Valerie Gaunt as Justine in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) prepares to search Victor Frankenstein's (Peter Cushing) laboratory, and come face to face with Christopher Lee's Creature.

Valerie Gaunt as Justine in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) prepares to search Victor Frankenstein’s (Peter Cushing) laboratory, but what she finds is Christopher Lee’s murderous Creature.

When I wrote this column in 2015, Valerie Gaunt was still with us.  She recently passed away, on November 27, 2016 at the age of 84.

R.I.P. Valerie Gaunt.

This column is dedicated to her memory.

—Michael 11/30/16


In The Shadows:  VALERIE GAUNT

 By Michael Arruda

Welcome back to IN THE SHADOWS, that column where we look at character actors in the movies, especially horror movies.  The subject of today’s column, Valerie Gaunt, compared to other actors we’ve visited in this column, did not amass a great number of screen credits.  In fact, she only has four screen credits, but two of them happen to be in two of the most memorable and influential horror movies of all time, Hammer’s THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) and HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).

If you’ve seen these movies, then you definitely will remember Valerie Gaunt, because she makes quite the impression in both movies.

In THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, she plays Justine, the servant in the Frankenstein household.  Now, in the Mary Shelley novel, the character of Justine is rather innocent, which makes her horrific fate all the more tragic.  The Creature murders Victor’s younger brother William, and then he frames Justine for the crime.  As a result, Justine is wrongly hanged for the murder.

In THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Justine’s not so innocent, but she still meets a tragic end.  Justine in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is having an affair with Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing), even while Victor is engaged to his cousin Elizabeth (Hazel Court).

Valerie Gaunt is exceedingly sexy as Justine, and you can easily see why Victor Frankenstein is so interested in her.  And in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Gaunt gets to appear in two of the more memorable scenes in the movie.

The first is when she tells Victor she’s pregnant with his child, to which he coldly responds, “Why choose me as the father?  Pick any man in the village.  Chances are it will be the right one.”

Justine begs Victor to marry her, because he promised her that he would, and when he refuses, she threatens him, telling him that she’ll go to the authorities and tell them what he’s been doing in his laboratory.  Victor tells her that she’ll need proof, to which she replies, “I’ll get proof!”

Poor Justine.  You should have left that house while you had the chance.

Which brings us to the second memorable Justine scene in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, when she decides to search Victor’s laboratory for evidence to bring to the police.  It’s one of the more suspenseful and scary scenes in the film.

We see Victor leave the lab, and then Justine sneaks inside, poking around the lab as James Bernard’s thrilling music plays in the background, and as she looks at some mice in a cage, Terence Fisher’s camera pans behind her where we see the shadow of the Creature’s hand reaching upwards.  As Justine turns and sees the Creature (Christopher Lee), she screams and runs for the door, but Victor is there, and he locks her in, to be murdered by his insane creation.

It’s a terribly frightening sequence.

There’s a still where we see Justine standing in front of the door with the Creature walking towards her, but this shot doesn’t exist in the final print, as the scene is shot from the point-of-view of the Creature as he closes in on Justine.

Gaunt returned in the next Hammer hit, HORROR OF DRACULA where she played the Vampire Woman who lives in Dracula’s castle, and she’s just as memorable here as she was in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.

Who can forget her first appearance as she silently approaches Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) inside Castle Dracula, wearing that long flowing white gown?  When she asks Harker for help, for him to rescue her from Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) what man would be able to resist?  (Okay, Peter Cushing as Van Helsing might have resisted, but really, who else???)

And Gaunt is involved in two of the more violent scenes from HORROR OF DRACULA as well.  The first is when she tries to bite Harker, and suddenly Christopher Lee’s Dracula explodes onto the scene, hissing, with his bloodshot eyes and bloody fangs.  It’s the first of many shots of Lee snarling as Dracula and it’s pretty much the first time in horror movie history that a vampire was portrayed this way, this violently.  Supposedly, for those who saw HORROR OF DRACULA at the movies back in 1958, this was the scene that got the ball rolling, that let them know that what they were seeing was different from the horror moves which came before it.  In short, it scared the heck out of them!

The second scene finds Valerie Gaunt’s vampire woman lying in her coffin, when Jonathan Harker makes the fatal mistake of driving a stake through her heart first rather than Dracula’s, giving Dracula time to make his escape.  Some have written that Harker staked the vampire woman first because she had attacked him, and for Harker, staking her first was personal.  I suppose that could be true.  Personally, I think the opposite was true, that Harker felt bad for her since she had asked him for help, and he let his emotions get the better of him and decided to free her first before destroying Dracula.  Either way, it was a bad decision.

In the shot afterwards where we see that the vampire woman has aged after Harker has driven a stake through her heart, that’s not Gaunt in make-up, but an entirely different actress, an elderly woman who famously fell asleep while lying in the coffin in between takes.

And here’s an interesting tidbit of a possible “in-joke” that I’ve noticed on my multiple viewings of HORROR OF DRACULA.  In the scene where Harker finds Dracula and the Vampire Woman in their coffins, if you pay attention, you’ll notice James Bernard’s music playing a theme from THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, as if to say, here’s Christopher Lee and Valerie Gaunt together again.  You just saw them last year as the Creature and Justine.

Bernard does this again a short time later when Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing finds Jonathan Harker in the same crypt, another possible in-joke since Cushing also played Victor Frankenstein.

Valerie Gaunt appeared in just two Hammer Films, but these two appearances were enough to make a lasting impression.  Here are her two Hammer Film credits:

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) – Justine –  has an affair with Peter Cushing’s Victor Frankenstein, and then makes the ill-fated decision to search his lab in search of evidence to force him to marry her.  The only evidence she finds is Christopher Lee’s homicidal Creature.

HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) – Vampire Woman – begs Jonathan Harker to rescue her from Dracula’s castle but rewards him with a bite on the neck.  She’s eventually attacked by Dracula (Christopher Lee) and then gets a stake in the heart from Jonathan Harker.

Valerie Gaunt –   July 9, 1932 – November 27, 2016.


Hope you enjoyed this edition of IN THE SHADOWS, and I’ll see you again next time when we look at another character actor from the horror movies.

Thanks for reading everybody!


Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to Also available at

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.


 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to Also available at

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to Also available at  



Hazel Court as Elizabeth in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957, as the Creature (Christopher Lee) peers down at her through the skylight.

Hazel Court as Elizabeth in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957).  That’s Christopher Lee’s Creature peering down at her through the skylight.


By Michael Arruda


Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, the column where we look at leading ladies in horror movies, especially from years gone by.


Today we look at the career of Hazel Court, the beautiful actress who graced many of the horror period pieces of the 1950s and 1960s.  She played Elizabeth opposite Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), and her performance as Elizabeth in this movie just might be my favorite Elizabeth performance in a Frankenstein movie, with perhaps the possible exception of Madeline Kahn’s over-the-top performance in Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974).


Hazel Court enjoyed a long career, appearing in movies and TV shows beginning in 1944 and continuing all the way up to 1981.  She has 71 screen credits.  While I know her most from her horror movie appearances, she also appeared in a bunch of TV shows in the 1960s, appearing on such shows as TWILIGHT ZONE (1964), THE WILD WILD WEST (1966), MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (1967), MANNIX (1967), and MCMILLAN & WIFE (1972).


I will forever remember her for her appearance as Elizabeth in the Hammer classic THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  What I enjoy about her most in this movie is the class she brings to the role.  Peter Cushing is an absolute devil as Victor Frankenstein, and Court’s Elizabeth is so beautiful, charming, and genuine, it makes what Victor does to her all the more painful, as he lies to her continually and cheats on her as well.


Her character seemed so genuinely interested in Victor’s work, I often wonder what her reaction would have been had Victor made good on his promise to tell her the truth about his work and show her his creation.  Would she have been horrified?  Or would she have been supportive?  Judging from her character in this movie, I’d guess it would be the latter, that she, unlike Victor’s former tutor-turned-assistant Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) would not have been offended but would have offered her help to her husband to make his dream of creating life come true.  But alas, this doesn’t happen, as Elizabeth is nearly murdered by the Creature (Christopher Lee), and thanks to Paul’s betrayal, Victor is sent to the guillotine.


My favorite Hazel Court scene as Elizabeth in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is when she boldly decides to search Victor’s laboratory on her own, to learn for herself just what it is that has caused such a rift between Victor and Paul.  She picks up a candle—the same one that Victor would use moments later to engulf his Creature in flames— and searches the area, and when she comes to the acid vat where Victor had been disposing his body parts, she brings her hand to her nose just as the Creature looks down upon her from the rooftop skylight. She looks up and cries out, “Who’s that?”  But the Creature is no longer there.


Here is a partial look at Hazel Court’s career, concentrating mostly on her horror film appearances:


CHAMPAGNE CHARLIE (1944) – Hazel Court’s first screen appearance, an uncredited bit in this comedy musical.


GHOST SHIP (1952) – ghosts on the high seas!


DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS (1954) – Hazel Court’s not the Devil Girl, but she is terribly sexy in this campy science fiction tale about a woman alien from Mars dressed in leather who’s come to Earth to dominate men.  Court plays a fashion model named Ellen Prestwick, and she definitely looks the part.  She’s never looked sexier!


THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) – plays Elizabeth to Peter Cushing’s Victor Frankenstein in Hammer Films’ first horror hit.  That’s Court’s real life daughter Sally Walsh playing the character of Elizabeth as a child.  My favorite Hazel Court performance.


THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH (1959) – Janine Du Bois- reunited with THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN director Terence Fisher, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, and star Christopher Lee in this thriller from Hammer Films.


BONANZA (1960) – Lady Beatrice Dunsford – guest spot on the popular TV western in the episode named “The Last Trophy.”


DOCTOR BLOOD’S COFFIN (1961) – Nurse Linda Parker- low budget horror movie written by director Nathan Juran, who directed such classics as 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957) and THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958), both films featuring special effects by Ray Harryhausen.


ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS (1958-1961) – appeared in four different episodes of this popular television show.


THRILLER (1961) – Leonie Vicek- appeared in the episode “The Terror in Teakwood” in this horror show hosted by Boris Karloff.


PREMATURE BURIAL (1962) – Emily Gault – stars opposite Ray Milland in this handsome horror movie directed by Roger Corman based on the Edgar Allan Poe story.


THE RAVEN (1963) – Lenore Craven – gets to star with Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Jack Nicholson in this horror comedy by Roger Corman, loosely based on the Edgar Allan Poe poem.


TWILIGHT ZONE (1964) – Charlotte Scott – stars in the episode called “The Fear” in this iconic science fiction series.


THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964) – Juliana – in danger from Vincent Price’s evil Prince Prospero in this horror movie by Roger Corman based on the Edgar Allan Poe story.


THE WILD WILD WEST (1965) – Elizabeth Carter – appears in the episode “The Night of the Returning Dead” directed by Richard Donner, in this western TV series starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin.


MISSION:  IMPOSSIBLE (1967) – Catherine Hagar – appeared in the episode “Charity” of this spy television series starring Peter Graves.


MCMILLAN & WIFE (1972) – Frances Mayerling – appeared in the episode “The Face of Murder” in this mystery TV series starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James.



Hazel Court passed away from a heart attack on April 15, 2008 at the age of 82.


Hazel Court.  February 10, 1926 – April 15, 2008.


Thanks for reading!