In 1818, Baron Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) is in prison, awaiting execution for murder. He tells the story of his life to a visiting priest.
His mother's death leaves the young Frankenstein (Melvyn Hayes) in sole control of the Frankenstein estate. He agrees to continue to pay a monthly allowance to his impoverished Aunt Sophia and his young cousin Elizabeth (whom his aunt suggests will make him a good wife). Soon afterwards, he engages a man named Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) to tutor him.
After several years of intense study, Victor (Peter Cushing) learns all that Krempe can teach him. The duo begin collaborating on scientific experiments. One night, after a successful experiment in which they bring a dead dog back to life, Victor suggests that they create a perfect human being from body parts. Krempe assists Victor at first, but eventually withdraws, unable to tolerate the continued scavenging of human remains, particularly after Victor's fiancee—his now grown-up cousin Elizabeth--(Hazel Court) comes to live with them. Frankenstein assembles his creation with a robber's corpse found on a gallows and both hands and eyes purchased from charnel house workers. For the brain, Victor seeks out an aging and distinguished professor so that the monster can have a sharp mind and the accumulation of a lifetime of knowledge. He invites the professor to his house in the guise of a friendly visit, but pushes him off the top of a staircase, killing him in what appears to others to be an accident. After the professor is buried, Victor proceeds to the vault and removes his brain. Krempe attempts to stop him, and the brain is damaged in the ensuing scuffle. Krempe also tries to persuade Elizabeth to leave the house, as he has before, but she refuses.
With all of the parts assembled, Frankenstein brings life to the monster (Christopher Lee). Unfortunately, the creature's damaged brain (and possibly its memory of Victor's murder) leaves him violent and psychotic, without the professor's intelligence. Frankenstein locks the creature up, but it escapes, killing an old blind man it encounters in the woods. Victor and Krempe shoot him down with a shotgun in the head (although it leaves a small bullet wound instead of a blasting shell damage), and bury it in the woods. After Krempe leaves town, Frankenstein digs up and revives the creature. He uses it to murder his maid, Justine (Valerie Gaunt), who claims she is pregnant by him and threatens to tell the authorities about his strange experiments if he refuses to marry her.
Paul returns to the house the evening before Victor and Elizabeth are to be married at Elizabeth's invitation. Victor shows Paul the revived creature, and Paul says that he is going to report Victor to the authorities immediately. During the scuffle that follows, the creature escapes to the castle roof, where it threatens Elizabeth. Victor throws an oil lantern at it, setting it aflame; it falls through a skylight into a bath of acid. Its body dissolves completely, leaving no proof that it ever existed. Victor is imprisoned for Justine's murder.
The priest does not believe Frankenstein's story. When Krempe visits, Frankenstein begs him to testify that it was the creature who killed Justine, but he refuses and denies all knowledge of the experiment. Krempe leaves Frankenstein and joins Elizabeth, telling her there is nothing they can do for him. Frankenstein is led away to the guillotine.Peter Cushing as Baron Victor von Frankenstein
Christopher Lee as the Creature
Hazel Court as Elizabeth
Robert Urquhart as Dr. Paul Krempe
Valerie Gaunt as Justine
Noel Hood as Aunt Sophia
Melvyn Hayes as Young Victor
Paul Hardtmuth as Professor Bernstein
Fred Johnson as Grandpa
Peter Cushing, who was then best known for his leading roles in British television, was sought out by Hammer for this film. Christopher Lee's casting, meanwhile, resulted largely from his height (6' 5"). Hammer had earlier considered the even taller (6 '7") Bernard Bresslaw for the role. Universal fought hard to prevent Hammer from duplicating aspects of their 1931 film, and so it was down to make-up artist Phil Leakey to design a new-look creature bearing no resemblance to the Boris Karloff original created by Jack Pierce. Production of The Curse of Frankenstein began, with an investment of £65,000, on 19 November 1956 at Bray Studios with a scene showing Baron Frankenstein cutting down a highwayman from a wayside gibbet. The film opened at the London Pavilion on 2 May 1957 with an X certificate from the censors.
The film has been remastered in the open matte aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The restored film will include the magnified eyeball shot, missing from the U.S print, but not the head in the acid bath scene which remains lost.
The film was a tremendous financial success and reportedly grossed more than 70 times its production cost during its original theatrical run.
When it was first released, The Curse of Frankenstein outraged many reviewers. Dilys Powell of The Sunday Times wrote that such productions left her unable to "defend the cinema against the charge that it debases", while the Tribune opined that the film was "Depressing and degrading for anyone who loves the cinema".
In the United Kingdom, the Monthly Film Bulletin declared that the Frankenstein story was "sacrificed by an ill-made script, poor direction and performance, and above all, a preoccupation with disgusting-not horrific-charnelry" The review did praise some elements of the film, noting "excellent art direction and colour" and the film score.
Reactions were mixed in the US. Film Bulletin wrote "rattling good horror show . . . the Frankenstein monster has been ghoulishly and somewhat gleefully resurrected by our English cousins". Harrison's Reports, "well produced but extremely gruesome . . . the photography is very fine, and so is the acting". Bosley Crowther in The New York Times was dismissive "routine horror picture" and oddly enough opined that "everything that happens, has happened the same way in previous films." Variety noted "Peter Cushing gets every inch of drama from the leading role, making almost believable the ambitious urge and diabolical accomplishment."
The film was very popular with the public, however, and today's directors such as Martin Scorsese and Tim Burton have paid tribute to it as an influence on their work. Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 80%, based on 15 reviews, with a rating average of 7/10.
Unlike the Universal Frankenstein series of the 1930s and 1940s, in which the character of the Monster was the recurring figure while the doctors frequently changed, it is Baron Frankenstein that is the connective character throughout the Hammer series, while the monsters change. Peter Cushing played the Baron in each film except for The Horror of Frankenstein, which was a remake of the original (Curse of Frankenstein) done with a more satiric touch, and it featured a young cast headed by Ralph Bates and Veronica Carlson.The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)
The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)
Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)
The Horror of Frankenstein (1970, non-Cushing)
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)
A novelization of the film was written by John Burke as part of his 1966 book The Hammer Horror Film Omnibus.
The film was adapted as fumetti by Warren Publishing in 1966 (along with Horror of Dracula).
It was also adapted into a 20-page comic strip published in two parts in the December 1976 and January 1977 issues of the magazine The House of Hammer (volume 1, issue #'s 2 and 3, published by General Book Distribution). It was drawn by Alberto Cuyas from a script by Donne Avenell (based on the John Burke novelization). The cover of issue 2 featured a painting by Brian Lewis of the Baron being attacked by his creation.