As mentioned in the extras and as horror-film fans may be aware, the dominance of the Universal Monsters on the silver screen came to an end in the 1950s. The final entries in the long-running franchise were a Creature from the Black Lagoon trilogy and a couple of team-ups with Abbott Costello. Replacing them were a new wave of monsters that arrived from space or derived from atomic energy. The UK company Hammer Film Productions picked up the mantle that same decade, first with the science fiction horror film, The Quatermass Xperiment, then launching their Gothic horror franchise, starting with The Curse of Frankenstein, loosely based on Mary Shelley’s novel.
Set more than 100 years ago in a Swiss mountain village, a jailed Baron Victor von Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) tells his story to a priest. Orphaned as a young boy, Victor became sole heir to the Frankenstein fortune. After a few years, he and his tutor, scientist Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart), conduct an experiment that brings a small dog back to life. Paul thinks they should stop. However, Victor wants more, so he retrieves the body of a man that has been hanged and gets to work.
The film is a slow burn as director Terence Fisher doesn’t rush matters. The Monster (Christopher Lee) doesn’t become animated until 50 minutes in. It attacks Victor upon seeing him, though since it doesn’t speak, the audience can only infer why. Not only does Victor play god with this life, but he does so also with a visiting professor whose brain he admires and that of the maid he is having an affair with behind the back of his fiancee Elizabeth.
Although the scares are mild by modern standards, the story is an interesting study of Victor and the cost of his god-like hubris. Cushing inhabits the character well while there’s little for Lee to do other than appear menacing at his height and in make-up artist Phil Leakey’s work. The script has a good twist at the end when it reveals the reason he is imprisoned.
The press release states “the new presentation is derived from a recombination of separation masters scanned at 4K 16 bit by MPI, before undergoing full restoration and color correction.”
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) Restoration Comparison
On Disc One, the video is presented in aspect ratios of 1.85:1 and 1.66:1. Disc Two offers the 1.37:1 “Open-Matte” version, which was how the film was available on TV and previous home video releases. The video delivers rich earth tones. Reds, such as the mysterious liquid in the lab, are vibrant. Blacks are inky, contributing to a strong contrast. Texture details on walls and furnishings can be seen and film grain is apparent. During the opening jail scene, the edges aren’t sharp and the focus is be soft. As it flashes back, the picture looks sharper. The image looks subpar during the many dissolves until they are completed.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono. The dialogue is consistently clear. James Bernard’s evocative score and the effects create an ambiance that augments the film. All three elements are balanced in the mix.
The special features allow viewers to delve deeper into the history of the film and its creators. An audio commentary by film historians Steve Haberman & Constantine Nasr is accessible with both aspect ratios on Disc One. The remainder are on Disc Two, all in HD.
- The Resurrection Men: Hammer, Frankenstein and the Rebirth of the Horror Film (22 min) – Publisher Richard Klemensen discusses how Hammer Films filled the horror void at the cinema in the mid-’50s when sci-fi monsters ruled the screens and the making of The Curse.
- Hideous Progeny: The Curse of Frankenstein and the English Gothic Tradition (23 min) – Author Sir Christopher Frayling discusses Gothic fiction and the film.
- Torrents of Light: The Art of Jack Asher (15 min) – Cinematographer David J. Miller talks about Asher’s work here and on other Hammer Films
- Diabolus in Musica: James Bernard and the Sound of Hammer Horror (17 min) – Composer Christopher Drake talks about Bernard’s work.
- Theatrical Trailer
The Curse of Frankenstein is a landmark in horror and this new high-definition release showcases the visuals. Fans should enjoy digging into the special features.
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