CHRISTOPHER LEE – AN APPRECIATION

0

CHRISTOPHER LEE – An Appreciation

Christopher Lee as Dracula in HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).

Christopher Lee as Dracula in HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).

By Michael Arruda

Christopher Lee has died.

Lee, the last of the iconic classic horror movie actors, passed away on Sunday June 7, 2015.  He was 93.

Lee belonged to a class of actors that simply doesn’t exist anymore:  the horror movie icon.  Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., Peter Cushing, Vincent Price, and Christopher Lee all made their living acting primarily in horror movies, and they endeared themselves to horror fans their entire careers.  You just don’t see that anymore.

Sadly, with Lee’s passing, these horror giants have all left us.

Lee enjoyed a long and prolific career.  He has an astounding 278 acting credits listed on IMDB, which is much more than Karloff’s 206, Price’s 197, Chaney’s 195, Cushing’s 132, and Lugosi’s 115.

In spite of his iconic horror star status, Lee did his best to distance himself from horror movies in the 1970s, as he starred as the villain Scaramanga in the James Bond movie THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974) and appeared in other non-genre films like Richard Lester’s THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973) and AIRPORT ’77 (1977).  Later in his career, at an age where most other actors slow down, Lee sped up, appearing in not one but two blockbuster series in the 2000s, starring as Count Dooku in the second STAR WARS trilogy, and as the villainous Saruman in Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, as a result creating a new generation of fans.

Lee’s horror movie career began with his performance as the Frankenstein monster, or as he was called in the film, the “Creature,” in the first Hammer blockbuster THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957).  This was the movie that put Hammer Films on the map and also served to revitalize the classic horror movie industry.  It was England’s biggest money maker of the year.

The film’s main star was Peter Cushing, who played Victor Frankenstein.  Cushing had spent the early part of the 1950s becoming a household name on British television.  Signing him to play Victor Frankenstein was a major coup on Hammer’s part.  As expected, Cushing dominates throughout THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and his masterful performance as Victor Frankenstein is one of the main reasons the film became an international success.

But another reason for the film’s success was the performance of an unknown actor named Christopher Lee who played the Creature.  It is largely believed and acknowledged by Lee that the only reason he got the part was because of his 6’5” height.

Early on, Lee was not recognized by critics for his performance as the Creature, which was viewed as inferior to Karloff’s iconic performance in the Universal Frankenstein movies of the 1930s.  But there’s much more to Lee’s performance than initially meets the eye.

It’s easy to look past Lee’s work in this film.  After all, the movie is largely dominated by Peter Cushing and his new villainous take on the role of Baron Victor Frankenstein.

Also, Lee had no dialogue as the Creature, and thirdly and most importantly, the Creature was not the main focus of THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  Unlike the Universal Frankenstein movies of the 1930s where the focus was on the monster, here in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN it was on Cushing’s doctor.

christopher lee - creature in woods- curse of frankenstein

Christopher Lee as the Creature in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957).

All this being said, Lee’s take on the Creature is actually very impressive.  With no lines of dialogue, he used his pantomime skills to a large extent in the role, especially in one of the film’s best scenes, where Cushing tries to show off his Creature’s intelligence, but the Creation looks more like a frightened obedient pet than a newly born genius.

Lee is terribly scary in the role.  Underneath Phil Leakey’s hideous make-up, Lee’s expressions are viciously frightening.  Lee also captures both sides of this Creature brilliantly.  While Lee’s Creature is less sympathetic than Karloff’s Monster, as Lee’s Creature is a psychotic murderer who kills without remorse for most of the movie, at times, as in the scene with the blind man, he acts like someone newly born and frightened.  Considering his minimal screen time, it really is an extraordinary performance.

There’s a funny story from the set of THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  Lee was upset that he didn’t have any lines of dialogue, until co-star Peter Cushing told him “You shouldn’t be.  You see, I’ve read the script!”  The two became lifelong friends and would go on to star in twenty-two movies together.

It would take one more movie for Lee to become a household name, and that film was HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).  Lee became an instant sensation as Dracula, the role for which he would become most famous, starring opposite Peter Cushing once again, as this time Cushing played Dr. Van Helsing.

HORROR OF DRACULA is widely considered to be Hammer’s best shocker.

horror-of-dracula-lee in coffin

Lee as Dracula reacting to the staking of his vampire bride in HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).

It’s another amazing performance by Lee.  Cushing again dominates this movie, but Lee matches his co-star’s intensity, which is even more remarkable when you consider that as Dracula he only has 13 lines of dialogue and is onscreen for something like 12 minutes.  Lee is so good as Dracula he remains in your head even when he’s not in the movie.

Though he resisted for many years, Lee finally agreed to play Dracula again in the Hammer sequel DRACULA – PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966).  He would appear as Dracula in seven Hammer Dracula films.  The third film in the series, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968) remains Hammer Film’s biggest moneymaker of all time.

My personal favorite Lee roles and movies are THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, HORROR OF DRACULA, DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, THE WICKER MAN (1973), THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974), CORRIDORS OF BLOOD (1958), and THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959).

Lee as Scaramanga in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974).

Lee as Scaramanga in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974).

I was fortunate enough to have met Christopher Lee once, at a horror movie convention in Baltimore in the late 1990s.  It was a wonderful convention, as not only did I meet Lee that weekend, but also Forrest Ackerman, Michael Ripper, Ingrid Pitt, and Veronica Carlson.

I bought Lee’s autobiography that weekend and stood in a long line to have it signed by him.  I looked forward with great anticipation at finally meeting him.  What happened when I eventually reached him was the worst case of being star struck that I ever suffered.

I had thought of all the things I wanted to say.

“Mr. Lee,” I wanted to say.  “I’m a great fan of yours.  I’ve seen all your movies and I want to write about your work one day.  The movies you made with Peter Cushing influenced my life.”

What did I really say?

Probably something like “Um— hello— er— um—.”  It was truly the most tongue-tied moment of my life.  However, I’m pretty sure I managed to say “thank you.”

But the better story came later.  Of all the celebrities there that weekend, Lee was the least accessible.  While other stars were around mingling, Lee never seemed to be separate from his entourage.  I never saw him outside his scheduled appearances, until—.

I had to use the rest room.  After washing my hands, I headed for the exit when the door burst open and several gentlemen the size of football linebackers rushed inside.  They scoped out the rest room, and deeming me not a threat, they called out “all clear!” and the next thing I knew two men, one on each arm, whisked Christopher Lee into the men’s room.

It was like a moment from a SEINFELD episode.  With my back to the wall, I watched as my movie hero Christopher Lee was led past me to the urinal.  Lee said something as he passed by, something to the effect of “I can take care of things from here,” and the men let go of him.

They may not have seen me as a threat, but they also didn’t want me sticking around, as their intense gazes communicated to me.  As I left the restroom, I found my uncle, his son, and my brother waiting for me. They had seen Lee enter the restroom.

My uncle laughed.

“What?”  I said.

“Now you can always say you peed with Christopher Lee,” he said.

That might be my claim to fame.

Of course the big news that weekend was that Lee announced he would be appearing in not one, but two major blockbuster productions.  He wasn’t at liberty to tell us the names of these movies, but the news still generated enormous cheers from the audience.  Of course, he was talking about the second STAR WARS trilogy and the LORD OF THE RINGS movies.

Lee as Count Dooku.

Lee as Count Dooku.

Christopher Lee has been an integral part of my entire life.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve been watching movies starring Christopher Lee.  In fact, he’s been part of my life even before I was born.  Huh?  See, my mother saw HORROR OF DRACULA at the movies upon its initial release in 1958 when she was a teenager, and so growing up, I heard all about that movie as being the scariest film she had ever seen.

I’ve seen so many movie images of Christopher Lee, I truly believe his likeness is forever etched in my subconscious.  I close my eyes and there is Lee.

The world has lost a major star with the passing of Christopher Lee.  For those of us who love horror, we have to wonder, will the world see his likeness again?  Will Karloff, Lugosi, Chaney, Price, Cushing and Lee ever be replaced?  Who working today may step into that role?

I don’t know.

Sure, for me, Peter Cushing has always been my favorite actor.  But Lee is right up there, and he and Cushing complemented each other so well because of their contrasting styles.  Cushing was an active actor, constantly moving around, often using props.  Watch enough Cushing movies and you realize he can’t seem to stay still in his scenes.

Lee is the opposite.  He believed less was more.  He didn’t want to call attention to himself in a scene.  His strength was that he did more with less, which is why he was so effective as Frankenstein’s Creature and as Dracula.  He’d appear in just a handful of scenes, and yet he’d knock your socks off and scare the living daylights out of you.

I will miss Lee tremendously.  Through the magic of movies, we can continue to enjoy Lee’s performances throughout the years.  But I am still saddened to know that he no longer is with us.

A legend has passed.  But like the undead king of the vampires he played so well, his memory and his work are eternal.

CHRISTOPHER LEE – May 27, 1922 – June 7, 2015

Thanks for reading.

—Michael

 

 

 

Advertisements

IN THE SHADOWS: VALERIE GAUNT

0
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!

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

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

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

LEADING LADIES: HAZEL COURT

0
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.

LEADING LADIES:  Hazel Court

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!

 

—Michael

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)

0

Curse of Frankenstein - lobby card - creatureThis IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column on Hammer’s THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) was my 100th IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, originally published in the HWA Newsletter in December 2010.  It’s reprinted there now in the December 2014 edition of the Horror Writers Association Newsletter .

Thanks for reading.

—Michael

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

By

Michael Arruda

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.

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.

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 scene 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—

PICTURE OF THE DAY: THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) – French poster

2

Curse of Frankenstein - foreign posterPICTURE OF THE DAY: THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) – French poster

Here’s a colorful French poster from the Hammer classic, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), starring Peter Cushing as Baron Victor Frankenstein and Christopher Lee as the Creature.

It’s the film which launched the Hammer Films horror phenomenon, as it proved so successful at the box office in 1957 that Hammer quickly followed suit the following year with DRACULA (U.S. title HORROR OF DRACULA) which was also a success, and they never looked back. THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was the biggest box office money maker of the year in England in 1957.

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was also the first time that Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee co-starred together in a horror movie.  They would go on to star in over twenty movies together.  Interestingly enough, it’s not the first time they both appeared in the same movie.  That had already happened twice before,  as Cushing and Lee were both in the Laurence Olivier version of HAMLET (1948) and John Huston’s MOULIN ROUGE (1952).

Anyway, I love this poster, especially the colors.  I particularly like the vibrant colors used on Peter Cushing and Hazel Court.

There are some really neat French horror movie posters.  If you get a chance, check them out online.  Likewise, you can find some excellent Spanish, German, and Japanese posters.  Why stop there?  Check out as many countries as you can.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

Looking for a different kind of Halloween treat this year?   Treat yourself to some fun international movie posters.

Happy Halloween!

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

PICTURE OF THE DAY: THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTIEN (1957) – Behind the Scenes Look

1
Behind the scenes on the lab set of THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)

Behind the scenes on the lab set of THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)

PICTURE OF THE DAY: THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) – Behind the Scenes Look

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look from the Hammer Films classic, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957).

This is from the lab set, shot on a Hammer sound stage, and is from the scene immediately following the creation sequence. After the Creature (Christopher Lee) had attacked Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing), it was knocked unconscious by Victor’s assistant Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart), and in this scene the unconscious Creature is strapped to a table while Victor Frankenstein examines it, all the while Paul tries to convince him to destroy the murderous Creature, to no avail, of course.

Here we see what looks to be the make-up man touching up Peter Cushing’s make-up, or perhaps adjusting him for lighting. Actually upon closer examination it looks like the man is adjusting Cushing’s collar, perhaps loosening it properly since this followed the scene where Cushing’s Victor Frankenstein had been strangled by the Creature.

Robert Urquhart, who played Victor’s cantankerous former tutor-turned-assistant, still seems to be in character, ready to scold Victor for creating a monster and begging him to destroy it.

“You madman!” He seems to be preparing to say.

It looks like they’re touching up Christopher Lee’s make-up as well. Lee has joked in interviews that when making this film, people used to avoid him on the set because he looked so disgusting in his Creature make-up. Lee has also told stories of how on those few occasions he was on the set without his make-up, no one knew who he was. “Oh, you’re the guy playing the Creature? Didn’t recognize you without your monster face on.”

That guy standing over Lee sure looks like he’s holding a cell phone/smartphone which he’s using to take a picture of the future film star. Hmm. Maybe he’s a time traveler from the future gone back in time to visit the set. That’s a neat idea, and it’s something I would do if I had a time machine. I would visit the sets of my favorite movies.

Back to that guy standing over Lee— what is he really doing, anyway? What’s that he’s holding in his left hand? A camera? A light? A mirror?

I like all the lab equipment in the background. That’s always been one of my favorite parts about THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. I love the way they made the lab look. It’s especially impressive in color. Director Terence Fisher utilized all sorts of different colors in the lab, as you’ll see an array of greens, reds, and purples interspersed throughout.

This image comes from the web site Virtual History, located at http://www.virtual-history.com/movie/image/27551.

Enjoy!

—Michael

 

THE QUOTABLE CUSHING: THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)- ROUND 2

0

Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) promises to give his Creature (Christopher Lee) life again.

Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) promises to give his Creature (Christopher Lee) life again.

THE QUOTABLE CUSHING:  THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)

-Round 2

By

Michael Arruda

 

Welcome to another edition of THE QUOTABLE CUSHING, that column where we celebrate Peter Cushing’s best lines in the movies.  I kicked off this column in March 2013 with quotes from Cushing’s first horror movie, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957).  This movie is so jam-packed with classic lines that I just had to revisit it to look at some more of them.

 

So, here we go.  Today on THE QUOTABLE CUSHING, it’s THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN Round 2, where we look at more classic lines from this classic movie, its screenplay written by Jimmy Sangster.

 

 

One of my favorite scenes is when Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) invites his mentor and former tutor Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) into his laboratory to show him the progress he has made on the unborn Creature.  When he shows Paul the Creature’s face, Paul turns away in disgust.

 

VICTOR:  Well, what do you think of it?

 

PAUL:  It’s horrible!

 

VICTOR:  Paul, the features are not important.  What matters is I am creating a being that will live and breathe.  Once the scars on the face heal it won’t look so bad.

 

PAUL:  Victor, I appeal to you.  Stop what you’re doing before it’s too late.

 

VICTOR:  But what am I doing?  I’m harming nobody.  Just robbing a few graves.  And what doctor or scientist doesn’t?  How else are we to learn the complexities of the human animal?

 

PAUL:  Doctors rob for the eventual good of mankind.  This can— this can never end in anything but evil.

 

VICTOR:   Now, why do you say that?  Look, I admit.  He isn’t a particularly good looking specimen at present but don’t forget:  one’s facial character is built up on what lies behind it— in the brain.  A benevolent mind and the face assumes the pattern of benevolence.  An evil mind, and an evil face.  For this the brain of a genius will be used.  And when that brain starts to function within the frame the facial features will assume wisdom and understanding.

 

I told you I was at the last stage but one.  The brain.  A brain of superior intellect, a lifetime of knowledge already behind it.  Imagine that, Paul.  My creature will be born with a lifetime of knowledge.

 

PAUL:  Victor, where will this brain come from?

 

VICTOR:  I’ll get it.

 

This has always been one of my favorite scenes in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  I would also argue that it’s one of Peter Cushing’s best acting moments in the movies. 

 

 

 

 

Later, when Victor realizes that he needs Paul’s help for his experiment to be successful, he pleads with his former tutor:

 

VICTOR:  I want you to help me.

 

PAUL:  You must be mad.

 

VICTOR:  That apparatus was constructed for dual operation, you know that.  I thought I could work it myself but I can’t.

 

PAUL:  I’m delighted.  That means your experiment will not succeed.

 

VICTOR:  You’re going to help me Paul. Whatever you say.

 

 

And a bit later—

 

VICTOR:  If you help me Paul, I promise that once I prove my theories, I’ll dispose of this Creature.

 

PAUL:  How long will that take?

 

VICTOR:  A month, two at the outside.

 

PAUL:  And have that thing alive up there all the time, no, Victor! 

 

VICTOR:  If you don’t help me Paul, then I make no such promise.  Somehow I’ll manage on my own.  However difficult, I’ll do it.  And when I’ve succeeded, I’ll introduce Elizabeth to the world of science and see how she likes it.

 

PAUL:  You wouldn’t dare!

 

VICTOR:  There is nothing, do you hear me?  Nothing more important to me than the success of this experiment.  It’s what I worked for all my life!

 

PAUL:  All right, Victor, I’ll help you.

 

 

 

 

Over dinner with his fiancé Elizabeth (Hazel Court) Victor gets to unleash these zingers:

 

ELIZABETH:  Victor, I wonder about Justine.  You know, it’s a week since she went away and we still have no word from her.

 

Of course, Justine is missing because she’s dead, murdered by the Creature, after Victor locked her in the same room with his murderous creation on purpose.  The reason?  They’d been having an affair, she got pregnant, and she threatened to go to the authorities and tell them what Victor was up to in his laboratory if she didn’t marry him.

 

Victor’s response here to his fiancé Elizabeth at the dinner table?

 

VICTOR:  I told you not to worry.  I expect some village lothario eloped with her.  She always was a romantic little thing.

 

A few minutes later, Elizabeth tells Victor that she invited Paul to the wedding.  This was a big no-no, because Paul and Victor had had a huge falling out, because Paul had shot the Creature dead.  Paul had moved out thinking with the Creature dead, Elizabeth was now safe.  But Victor had brought the Creature back to life, and it was once again living upstairs in his laboratory.

 

ELIZABETH:  He hasn’t accepted yet so maybe he won’t come.

 

After a long pause, Victor finally says:

 

VICTOR:  I hope he does come.  There’s something I’d like him to see.

 

 

Earlier in the movie, after Paul had shot the Creature dead, Victor returns to his lab.  He and Paul had buried the Creature in the woods, but now the lifeless body of the Creature hangs from a hook in the lab above Victor’s head.

 

Victor looks at the body long and hard and finally says coldly:

 

VICTOR: I’ll give you life again.

 

 

Great lines, great moments, great movie!  THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is one of my all-time favorite horror movies, and contains one of the best performances by Peter Cushing in his first ever portrayal of Baron Victor Frankenstein.  Be sure to check this movie out.

 

I hope you enjoyed today’s column and will join me next time on THE QUOTABLE CUSHING when we’ll look at other fine quotes from another classic Peter Cushing movie.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

—Michael