While awaiting execution for murder, Baron Victor Frankenstein tells the story of a creature he built and brought to life - only for it to behave not as he intended.While awaiting execution for murder, Baron Victor Frankenstein tells the story of a creature he built and brought to life - only for it to behave not as he intended.While awaiting execution for murder, Baron Victor Frankenstein tells the story of a creature he built and brought to life - only for it to behave not as he intended.
So I'm coming back to Curse almost as if I'm seeing it for the first time, while already having those films mentioned above as favorites for different aspects of the Frankenstein story, such as atmosphere, visceralness, humor, grandiosity, campiness, and so on. In fact, a number of those films are favorites of all time, period. For me, then, Curse had tough competition on this viewing, and without doing something significantly different with the story, it might fall short.
What Curse probably does better than all of the other Frankenstein films that I've seen is relationship dynamics. At the moment, I'd call Curse the "soap opera" version of the story, which is not really meant as a knock. Here, Victor Frankenstein has lost his father at a very young age--he became Baron at the age of five. The film begins by showing the power and control this young man has over others. He contracts to have a tutor come teach him about science, and together, they begin exploring the scientific basis of life--the "life force" more specifically, which leads to the usual Frankenstein plot elements.
At the same time, however, the focus remains on relationships. We have a complex tutor/student, master/employee, genius/follower relationship between Victor (Peter Cushing) and Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart), his teacher. Victor is engaged to be married--it's an arranged marriage--to Elizabeth (Hazel Court), his cousin, yet he's in at least a lustful relationship with a housekeeper, Justine (Valerie Gaunt). At the same time, Paul seems to have fallen in love with Elizabeth, and it's ambiguous to what extent she may feel the same towards him. The actual "curse" here seems to be one of difficult/dysfunctional relationships, where everyone is involved in complex power struggles with almost everyone else, and no one quite comes out victorious (ironically enough). All of this stuff is pretty good, if appropriately staid for the Victorian setting (hmmmm . . . lots of occurrences of "victor--"). On the down side, some of the cinematography/lighting veers towards a soap opera look, which doesn't do much for me.
A lot of the usual Frankenstein themes are here, too, but sometimes they almost feel like an afterthought. Christopher Lee, who plays the Frankenstein monster, is severely underused. He remains more in the background throughout the film.
Still, lots of the usual Frankenstein film stuff is done well, if a bit subtly. Keeping the monster's body half immersed in fluid was a good idea--there's a creepiness just to the way it looks and it is also unsettling because you wonder why it's only half-submerged. It seems if it needs to be submerged, the whole body should be, so from the beginning of the experiments, it feels more strongly like something is off about Victor. The more visceral body part scenes (like acquiring the hands and eyes) work very well, especially in context, and Lee's make-up was well done, including the fact that he more strongly suggests both a mummy (because of the bandages) and a zombie--the Frankenstein monster should rightly suggest both. Also, the acting is very good throughout--particularly Cushing's performance.
But for me, as good as Curse is, it pales in comparison to its Frankenstein brethren. It's good, but other films do the various aspects better, except maybe for the relationship stuff, but for me, that's not enough to elevate Curse to the same echelon as many of those other films.
- Jul 17, 2006