“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, the dreams of genius that are fated to end in tragic nightmare form in the gothic murky atmosphere of Frankenstein’s secret laboratories. Amid much hubbling and bubbling we view the miracle of ‘life’ when the scientist (Peter Cushing) achieves his aim of harnessing 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 what was to be her ground-breaking science -fiction Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, the idea of electricity as being the source of life was an exciting novel concept, with the Italian Galvani having discovered that ‘electromagetic’ forces caused convulsions in the muscles of the animals he worked on, giving the appearance of the dead come back to life.
Galvani had a nephew, Giovani Aldini, who followed in the family ‘business’. He was famed for demonstrating his own scientific knowledge on the body of George Foster; a man who’d been condemned to hang after he’d drowned his wife and daughter in the Paddington canal. When Aldini then successfully electrified the corpse, all observers claimed to see the way its jaws begin 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 horror film, The Curse of Frankenstein, this gruesome theme is mirrored when Baron Frankenstein arranges to visit the local charnal house, from where he takes away the body of a man who has been hanged ~ the perfect human specimen for him to base his work on, being recently deceased, and with a body uncorrupted by illness or other harm, excluding damage to the neck!
A friend and fellow scientist is horrified to know what Baron Frankenstein is planning. Indeed, a great deal of the film is taken up with their discussions on the moral right of undertaking such experiments which, even with the best intentions, lead only to a ghastly outcome, both for the maker ~ and the made.
The creature made during this film (as played by Christopher Lee) is not as hideous as in later cinema adaptations. It works for me, and is perhaps a closer image of the monster Mary Shelley had in mind. Perhaps the film’s major success is in the way it shows the piteous complexity within the ‘monster’s’ stiff and lurching body, while underneath its deep confusion and raging physicality we see the glimpse of human torment. Meanwhile, the real monster, the callous Baron Frankenstein, is driven to insanity by blind obsession and ambition; ending up the heretic whose aims of playing 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