Horror Bites - Brain Damage

Time for a quick Hammer feature, with a look at The Curse of Frankenstein as well as its later remake slash parody, The Evil of Frankenstein. The former is the first of the studio's foray into taking on the Universal monsters as well as their d├ębut colour film. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee would quickly become genre icons of course so it's good to take a look back to where it all started.

Victor, Baron by blood and Doctor by study, is certainly not a sympathetic character here. Less so than his original incarnation in the source novel. He feels very little when it comes to furthering his pet projects, or when it comes to the housekeeper he is having an affair with. Despite a quick introduction where the young scientist meets with his tutor and they're shown growing older together, this friendship is secondary to his desire for knowledge and career advancement. Cushing does a good job of being callous and charming in equal measures where the plot demands it, and overall it's an entertaining if uninspiring take on the story. The sets are bursting with colour as the lab equipment generates power and pumps sinister red liquids through glass instruments, but generally the atmosphere is negligible and doesn't have the kind of dramatic lighting you might expect.

Lee as the creature is interesting enough, if again unimpressive. His make-up leaves a lot to be desired and looks overly waxy, but the cuts and scars provide some texture and one dead eye provides a creepy look. His performance is intentionally stiff and mannequin like which lends the creation an air of sadness, but most of the time he just grabs and strangles people. Terence Fisher's direction adds a few memorable touches such as the reveal of the creation where a bandaged figure reveals his face and there's a sudden under-cranked zoom effect towards him. The old style Hammer Glamour is decent in terms of scenery and costume but it's nothing special and both stars would go on to feature in better productions. It's said that Lee got the role over a matter of minor wages against the other casting option, how different things could have been if they'd been more generous.

Now if the added sex and violence in their first version wasn't to some people's liking, then they'd certainly have a problem with The Horror of Frankenstein. (It makes for a fun double feature with it's release partner Scars of Dracula.) The Baron this time around is younger and even more calculating that before, with Ralph Bates taking the lead. It's a far sillier take on the story as young Victor kills his father instead of just inheriting his title, and proceeds to sleep with everyone possible instead of just his housekeeper. The affair plot and some of the other elements remain from their first rendition, but with alterations along the way. His friend is now a fellow University student who has the same reservations about what is going on. The fresh brain damaged by broken glass still causes the problem with the creature, rather than it being misunderstood. It's still just a monster. However this time around it gets coerced into committing more than one sinister deed, with Bates sneering at those in his way and rolling his eyes when the creature runs amok.

The tone is what makes this entertaining when everything works, and the script is often very pithy and dry. Rather than seeking out the 'finest' parts for his experiment like Cushing's version, here Frankenstein hires a grave digging couple to get him the 'freshest' bodies. They get several amusing scenes, and there are plenty of other side characters along the way. Instead of resurrecting a puppy, he now steals a pet tortoise from Elizabeth's father during a social visit. However he has no interest in marrying her this time. The whole thing is ridiculous, but at times it's better for it. The creature (Dave Prowse) is now all muscle and just has an enlarged cranium rather than any real post-mortem disfigurement. The effect is... not even a little eerie. But there's some good lighting and the sets are still a lot of fun, it's just a shame the make-up wasn't given any attention. The dark comedy is central, and there are some good moments including Victor numbering the brain he needs on an anatomy chart, and later visualising it on a character's face. It doesn't take itself seriously and neither should anyone else.

(Part Two)