“We hold in the palms of our hands such secrets as have never been dreamed of.”
Well, I saw it last night, and I’m still here to tell the tale of my viewing of The Curse of Frankenstein … the first in many others which I’m planning to be watching over the come the month.
In this film adaptation we view the miracle of ‘life’ when the genius scientist Frankenstein (played by Peter Cushing) harnesses the force of electricity to successfully reanimate the body of a dog.
Back in the later 1700s, not all that long before Mary Shelley wrote her ground-breaking science-fiction novel called Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, the idea that electricity could be the source of life was an exciting concept. The Italian scientist, Galvani, had also been able to prove that ‘electromagetic’ forces caused convulsions in the muscles of dead animals he worked on.
Galvani had a nephew, Giovani Aldini, who followed in the family ‘business’. He was famed for experimenting on the body of George Foster; a man condemned to hang after he’d drowned his wife and daughter in the Paddington canal. When Aldini then successfully electrified the hanged man’s corpse, all observers claimed to see the way its jaws began to quiver, with the muscles of the face contorting in a ghoulish mask. One of the eyes suddenly opened. A hand was raised and fingers clenched as if to threaten its tormentor. Both of its feet began to shuffle back and forwards on the table…
A true life horror show.
In the far from true-life film, The Curse of Frankenstein, this gruesome theme is mirrored when Baron Frankenstein visits the local charnel house, from which he takes the body of a man who has been hanged. This is the perfect human specimen, being recently deceased, and also with a body uncorrupted by disease.
A friend and fellow scientist is horrified to know what Frankenstein is planning. Indeed, a great deal of the film is taken up with their discussions on the moral right of such experiments which, even with the best intentions, lead to a ghastly outcome, both for the maker ~ and the made.
The monster created during this film (as played by Christopher Lee) is not as hideous to see as in later adaptations. But he is probably a closer representation of what Mary Shelley had in mind, showing the complexity of rage and human torment in the mind within the stiff and lurching body. Meanwhile, the real monster, the callous Baron Frankenstein, is driven to insanity by obsession and ambition. He ends up a heretic whose hopes of acting like a God lead to his own descent to hell.
The curse of Frankenstein
Hammer Horror. 1957. Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring Peter Cushing, Robert Urquhart, Hazel Court, Christopher Lee