affair, reveals she is pregnant and threatens to expose his grisly experiments unless he marries her. This doesn’t sit too well with the rampaging Victor, and he quickly has the monster dispatch her which is what lands him in jail. The visiting priest doesn’t believe his story. Krempke and Elizabeth, who are now happily shacked up together, refuse to corroborate it, presumably in an attempt to stop the same thing happening again, and ***SPOILER ALERT*** Victor is led away to the guillotine.

The film was an immediate smash hit for Hammer, it’s comparatively low budget contributing heavily to its financial success as there were comparatively fewer costs to offset. Screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, who adapted Mary Shelley’s book for the screen, was so anxious to keep costs down he didn’t write in scenes of villagers storming the castle as seen in other Frankenstein films, “Because we couldn’t afford it.” The ploy worked. The movie was produced on a budget of just £65,000, and some sources estimate the film recouped at least 70 times that figure. For many years, it held the distinction of being the most profitable movie to be produced in England by a British studio and has always been much-loved by the public, which is reflected in various contemporary reviews and its Rotten Tomatoes rating which currently sits at a respectable 77% from 3,815 ratings. However, it was given a luke-warm reception upon it’s original release, a review in the New York Times dismissing it as a “Routine horror film,” and the Tribune of London calling it, “Depressing and degrading.”

Okay, then.

A quick word on the fate of Hammer Productions; the company effectively ceased production in the mid-1980’s. But that wasn’t the end of the story. In May 2007 the company name, along with its entire library of some 295 movies, was bought by a consortium headed by Dutch media tycoon John de Mol which vowed to, “Take it back into production and develop its global potential.” True to it’s manifesto, the company financed a return to the fold in the form of contemporary horror Beyond the Rave (2008). That isn’t a typo, by the way. It really is a horror movie about a rave. That was followed by a steady stream of offerings including Wake Wood (2011) and, more recently, The Lodge (2019), which proved a surprise hit. In September 2019, hammer signed a worldwide distribution deal with StudioCanal for its catalogue, so after some uncertain times, the future is looking bright.

Trivia Corner:

Although Hammer’s two great stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee had appeared in several pictures before, including Hamlet (1948) and Moulin Rouge (1952), their long-lasting friendship was cemented on the set of Curse of Frankenstein when Lee stormed into Cushing’s dressing room saying, “I’ve got no lines!” To which Cushing allegedly responded, “You’re lucky, have you read the script?”


RetView #27 – The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

Title: The Hound of the Baskervilles

Year of Release: 1959

Director: Terence Fisher

Length: 87 mins

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Andre Morell, John Le Mesurier, Francis de Wolff

The-Hound-of-the-Baskervilles-1959-poster-1

Sit down and buckle up for the second Hammer Horror film in my RetView series, following the trailblazing Witchfinder General. There have been numerous other adaptations of the Hound of the Baskervilles. But even over half a century later, none are as critically acclaimed as this version of the classic gothic horror. Why? Because few cinematic partnerships make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up in quite the same way was Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee do. The quintessential British duo starred together in dozens of films, and became as synonymous with each other as tea and biscuits. Director Terence Fisher (who also directed Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein,The Mummy, and The Two Faces of Dr. Jeckyll, among ,any others) also deserves credit for his efforts. Add to the mix the fact that this was the first Hound of the Baskervilles adaptation ever to be filmed in colour, and you have a perfect storm of superlative talent, excellent source material, and groundbreaking technological advances which may go some way to explaining this particular film’s cultural impact and enduring popularity.

Given that The Hound of the Baskervilles is one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s best-loved Sherlock Holmes novels first published in serial form in the Strand magazine in 1901-02, the plot itself should require little introduction or explanation. But for those unfamiliar with it, it concerns a Dr Mortimer (de Wolff) who asks Sherlock (Cushing) and his intrepid sidekick Watson (Morell) to investigate the death of his friend Sir Charles Baskerville, who he believes was killed by a huge, bloodthirsty dog prevalent in a family course. Furthermore, he believes the new owner of Baskerville hall, Sir Henry (Lee), is next in line. These fears are confounded when he loses his shoe and a tarantula attacks him. Really. And Dr Watson is assigned to ‘look after’ Sir Henry until Sherlock is good and ready to hook up with them. My favourite character in the whole film is the butler, Barrymore (Le Mesurier, from Dad’s Army). Unfortunately he isn’t there when Watson falls into some quicksand near Baskerville Hall, as you do, but luckily a man named Stapleton and his daughter Cecile are there to save the venerable doctor.

That night, Watson sees a strange light on the moors and goes to investigate with Sir Henry, but after seeing a mysterious figure and hearing the mournful howl of a hound, their escapade is cut short when Sir Henry is taken ill. That mysterious figure is later revealed to be Sherlock himself, who arrived at Baskerville Hall ‘a few hours’ after Dr Watson. For some bizarre reason that is never explained, the enigmatic and eccentric detective then chose to sleep rough, rather than announce his presence. After Sherlock stops acting out, he solves the mystery pretty quickly. The ghostly, mythical Hound of the Baskervilles is a mutt with a mask (at least in the book he is painted with phosphorous paint so he glows in the dark) who is kept in an abandoned mine shaft by Stapleton and his daughter, who turn out to be illegitimate descendants of the original Sir Baskerville and stand to inherit a fortune if the rest of the Baskervilles die.

Motive enough for murder?

You bet.

The climax sees Watson shoot Stapleton, who is then attacked by his own mask-wearing dog. Watson shoots that, too, just for good measure, and Cecile falls into the quick sand (you’d think she’d know where it was by now) and dies a horrible death.

This version of The Hound of the Baskervilles is so well loved that it is one of a very select few to achieve a faultless 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The book is also considered one of Conan Doyle’s best. It was Sherlock Holmes’ first outing in eight years, since his apparent death in The Final Problem, though it is set two years before the events in that story. The inspiration for The Hound of the Baskervilles is believed to have come from the ferocious black dogs of English folklore. Stories concerning these mysterious, red-eyed creatures are widespread and the entity is known by numerous names, the most popular being Black shuck. Devil Dog (not to be confused with hell hounds) is a convenient group name, and they are usually considered to be harbingers of death.

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Trivia corner

The Baskerville Hall set is the same set that was used for Dracula (1958). The Hound of the Baskervilles also borrowed some music (composed by James Bernard) from the same film.


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