Archive for the Peter Cushing Films Category

In the Spooklight: THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)

Posted in 1950s Horror, 2010, Christopher Lee films, Classic Films, Evil Doctors!, Frankenstein Movies, Hammer Films, Horror, In the Spooklight, Michael Arruda Reviews, Peter Cushing Films, Reanimated Corpses with tags , , , , , , on December 26, 2012 by knifefighter

This is a reprint of my 100th IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, which originally appeared in the HWA Newsletter in December 2010.  It’s on THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, one of my all-time favorites, and one of a handful of movies that influenced me at a young age and got me into this horror business in the first place.  Hope you enjoy it.  And don’t forget, my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT collection – 115 reviews in all— is now available as an EBook at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Thanks for reading.

—Michael Arruda

 IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

By

Michael Arruda

The_Curse_of_Frankenstein_poster

Welcome to the 100th IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column.  Woo hoo!  It’s been a fun ride.  Thanks for coming along.

In honor of the occasion, let’s look at THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), Hammer Films’ first horror hit.

To make their Frankenstein movie different from the Universal 1931 original starring Boris Karloff, Hammer Films decided to concentrate more on the doctor rather than on the monster.  Enter Peter Cushing as Baron Victor Frankenstein.

Hammer Films’ signing of Peter Cushing to play Victor Frankenstein in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was a major coup for the tiny studio which made low-budget movies.  In the 1950s, Peter Cushing had become the most popular actor on British television.  To British audiences, he was a household name.

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was Cushing’s first shot at being the lead actor in a theatrical movie, and he doesn’t disappoint.  In fact, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN belongs to Peter Cushing.  He dominates this movie and carries it on his shoulders.  He’s in nearly every scene.

Cushing succeeded in creating a character who was the perfect shade of gray, a villain who was also a hero.  He’s so convincing in this dual persona that we want to see Victor Frankenstein succeed in his quest to create life, even though he murders a few people along the way.

Peter Cushing went on to become an international superstar.  He delivered countless fine performances over the years until his death from cancer in 1994.  Yet, his performance as Victor Frankenstein in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is arguably his best.

Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein

Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein

Like the 1931 version of FRANKENSTEIN before it, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, while based on the book by Mary Shelley, is not overly faithful to the novel and takes lots of liberties with the story.

Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) enlists the aid of his former tutor Paul (Robert Urquhart) to conduct his experiments, to “create the most complex thing known to man- man himself!”  Victor wants his creation to be “born with a lifetime of knowledge” and so he invites the brilliant Professor Bernstein (Paul Hardtmuth) to his house for dinner.  After dinner, Victor promptly murders him.  Later, when Paul confronts Victor and says he’s going to stop him from using the brain, Victor replies with one of the better lines from the movie, “Why?  He has no further use for it.”

Lightning strikes and starts the lab equipment, while Victor is out of the laboratory, and the Creature (Christopher Lee, also in his starring role debut) is brought to life without Victor present, saving him from an “It’s alive!” moment.

Victor opens the door to the laboratory and finds the Creature standing in the doorway alive.  In the film’s most memorable scene, the Creature rips off the mask of bandages covering his face, and the camera tracks into a violent grotesque close-up of the Creature’s hideous face.  It’s a most horrific make-up job by Phil Leakey, and it’s unique to Frankenstein movies, since in all six of the Hammer Frankenstein sequels to follow, this Creature, so chillingly portrayed by Christopher Lee, never appears again.

Christopher Lee as Frankenstein's Creature

Christopher Lee as Frankenstein’s Creature

Lee’s Creature is a murderous beast, and he quickly escapes from the laboratory.  Victor and Paul chase him into the woods, where Paul shoots him in the head, killing him.  Or so he thinks.  Victor promptly digs up the body and brings it back to life again.

Victor performs multiple brain surgeries to improve the Creature, but eventually things get out of hand, as Paul goes to the police just as the Creature escapes again.  The film has a dark conclusion which I won’t give away here.

Over the years, Christopher Lee has been criticized for his portrayal of the Creature in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  Sure, Lee’s Creature is not the Karloff monster.   However, the Creature, who appears fleetingly here and there, has an almost Michael Myers quality in this movie, a killer who creeps in the shadows, here one moment, gone the next.

Lee is scary in the role.  His Creature is an insane unpredictable being.  As the Creature, Lee doesn’t speak a word, and he hardly makes a sound, using pantomime skills to bring the character to life.  His performance has always reminded me of a silent film performance, a la Lon Chaney Sr.  Lee captures the almost childlike persona of a new creation born into the world for the first time, albeit a child that’s a homicidal maniac.

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN has a great music score by James Bernard.  It’s haunting, ghastly, and memorable.

Director Terence Fisher, arguably Hammer’s best director, is at the helm here.  As he did in all his best movies, Fisher created some truly memorable scenes in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  The Creature’s first appearance is classic, one of the most memorable scenes of its kind.  The scene when Victor murders Professor Bernstein features a great stunt where Victor pushes the Professor off a second floor balcony to his death, and we actually see the stunt double hit the floor head first with a neck breaking thud.  It’s a jarring scene.  And this is 1957.

There are lots of other neat touches as well.  When Victor’s fiancée Elizabeth (Hazel Court) peers into the acid vat in which Victor has been disposing unwanted bodies and body parts, she covers her nose- a great little touch.

Jimmy Sangster’s screenplay is one of his best.  Probably the best written scene is the one where Victor tries to convince Paul how well he has trained his Creature by having the Creature stand, walk, and sit down.  Paul is unimpressed, saying “Is this your perfect physical being, this animal?  Why don’t you ask it a question of advanced physics?  It’s got a brain with a lifetime of knowledge behind it, it should find it simple!”  It’s also a great scene for Christopher Lee, as it’s one of the few times he invokes sympathy for the Creature.

But THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN sinks or swims with Peter Cushing.  Rarely has an actor delivered such a powerful performance in a horror movie.  Cushing is flawless here.  He draws you into Frankenstein’s madness and convinces you he’s right.

If I could give you one gift this holiday season, it would be to watch THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  Rediscover it today, more than 50 years after it was made.  It’s time this movie received its due as one of the best ever, which isn’t news to those who saw it in 1957. After all, it was the biggest money maker in Britain that year.

One of its original lobby cards reads “THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN will haunt you forever.”

It will.

—END—

© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda

In the Spooklight: THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1971)

Posted in 2011, 70s Horror, Amicus Movies, Anthology Films, Christopher Lee films, In the Spooklight, Michael Arruda Reviews, Peter Cushing Films, Vampires with tags , , , , , , on October 28, 2011 by knifefighter

This IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee anthology movie THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD is from 2004, and it was actually reprinted in October 2010 in the HWA NEWSLETTER, so this marks the third time this particular column has made it into print. Not sure why I chose this one today, except that I figured now was as good a time as any to finally review a Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee movie for CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.

—Michael Arruda, October, 2011

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT
THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1971)
By Michael Arruda

There’s a lot to like about THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1971), the third anthology movie by England’s Amicus Productions.

Amicus is England’s lesser known horror film company, having operated in the shadow of the more famous Hammer Films. Amicus made horror movies during the same years as Hammer, and even used some of the same stars, such as Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, but never quite made it as a phenomenon.

Yet, Amicus churned out quality horror movies in abundance throughout the 1960s and 70s, and THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD is no exception.

There are four tales in THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, plus a linking story, all of them written by the great Robert Bloch, which is one of the main reasons why the film is as enjoyable as it is. It goes without saying, it’s a well-written movie! The stories all take place in the titled house, each chronicling a different owner’s experience within its walls.

The first story, “Method for Murder,” is a neat little tale in which a horror writer (Denholm Elliott) creates a sinister murderer in his latest novel, a strangler by the name of Dominick. The writer is excited about his latest work, until the strangler he created shows up outside his window! A very creepy tale that works surprisingly well.

The second tale “Waxworks” starring Peter Cushing is probably the weakest of the movie and involves strange goings-on inside a wax museum. Director Peter Duffell said the story was basically a “contrivance to get Peter Cushing’s head on a plate” which is one of the more famous images from the film, and later immortalized on a cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine.

The third story stars Christopher Lee and is called “Sweets to the Sweet.” It’s about Lee’s strange relationship with his young daughter. He’s terribly frightened of her, and as we find out in the story, with good reason.

The last tale, “The Cloak,” is the story of a horror movie actor (John Pertwee) who buys a cloak for his role as a vampire. When he puts on the cloak, he becomes a real vampire. He has the best line in the film when he’s talking about classic horror movies, he says “That’s what’s wrong with your present-day horror films, no realism! Not like the old ones—the great ones! Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera, Dracula—the one with Bela Lugosi, of course, not that new fella!” This tale also stars Ingrid Pitt who also gets to wear the cloak and strut her stuff as a vampire. Mostly played for laughs, “The Cloak” is the most fun tale of the movie.

First-time director Peter Duffell does a very good job, imbuing the film with both atmosphere and genuine shocks, though he wanted to call the film DEATH AND THE MAIDEN, because he felt THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD was too trashy. Personally, I kinda like THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD.

But the main reason the film succeeds so well is the same reason why so many of the Hammer/Amicus films work, and that is, the people involved take them very seriously. Actors like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing play it straight, so when Lee fears his young daughter, as silly as it seems, you see the look on his face and you believe it too.

THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD is a good Halloween movie, spooky, well-made, well-acted, well-written, and fun.

This Halloween, why not stop by for a visit? I hear they’re looking for new tenants.

—END—

© Copyright 2004 by Michael Arruda