Phil Leakey’s make-up for Hammer's ground-breaking THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. The last-minute design was a collage of mortician’s wax, rubber, and cotton wool.
WITH their lurid, uncompromising tone, and relentlessly amoral protagonists, Hammer’s legacy as the most successful horror film production company of all time is testament to the quality of the personnel involved. Released onto a market dominated by science fiction creature features, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was Hammer’s breakthrough picture; directors such as William Castle and Roger Corman in the United States, and Riccardo Freda and Mario Bava in Italy, were soon following Hammer’s grand guignol lead. Helmed by Terence Fisher, the film is a flamboyantly visceral retelling of Mary Shelley's classic, casting Peter Cushing as Baron Von Frankenstein, and Christopher Lee as his reanimated creation.
THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN established Fisher’s ability to lend credible characterisation to formula-bound material. The John Ford of English Gothic cinema, Fisher's work presents a fascinating moral dilemma: the seductive appeal of evil, versus the frequently close-minded representatives of good. The consistency of theme in Fisher's work, coupled with a distinctive style achieved through precise framing and dynamic editing, refutes the idea that he was merely a hack for hire. In the best of his work, there is an element of spirituality that remains unique in a genre supposedly larger-than-life; Fisher’s characters die less often from violence, than from their adherence to a belief. His five Frankenstein films for Hammer can be taken as a single work, a path that follows the metamorphosis of physician into metaphysician into quack, as the Baron’s elemental preoccupations blind him to the importance of human life and, finally, his own mental health. In the last entry of the cycle, FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL, a final judgement on the Baron seems that the asylum setting of the film is the best place for him.