User login

Curse of Frankenstein, The

Review by: 
Black Gloves
Release Date: 
Lions Gate UK
Dual Format BD/DVD
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Terrence Fisher
Peter Cushing
Christopher Lee
Hazel Court
Robert Urquhart
Bottom Line: 

The game-changing classic of British horror cinema that is “The Curse of Frankenstein” came about just as the ‘50s science fiction boom, that Hammer had so successfully negotiated ever since their popular adaptation of Nigel Kneale’s “The Quatermass Xperiment” in 1954, was starting to dampen -- a fact which also coincided with the termination of the company’s overseas deal with American producer and distributor Robert Lippert. Now the studio turned to a Variety Club friend of head of Hammer James Carreras for help: Eliot Hyman, later head of Warner Brothers, was at the time CEO at Associated Artists Pictures and was well placed to provide the British company with the up-front money it needed in order to be able to function, as well as the promise of distribution for its product in America. Hyman had gotten hold of a script by Milton Subotsky, who had been looking for a break and hit upon the idea of re-making Frankenstein in full colour. Along with his partner, Max J. Rosenberg, Subotsky pitched the idea to Hyman and his partner David Stillman at their New York office, which, unimpressed with Subotsky and Rosenberg’s lack of experience, passed it on to Hammer House in London.

It’s ironic that the whole course of British horror was determined indirectly by Hammer’s two great rivals, whose Amicus Productions would soon be competing with the Bray outfit for its box office; but, although James Carreras liked his idea of re-making Mary Shelley’s classic in blooming full colour, Subotsky’s script was deemed to be not fully up to scratch by one key Hammer production member: so unenthused with the idea initially was producer Anthony Hinds that he allegedly proposed knocking the film off in three weeks as just another black and white ‘programmer’. He became more interested in the project once he began to view it as a challenge in evading litigation from Universal Studios, who had made it abundantly clear that anyone ‘remaking’ Frankenstein would face the prospect of legal action should any part of their script or monster make-up infringe on the studio’s copyright. Hinds abandoned the Subotsky script and passed the project on to a young writer called Jimmy Sangster. The results of their collaboration were to completely re-invent the horror genre, freeing it from its deference to the original Universal version of what horror was supposed to be, and returning it to its British origins in the Gothic tradition. This wasn’t to be just another remake but a revolution.

Looking back at the beginnings of the classic Hammer Horror formula, as it was sketched out on “The Curse of Frankenstein”, it seems so amazing that the great names, behind and in front of the camera, who came to be intimately associated with the distinctive Hammer Gothic brand, were all brought together on this one film at the same time and the whole of the charm of Hammer is encapsulated, full-blown and full-strength, in what was actually the first example of its kind, as if by some strange alchemy or mysterious synchronicity … Sangster’s involvement is the first vital link in that chain of fortune.

 James Henry Kimmel Sangster’s film career as a third assistant director at Ealing was cut short by two years of national service in the RAF in 1945. When he resumed his job with producer Mario Zampi in 1948, he found himself on the Exclusive Films payroll when Zampi was commissioned to produce a Dick Barton film for the company. He became best friends with another new boy at Exclusive, Michael Carreras (who had been doing his national service at the same time as Sangster) and soon joined the Hammer family. Sangster then progressed through the ranks at the company, trying his hand at just about every job imaginable (he was a production manager on “The Quatermass Xperiment”), but money problems eventually persuaded him to attempt writing for a living. His first proper writing job was for “X - The Unknown”, Hammer’s home-grown attempt to mimic the Nigel Kneale science fiction formula, and this led to his engagement as screenwriter for “The Curse of Frankenstein”. Sangster’s approach was very much guided by Hammer’s limited budget, but it also made the most of such limitations: streamlining the plot, making Frankenstein the compelling but sociopathic villain of the piece and avoiding cliché, such as torch-bearing peasants, simply because Hammer couldn’t afford them! The combination of Sangster’s mordant humour and Peter Cushing’s refined intensity produced a spellbinding characterisation of the lead character which manages to carry the film through its first fifty minutes before there’s really any hint of Christopher Lee’s ‘Creature’ at all, as the film instead accumulates a series of grotesque details that signify the Baron’s obsessive attempts to defy the conventions of his social standing by creating life from scratch in a dungeon laboratory which later doubles as his woebegone creature’s straw-lined prison cell, acquiring gruesome body parts that start to mount up as though purposefully desecrating the tasteful, period drawing room stateliness of inherited privilege that’s signalled throughout the rest of his Dickensian flavoured, blissful ivy-fronted domicile.  

The man chosen to orchestrate this lushly rendered charnel house of perversity was of course Terrence Fisher. Fisher came late to the film business, only starting out on an industry training scheme at Lime Grove Studios in Shepherds Bush (under Michael Balcon) when well into his late-twenties. He was already twenty-eight by the time he got to work on his first feature (as ‘the oldest clapper boy in the business’), and continued working his way slowly thereafter from third assistant director up to editor for a lengthy stretch of his career. He was already forty-three by the time he was accepted onto a director’s training programme, which was then being operated by the Rank organisation at Highbury studios -- an age when most directors were already well into their prime! Nevertheless, he quickly made a strong impression and was employed soon after at Gainsborough by head of production Sidney Box, to direct his first feature.

Michael Balcon’s Gainsborough Pictures provides the explanation for how the team behind “The Curse of Frankenstein” was able to click into gear with such apparent ease so quickly: another key person who learned their craft while at Gainsborough was Hammer’s director of photography Jack Asher, who started working at the studios on menial jobs before eventually joining the crew of cameraman Roy Kallino on the lowest rung, where he was able to study the technique of a number of contract DPs as he progressed up the ladder until, in 1948, he’d become the resident camera operator at the company’s Shepherd’s Bush studio. By 1948, Asher was taking his first solo credit as director of photography on what was also Fisher’s first film as director. He would also go on to meet and work with Hammer’s future camera operator Len Harris, its resident set designer Bernard Robinson and editor James Needs (all of whom worked together on “The Curse of Frankenstein”) while at Gainsborough, and would gain entry into the Hammer fold via associate producer (and former Gainsborough production manager) Anthony Nelson-Keys. Gainsborough Studios then, effectively acted as both training ground and meeting place for all the key personnel in the Hammer team responsible for its ground-breaking new colour Gothic formula.

While Fisher juggled deceptively sedate drawing room scenes of tasteful, Gainsborough-style period splendour with dynamic camera moves -- such as the famous two-stage tracking shot that introduces Christopher Lee’s creature, gliding through the laboratory doorway to reveal his towering, gaunt and heavily bandaged frame tottering like a marionette towards camera then staging a torrid, high speed zoom-in to a close-up of the creature’s face as Lee spasmodically swipes away the face-wrapping that’s been obscuring make-up artist Phil Leakey’s Picasso-meets-Hieronymous Bosch hell-vision of the creature’s mangled and mutilated countenance – Asher provided the film its most noticeable innovation: the experimental use of the new Eastman Colour photography process, which combined dramatic low- key lighting effects with intense bursts of colour, in marked contrast to the usual flat lighting arrangement required of the three-strip Technicolor process previously in use.

Asher considered “The Curse of Frankenstein” a try-out for his unorthodox lighting ideas; ideas he would later refine with “Dracula” (and even more so with the ravishing “Brides of Dracula”), but the tentative use of his small, coloured spot lighting and gel effects makes an effective introduction to the DP’s famous ‘moving oil painting’ aesthetic, with the sudden appearance of dabs of opulence visually marking out all the more effectively the dichotomy being set  up in Sangster’s screenplay and by Fisher’s astute direction (which uses dabs of intense red colour symbolically throughout) that exists between Frankenstein’s two lives – his respectable public persona and the dark, dungeon-dwelling sociopath intent on breaking all his peers’ most cherished taboos, seemingly for no other reason than that he can. Though Fisher and Asher were able to utilise their talents to maximum effect on this picture, they were provided with the opportunity (and some strikingly sumptuous sets to shoot and light) by production designer and art director Bernard Robinson, who replaced Ted Marshall (who instead became his assistant, along with Don Mingaye) and magically transformed the cramped converted soundstages, newly constructed on the grounds of the rambling old house that was to become famous as Hammer’s Thames-side Bray Studios complex, which was also where most of the other interiors and exteriors were filmed, into Frankenstein’s laboratory -- with its crackling electric dynamo wheel (constructed as a working prop by electrician Jack Curtis); bubbling retorts and jars full of brightly coloured liquids; and an artificial, womb-like tank full of pale-green ‘amniotic’ fluids, where the creature is first ‘birthed’ by a stray bolt of lightning.

Another essential ingredient, established here and later to become a definitive marker of Hammer horror excellence, is James Bernard’s striking score. While the film begins in sedate Gainsborough fashion and steadily builds up the charnel house details which were to scandalise critics, the music of James Bernard similarly delivers tasteful drawing-room backing flecked with doom-laden notes of disquiet at the outset, until it builds to some truly nerve-shredding instances of the composer’s experimental, discordant, edgy, querulously quivering strings, which ratchet up the tension to an almost unbearable fever pitch of mania in the final scenes leading to the rooftop confrontation between Frankenstein and the Creature.

Despite these artistic triumphs, one of the most important challenges that remained for Hammer’s unique vision, which was still vital for the ultimate success of the movie, was that of creating a convincing make-up for Christopher Lee’s Creature without reference to anything Jack Pierce had designed for Boris Karloff’s monster: a motivation born out of fear of legal action being taken by Universal -- something Hammer and their American backers were always paranoid about. Phil Leakey began his make-up career at Hammer (or Exclusive, as it was in those days) working on the Terrence Fisher proto-horror film “Stolen Face”, and was responsible for Richard Wordsworth’s unsettling mutation make-up in “The Quatermass Xperiment”. Nevertheless, Leakey initially tried out a number of trial make-ups on Lee as colour tests for Jack Asher, while Anthony Hinds monitored his efforts for signs of square foreheads and bolts through necks. Many of the designs which were tried sound, from their brief descriptions, like make-up ideas which later turned up in other Hammer Frankenstein sequels. The rushed tests and the cramped conditions Leakey was forced to conduct them in meant that Hammer still hadn’t decided on a final make-up even on the last day of preparation. Leakey was never happy with the final results -- concocted more or less on the spot -- and felt they looked ‘a bit of a mess’. The rushed, last-minute nature of the design process meant that he never acquired the advantage of having pre-prepared plastic prosthetic pieces which he could use to get the same effect every day, but instead had to build the whole thing up laboriously from scratch on Lee’s face each morning using mortician’s wax, latex rubber and bits of string for ‘scarring’, in a two-and-a-half hour application process which could be pretty gruelling for Christopher Lee, who suffered numerous hardship’s during the making of the film, even being partially blinded at one point when the Kensington Gore which was slapped onto his face during the gunshot scene worked its way under his contact lenses and into his right eye. Keen eyed viewers can see clearly where the make-up on Lee’s neck is coming lose in these scenes, but his injury made it impossible to go for another take on Hammer’s tight schedule.  

Despite all this, Lee’s performance remains one of the most graceful highlights in what is undoubtedly a distinguished acting career, and Leakey’s gruesome make-up, though he himself disparaged it, is an essential component in the character of that mimetic performance. Lee’s creature is a deranged killer, stitched haphazardly together from the bird-pecked body of a hanged criminal, with the mismatched hands of a sculptor and the bashed-up brain of a kindly, Germanic professor earlier murdered by Frankenstein. His first instinct is to kill his creator because the disorganised brain of Professor Bernstein recognises the man who pushed him from a balcony staircase in his home, despite the damaged nature of that organ after it has been unceremoniously wacked against a wall, splintered with bits of shattered glass beaker during a struggle in the crypt between the Baron and his disgusted tutor Paul Krempe and belatedly finds its new home in the shambling body of a cadaver snatched from a roadside gibbet. But later scenes, in which Lee’s creature, having first been brought to life more through an act of God than by design -- a bolt of lightning strikes the electric motors of Frankenstein’s laboratory equipment while the Baron is actually out of the room, remonstrating with his assistant after an earlier failed attempt at revival -- reveal it to be a stricken, abused wretch that is actually killed by Krempe at one point, then brought back to life yet again, to be even more the victim of Frankenstein’s megalomaniacal hubris. Subsequent sequences in which the Creature, now with unsettling partially shaved head and an even more battered and bloodied and mutilated face, is chained up and can barely even sit down on command, are played by Lee as though the creature is a stunned animal, staggering and stumbling its way to the slaughterhouse; while Leakey’s make-up simultaneously conveys the impression of a tortured concentration camp victim. The resulting mixture of unsavoury impressions must surely account for the intensity of the critical reaction to the film, which looked like a sumptuous period drama for the first twenty minutes, and was obviously too well-made to be ignored, but which could also include what was thought of at the time as some truly radically grotesque material, served up with apparent relish.

What made the spectacle even harder to accommodate was the combination of subtle intensity and delicious gallows humour harboured by the performance of Peter Cushing as the Baron Frankenstein. The forty-three year-old Cushing was by this stage a successful and much-garlanded TV actor, most well-known to British audiences for his performance as Winston Smith in a 1955 BBC adaptation of George Orwell’s “1984”. He’d also appeared in several films (two of them with Christopher Lee, though they never had scenes together) but was not working at the time when he read in the trade papers that Hammer were preparing a colour version of “Frankenstein”, and, being a fan of the James Whale original, telephoned his agent to ask him to offer his services to the company. There had been talk of casting an American ‘name’ actor in the role to satisfy Eliot Hyman in New York, but the measly lead actor’s salary of £1250 put paid to that. In fact, Carreras was overjoyed to have finally attained Cushing’s services after having pursed him unsuccessfully for other projects for some time. One of the great horror partnerships, between Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, was thus born on this very first outing.

Although Lee’s Creature provides the film with its boldest brush strokes of Grand Guignol macabre, it is Cushing who is always at the centre of the piece and imbues the Hammer vision of the Frankenstein character with his immaculately-turned-out but ruthlessly insane dark heart. The actor is thrillingly watchable, a mesmerizingly perfect embodiment of Sangster’s modern promethean vision, with the Baron as the embodiment of all the overreaching sins of atomic age science, given a nuanced ‘pass the marmalade’ slice of soft-spoken British period charm by Cushing, which unwittingly cemented in place the association between refined gentlemanly Englishness and well-enounced villainy forever more, especially in the eyes of Hollywood casting agents. The script is packed with instances which allow Cushing to emphasise the apparent contradiction between the respectable, well-dressed dandy experimenter who is presented as the Baron’s public face to the world, and his Byronic, sociopathic inner-self, with his inherent antipathy to seemingly all moral conventions; the simple act of absently smearing blood on his velvet pea-green frock coat, as he enthusiastically removes the head of the week-old corpse of the hanged man chosen to provide a body for his patchwork creature, is demonstration enough of Frankenstein’s  gleeful abandonment of all boring societal norms of decency; science for him is not about progressing the sum of human knowledge or saving lives, but the narcissistic pursuit of a crazed ideology that’s obsessed with creating the ‘perfect’ human by unnatural means.

Cushing plays the Baron as part Nazi experimenter, part careless vivisectionist, but with such compelling blue-eyed charm that we can’t help but be entranced by him (the lengthy section of the movie in which he cheerfully travels around the charnel houses of central Europe, acquiring body parts which are carried back home in his dainty doctor’s valise to be displayed to his increasingly disquieted former tutor-turned assistant, are played by the actor with a becomingly charismatic conviction), especially when he’s placed in the context of the support cast of mundane dullards that Sangster otherwise peoples the screenplay with: his handsomely boring tutor Paul Krempe (actor Robert Urquhart followed his character’s  course in the movie by later bad-mouthing the film in the press for its ‘bestiality’ and even walked out of the premier in disgust. He never worked for Hammer again after that, until an appearance in the 1980s anthology series “Hammer House of Horror”, by which time James Carreras was dead) stays rooted to the spot in terms of both his complacent middle-class moral assumptions and his appearance, refusing to age while Frankenstein grows from the luxuriously coiffed fifteen-year-old pupil who first engages him to teach him anatomy when his mother’s death frees him from following the more conventional course of a boy’s moral development (the part is played by the twenty-two-year-old Melvyn Hayes, later of sitcom “It ‘Aint Half Hot Mum’) into Krempe’s intellectual superior, driven by a determined amoral rakishness. Unusually for film characterisations of Frankenstein, Sangster gives the Baron a sexual life, although it’s a rigorously narcissistic one that’s defined by his exploitation of his housemaid Justine (Played by cult Hammer starlet Valerie Gaunt) and his trophy bride cousin Elizabeth, played by Hazel Court, who is easily able to supply the goods needed to fill her costumes’ plunging necklines, but is not given much else to do other than to fulfil her function as the Baron’s sop to Victorian society’s expectations of him by looking presentable in a drawing-room setting and at social functions.

The beauty and virtue (If one can use that word in this context) of Sangster’s screenplay lies in its narrative simplicity combined with its success in melding all the traditional Gothic tropes of English literature with the best fairy tale archetypes, evoking the ghosts of ‘Beautify and the Beast’ or ‘Bluebeard’, especially when first Valerie Gaunt, then Hazel Court are required to venture beyond the domestic safe zone of Frankenstein’s home into its dank, stone-walled underbelly, where the Baron keeps all the dark secrets of his subconscious, somewhat  like Mr Rochester keeps his mad first wife hidden in the upper floors of Thornfield House in “Jane Eyre”.

Here he plots to ‘birth’ his own crudely constructed son, and looks upon it with mixed elation and revulsion; but he also callously allows this unnatural creation to do away with the servant he’s made pregnant, and who’s threatening to expose secret she can barely guess the nature of unless he marries her, appearing to derive some degree of erotic satisfaction from doing so. The sequence in question is made all the nastier by the threat of some sort of forced sexual union between Justine and the creature – which is by now being kept chained up in a straw-lined den and fed a foul-looking gruel. And what are we to make of Frankenstein’s repeated ‘threats’ -- uttered to Krempe in order to keep him in line -- that his fiancé Elizabeth might one day also be required to help him with his scientific discoveries? The suggestion here of a Dr Moreau-like project to mate his creation with a woman, was no less repulsive to 1950s audiences that it had been to those of 1932 when Paramount released “Island of Lost Souls”. The climactic rooftop confrontation, in which the creature catches fire and plunges through the glass night-light into the laboratory from which he was born, to dissolve into nothingness in a vat of acid originally procured to hide the evidence of Frankenstein’s grave robbing, also evokes an episode from Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” when the first Mrs Rochester meets a similar fate (minus the acid), but the suggestion of sadism and sex that’s flowing as an undercurrent beneath the starched collars of Jimmy Sangster’s screenplay for “The Curse of Frankenstein” ensured that such references to legitimate classics were not enough to stem the tide of disapproval and outrage caused by Hammer’s first foray into the colour Gothic horror marketplace.

However, for an initial outlay of £65,000 the film made twenty-times what it cost to make in profits, and so a new boom in horror was born: for the next few golden years, Hammer was to become the unequalled master of this new horror heyday; and this, their first ever stab at it, which arrived so gloriously fully-formed, continues to hold up today in almost every department. The Hammer formula -- the classic British Gainsborough costume drama, subverted by Fisher’s opening up of a rich gory vein of fairy tale morality and Sangster’s cynical redressing of Gothic tropes in a Freudian-derived garb (and all delivered by some of Britain’s finest performers), was a formula which would dominate the genre for the next decade. The imagery may no longer be as shocking, but Lee’s pitiable creature and Cushing’s nonchalant Baron remain central figures in an iconic reinterpretation of a mainstay of British literature as well as the central plank in Universal’s classic horror series of the 1930s. It was true that Boris Karloff and Jack Pierce would always be the joint custodians of the ultimate template for Frankenstein’s monster, but Cushing and Hammer had reinvented horror for a crueller, more colourful age and nothing was ever to be the same again. “The Curse of Frankenstein” remains one of the great classics, not just of horror cinema, but of British cinema; and for a good many years to come, Hammer Horror was to define British cinema in general, and this is where it all began.

In the weeks leading up to this release, controversy has surrounded this emergence of “The Curse of Frankenstein” in the high definition Blu-ray format. The film is presented here in the “Academy” ratio of 1.37:1 as its default option, and is advertised as appearing in this form ‘for the first time’ in the home viewing format, although it seems unlikely that it was often viewed that way theatrically. Hammer films from around this period simply had no definitive aspect ratio. They were shot open matt -- theoretically with enough headroom to allow them to be matted for theatrical display in a number of widescreen formats, although the results of such widescreen conversions frequently end in the loss of significant information and usually the tops of heads being chopped off. Such was the case with the 2001 Warner Brothers DVD release, which matted the film at an extremely tight 1.85:1. A more sensible matting option, which might be expected to avoid such problems, would appear to be the 1.66:1 aspect ratio, and the film has indeed been included in this ratio on both the HD and DVD discs which come as part of this three-disc package from Lions Gate UK as an alternative presentation. However, the matt often seems to have been applied without very much sympathy with regard to what’s on the screen at any one time resulting in the tops of heads again going missing, the most egregious example being the creature’s encounter with the blind man in the woods, when Lee’s head almost completely disappears off of the upper edge of the screen. To be fair, it often seems the case that while the majority of the picture has clearly been shot with extra dead space at the top of the screen to accommodate the matting process, there are other moments when that seems to be forgotten about, and the woodland sequence is probably one of them. It would be quite difficult to create a perfect matt containing all the information one wishes to see in this scene. Nevertheless, it still looks like a better job should have been done with regard to the creation of the 1.66:1 matt, at least in a few key scenes.

An even more contentious issue is the quality of the HD transfer itself. The Warner Brothers DVD seemed to employ heavy use of Digital Noise Reduction techniques and sometimes seemed to possess a slightly unnaturally enhanced and brightened tinge which had been applied during its colour grading. This HD transfer, overseen by Deluxe, seems to recapture a more authentic-looking colour scheme, consistent with Jack Asher’s original wishes and, especially in the laboratory scenes, his contrasts in lighting and its use with intense colour combinations comes across very satisfactorily. Yet the transfer does seem very soft, in places much more so that the Warner Bros. DVD of ten years ago! There has been much debate, comment and discussion of this transfer and about the matting issues elsewhere online, and I won’t rehearse all the various positions and speculations about it here; it’s clear though that this doesn’t come across and hasn’t been received as a particularly spectacular example of the HD format, and that the boosted contrast sometimes seems to have bleached out the detail in some sequences especially early on, although in the main this isn’t a persistent problem. It is true though that there is, at best, only a marginal difference noticeable between the Blu-ray version and the DVD versions of the film that’s also included in the set; at the moment it seems the original negative couldn’t be rendered any more successfully in HD than we’re seeing here, and this is the tentative conclusion until such time as other Blu-ray releases of the film start to emerge for comparison.

We’re on much happier ground when it comes to consideration of the extras included for this release though, which start with an excellent audio commentary by Hammer historian Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby, author of “English Gothic” and “Studies in Terror”, both of which are essential and comprehensive studies of the horror genre. These two knowledgeable experts discuss every piece of relevant information about the making of this film and its reception in a relaxed and highly enjoyable way that strikes the perfect balance between being informative and informal and without becoming either too academic or too trivial. This is a perfect example of how an audio commentary for a classic film should be conducted.

“Frankenstein Reborn: The Making of a Hammer Classic” is a half-hour documentary about the making of the film, directed by Marcus Hearn and including many of the Hammer experts and historians who have written about the studio over the years. This runs through all the main points in a concise and easily digestible manner and is the perfect complement to the commentary. Melvyn Hayes also appears and talks about his brrief involvement in the film playing junior Frankenstein, and about his socially embarrassing encounters with Christopher Lee over the decades since!

“Life with Sir”, though billed as a new and exclusive Peter Cushing documentary, is actually a twelve minute interview-featurette with Cushing’s secretary, who in his later years also became his care giver: Joyce Broughton. She provides a highly moving mini-portrait of life with the Cushings, and of the actor’s sad decline after the death of his beloved wife. The film includes lots of location footage of Cushing’s favourite tea room haunts in Whitstable.

“Four Sided Triangle” is an early black & white Terrence Fisher directed film, made for Exclusive Films with a hint of science fiction and covering similar themes to Frankenstein related to cloning. It’s included here in standard definition.

“Tales of Frankenstein” is another interesting curiosity. It was the result of Hammer’s deal with Columbia Pictures, which included the Frankenstein sequel “The Revenge of Frankenstein” and which saw Hammer getting to make a TV series for Columbia’s subsidiary company Screen Gems. This was to have been an anthology series composed of a mix of half hour Frankenstein tales joined with unrelated horror stories, half filmed at Bray and half filmed in the US. Only one episode was ever made as a pilot, but all of the script ideas by Jimmy Sangster and Hammer’s other writers, as well as Michael Carreras’ suggestions, were cast aside in favour of a hastily thrown-together brain transplant story: a Curt Soidmak-directed effort starring Anton Diffring as the Baron and a terrible Karloff clone of a monster played by Don Megowan. The result is a stiff, unconvincing 27 minute short that doesn’t feel anything like Hammer, despite the studio name being attached to it. It’s an interesting historical curiosity though, and it’s fantastic to have it included here, if only in a videotape quality version. Needless to say the rest of the series never got made and after watching this, you’ll see why that was a good thing. It does the Hammer brand no favours to be associated with it at all!

The episode of Roy Skeggs’ “World of Hammer” series that features clips from all the Frankenstein films narrated by Oliver Reed is also included here, along with a still gallery featuring posters, lobby cards, production stills, cast portraits and behind-the-scenes snaps.

The Blu-ray disc contains all the above material, while the two DVD discs included with it in a triple-play package feature the film in both aspect ratios along with the commentary on disc one (like the Blu-ray, the commentary can be accessed in either aspect ratio) and all of the above extras on the second disc. In addition, disc two of the DVD set also includes a PDF booklet “The Creator’s Spark: Hammer’s Frankenstein Begins” with text by Hammer archivist Robert J. E. Simpson. It features analysis of “Stolen Face”, “Four Sided Triangle”, “The Curse of Frankenstein” and the abortive “Tales of the Frankenstein” pilot.

This is obviously an important release for the Hammer fan. It is unfortunately flawed, in that we might have hoped for a much sharper HD transfer and a better 1.66:1 matting, but this is still essential thanks to some excellent extras and rarities that are included with the package.

Read more from Black Gloves at his blog, Nothing But the Night!

Your rating: None