Tag Archives: Hammer

My Thoughts on: Horror of Dracula (1958)

As it was Peter Cushing who drew me into Hammer horror films in the first place, I suppose it was only a matter of time until I got to Horror of Dracula (also released as “Dracula” but I’m going by the title on my copy), the first of Hammer’s Dracula films and the first to feature Christopher Lee as the notorious vampire.

Considering I grew up knowing Christopher Lee primarily for his role as Saruman in The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit and as Count Dooku in Star Wars, discovering Lee’s horror roles has been eye-opening to say the very least. Oh, to be sure I knew that Christopher Lee had a lengthy history in horror, but it’s one thing to read about it and quite another to watch it on the screen. And one thing I’d heard for several years now is that his portrayal of Count Dracula was must-see.

And is it ever! While I was astonished to learn that Lee is on screen as Dracula in this movie for less than ten minutes, you’d never know it from the way he dominates the screen. I got a cold chill when he appeared for the first time as this looming figure at the top of the stairs. I love how Lee’s Dracula just oozes charm during his introduction. This is how I’ve always imagined Dracula to be: just this overwhelmingly charismatic figure that anyone would find irresistible if you didn’t know he was actually a centuries-old vampire. Also, I love the cape that Lee wears throughout the film, this is definitely what a vampire’s cape should look like.

Now, Lee’s appearance in the film aside, the story of this film did bother me just a little. Unfortunately for this film, I’m quite familiar with Bram Stoker’s original novel and my brain couldn’t help but point out differences between book and film throughout the story. This despite the fact that I know a Dracula movie isn’t beholden to copy Stoker’s novel to the letter. It’s just..this story is in some respects so close to the book and yet so different. I mean, we still have Mina and Lucy, and Dr. Van Helsing of course, but that’s where the similarities pretty much end and I don’t know why but the differences bothered me just a little.

Speaking of Van Helsing, I think I like Peter Cushing in this role just as much as I like him playing Baron Frankenstein. He projects such an air of authority that you have no trouble believing that this is an expert vampire hunter who will stop at nothing to see all vampires eradicated from the face of the earth. In fact, he plays the part so well that I found it legitimately frustrating when certain characters found ways to circumvent his instructions (I felt a similar way while watching The Brides of Dracula).

As for the horror elements in this movie, I was sufficiently scared throughout the movie. Believe it or not there’s at least one jump scare in this movie that had me almost jumping out of my skin. Most of the scares have to do with Christopher Lee and that gorgeous score that accompanies the film. Even before Lee makes his appearances as Dracula, you just know he’s coming from the music alone, which makes the moment he appears so much more terrifying.

There’s so much more I could say about Horror of Dracula but it all essentially boils down to the same thing: this is a great entry in the list of Hammer horror films and one I greatly enjoyed watching. The only way it could’ve improved was with more screen time from Christopher Lee’s Dracula, but I take comfort knowing that Lee returns as the titular vampire in Dracula: Prince of Darkness (a film I hope to review later this year).

Let me know what you think about Horror of Dracula in the comments below and have a great day!

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My Thoughts on: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Ever since I saw Frankenstein Created Woman and The Evil of Frankenstein last year, I was obsessed with getting to the very beginning of Hammer’s Frankenstein saga by hunting down The Curse of Frankenstein. Well, the recent holidays finally gave me the chance to acquire this film and I finally got the chance to see Peter Cushing’s introduction to the story of Frankenstein.

I’ve had quite a bit of time to turn this story over in my brain and I’ve reached some interesting conclusions about it. While the original 1931 Frankenstein is unquestionably superior, there are some good things to be found in Hammer’s interpretation of the story. Most notably, the best thing about The Curse of Frankenstein is Peter Cushing as the titular character. I’ve liked every iteration of Cushing as Baron Frankenstein so far, but this version, obviously the youngest (20 years before Star Wars for context) might just be my favorite. It’s here in The Curse of Frankenstein that we see how Frankenstein’s obsession with creating life got started.

And what’s really interesting about Frankenstein’s obsession is how it grows by degrees. He doesn’t start out immediately wanting to create life in a new body, it all starts as an innocent interest in science and higher learning. When he finds a brilliant tutor to teach him, the pair spend years delving deep into science and medicine until finally they’ve seemingly unlocked the secret of life and death, a huge medical discovery, but it’s at this point that Frankenstein’s devious mind begins to make itself known. Rather than share this discovery with the world, Frankenstein wants to keep it to himself and use it to breach the ultimate boundary: making a body and giving it life, effectively playing God. In this film as in the 1931 Universal film, this is presented as the greatest offense one could possibly commit against nature. It’s made abundantly clear that what Frankenstein is doing is completely immoral, the only one who can’t see that is Frankenstein himself.

It’s rather frightening how Cushing plays Frankenstein. As the story progresses and Frankenstein is pushed again and again to give up his experiments, his obsession with creating a body and proving that he’s right (never mind the question of whether he should to begin with) grows until it dominates every facet of his life. And the most unnerving part is that Frankenstein seemingly can’t see how he’s coming across to those around him. He’s robbing graves, picking up body parts from seedy charnel houses, he spends hours in his laboratory covered in blood putting a body together and he has no idea of how insane this makes him look. In fact, he’s driven so far that he, at one point, commits cold-blooded murder without so much as flinching in the brutal aftermath. A chilling performance indeed.

In fact, the story is so particularly insane that I have a theory. You see, the story of The Curse of Frankenstein is bookended by Frankenstein being in jail about to be executed for a crime he alleges he didn’t commit. The bulk of the film is a long flashback where he explains his side of the story. At the end of his recollection, his former tutor and alleged partner in the bulk of the experiment comes to visit him and Frankenstein begs him to tell the authorities that it’s all true. The tutor coldly denies everything, condemning Frankenstein to the guillotine with his omission and it seems that the tutor has gained the ultimate vengeance by keeping silent and leaving Frankenstein to his fate. However…it’s occurred to me that there’s another solution.

See….back when I was in grad school I learned about this thing in storytelling called unreliable narrators. Now, 99% of the time, when a story is being narrated to us, be it in a book, TV or film, you trust that you, the reader/viewer, are being told the absolute truth. But sometimes, and Game of Thrones (the books, not the show) is a noteworthy example, you get a story where you can NOT trust that the narrator is telling you the truth. And as I watched the closing minutes of The Curse of Frankenstein play out, it occurred to me that Baron Frankenstein might just be an unreliable narrator. Think about it, suppose this entire story of creating a monster is just the ravings of a man gone incurably insane? It’s frighteningly plausible and it really makes you rethink the story as it’s been told to you.

I also really enjoyed Hazel Court’s performance as Elizabeth. I instantly recognized her from her role in The Masque of the Red Death and was delighted to discover that she was in this film opposite Cushing for a decent chunk of the story. Interestingly, those beautiful dresses she wears throughout the film are vintage pieces from the Victorian era. Part of me wants to find it hard to believe that Elizabeth could stay ignorant for as long as she did about what Frankenstein was doing, but then I remember that Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein is such a charmer that it would be quite easy to be distracted from what’s going on.

Finally, I’m still not sure how I feel about Christopher Lee as Frankenstein’s monster. It doesn’t help that I’ve seen all of the Karloff Frankenstein films first and I’m pretty sure that’s colored my reception of Lee in the role. Oh, he certainly does the best he can with the role, it just…it just doesn’t compare to Karloff’s Monster.

If you haven’t seen any of Hammer’s Frankenstein films, I highly recommend starting with The Curse of Frankenstein. I enjoyed it thoroughly and I’m looking forward to watching more Hammer films in the future.

Let me know what you think about The Curse of Frankenstein in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

My Thoughts on: The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

My Thoughts on: Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

Film Reviews

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