If, like me, you haven’t watched the early Hammer horror films (bar the Quatermass movies) for a long time, then get hold of this new version of The Curse of Frankenstein and allow it to revitalise your interest in the Bray Studios’ output.
Presented in what is believed to be the originally-intended Academy (i.e. old style TV screen) ratio, this starts as a period drama that gradually becomes more and more horrific (helped by the inclusion of one of the great “lost” shots – the eyeball that precedes that Peter Cushing/magnifying glass moment) and becomes a full-blown melodrama with the unveiling of Christopher Lee’s creature.
Robert Urquhart and Cushing make marvellous foils for each other, and there are great performances from the rest of the supporting cast for the most part. James Barnard’s score underpins the mounting terror, with Terence Fisher getting the most out of Jimmy Sangster’s script. Doctor Who fans will note just how much this film has been mined for material over the years, not just in its obvious homage, The Brain of Morbius.
Watch it twice, the second time with Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby’s informed commentary, which has the relaxed atmosphere of two experts trading knowledge. Little errors are picked up rather than removed from the discussion; canards by other historians laid to rest.
The other features – on the second DVD – are a mixed bag. Hearn directs the new documentary about the making of the film that allows Melvyn Hayes to witter on a little too much (his story about Christopher Lee is toe-curling), but full marks for including a discussion of the chords in the score (rather than just the general “oh he used x, y, or z” for an effect without analysis which blights too many such features). Life With Sir is a sometimes heart-breaking look at Peter Cushing’s life off-camera, particularly poignant when discussing his talk of suicide and missing his wife.
The other three items are interesting curios: Four Sided Triangle is an early Hammer sci-fi film which predates The Quatermass Xperiment; directed by Terence Fisher, it deals with some similar themes to Frankenstein. Tales of Frankenstein is a TV pilot dating from 1958, and sees Anton Diffring as the Baron in what feels like an attempt to show just how good the feature film is by doing everything wrong on television! The World of Hammer episode is always good entertainment. There’s also a stills show, and a booklet in pdf on the second DVD.
Verdict: This bodes well for the future presentation of the Hammer archive. Recommended. 8/10