Archive for Curse of Frankenstein

Primal Screens

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 8, 2012 by dcairns

After realizing that I remember, dimly, a bit of the first film I was ever taken to see, I asked to hear about your first cinema experiences, via Facebook. Anybody who didn’t get in on that, feel free to add them in comments. I’m sure we can prove SOMETHING.

THEORY: no matter how traumatic or dull the first cinema experience — we tend to go back.

Moby Longinotto star wars couldn’t read the words at the beginning so my little girlfriend read it for me, I was 5 I think.

Brian Robinson A double bill of The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. My dad gave me the choice of that or Grizzly Adams: The Movie. There was no contest. It was weird seeing cartoons on the big screen like that, with the sound so big and booming but I loved it. And the Cyclops chasing chasing Torin Thatcher on the island, “Help me! Help me!” was seared into my mind forever.

I should add I was almost 6 and I think it was the Odeon, Clerk St.

Stevie Hannan Hi David,remember vividly(and I was only four) being taken to see Mary Poppins by my mum at the old ‘Strand’ cinema in Alexandria.I though it was wonderful. So much so that I pleaded with my gran to take me the following evening.She gave in, and a lifelong love affair with films (and Julie Andrews!)had begun.

Diane Henderson Gone With the Wind, but I was very, very young and fell asleep. My first wide- awake cinema experience was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I was so small I had to be sat on the arm of my chair to see over the head of the bloke in front.

Nigel R. Smith ‎7 years old as a birthday (not mine) party ‘treat’, we were shoo-ed into Tommy Steele appallathon Half A Sixpence at the Caley cinema. Really put me off ever going to a cinema again – until the following year my dad insisted we see Where Eagles Dare in the same place.

Niall Greig Fulton Mine was Norman McLaren’s 1952 short Neighbours, in an afternoon screening at the Calton Studios.

Chuck Zigman I was four years old, and it was a double feature of the feature animation “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” (1969) and “Scrooge” (1970) with Albert Finney. In the graveyard, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come removes his hood, revealing a skull. I had nightmares for three years after that!

Samuel John Dale When I was two or three my parents took me to see Condorman at the Odeon Chelmsford. As we left the cinema, they realised I was developing conjunctivitis. Condorman will do that to your eyes.

Dan Sallitt I remember going to the drive-in with my father (my mother came along sometimes, but I think my father was choosing the films) when I was four or five to see HERCULES and HERCULES UNCHAINED, and international monster films GORGO (directed by Renoir’s art director Lourié, I just learned) and REPTILICUS. Funny – I just saw HERCULES leading lady Sylva Koscina two days ago in Sautet’s excellent L’ARME À GAUCHE, but I totally forgot that she and I had so much history.

Ali Catterall Aged five, to see the Sound of Music – can’t remember where. I do recall a tremendous mounting excitement in the days leading up to the screening, mainly concerning Julie Andrews. Was she American? (For five year-olds in 1975, Americans were completely exotic and alluring, so much so that we used to claim American parentage in the school playground, for instant credibility.) Was she a New Zealander, like mum? Really, just who was this amazing Julie Andrews we were about to see? But in the dark of the cinema, it wasn’t Andrews I fell for, but Charmian Carr. “Mummy” I gravely whispered, as a rain-soaked Liesl snuck in through the window, “she is more beautiful than Snow White…”

Marvellous Mary Quite alarming going to see Disney’s Snow White in downtown Johannesburg . I lived in a small village in South Africa. So the expereince is all wrapped up with being alarmed at being in such a large auditorium (something the size of the Odeon on Clerk St) and seeing skyscrapers at the same time.

Nicola Balkind I remember Beethoven with my grandma when I was probably about 5. She snored the whole way through it.

Larry Frascella My parents were movie-mad so I’m sure I was one of those crying babies in the theater. But as far as reachable memory goes, from a very early age, way back there in the Italian section of the Bronx, my father would take me to the movies on school nights, which was pretty much unheard of. (Made me very cool at school.) I can’t recall the very first film but it was probably THE MYSTERIANS.

Randall William Cook My mom took me when I was two years old to LILI, in 1953. I have a strong memory of sitting in a dark room, looking up at a window where a puppet show was going on: I thought I was experiencing something real. I remembered nothing else, or so I thought. It was shown in a L.A. revival theatre (the Tiffany?) when I was thirty, and I checked it out. One after another, the film’s images brought back a succession of long buried emotional impressions. That two-year-old had been paying attention, after all. And the damn title song has always given me an emotional working-over.

Chris Dooks Aged six or seven, I was taken to see Jaws at The Regent Cinema, Redcar – I think I was snuck in. It scared the shit out of me, but also because The Regent is literally over the beach and you can hear the water crashing underneath the seats. It is also very damp. Other memories were going to see Convoy there with my dad and brother at an equally young age and I remember having my eyes covered up over a sex scene. In the same cinema now aged 18 I went to see the Exorcist at a re-run late night showing and fell asleep during the first ten minutes as I had six pints of beer in me.

Kristin Thompson On my third birthday my parents gave me a party and took the group to PETER PAN, my first film. The only thing I remember about it is the duel between Peter and Hook at the end. But far more interesting is my mother’s earliest cinema memory. She told me she had been taken at the age of five to a film that impressed her very much. She didn’t remember the title. All she could remember was a woman floating on a lake, supported by reeds. Imagine your earliest memory being SUNRISE on its first run!

Dan Sallitt Randall: in his entry on Charles Walters in THE AMERICAN CINEMA, Andrew Sarris wrote, “The late H. L. Mencken used to boast that he had never seen a movie, but toward the end of his life, this irascible cynic was induced to see LILI, and he loved it!”

Guy Budziak Television. In the late Fifties/early Sixties Universal allowed their classic horror films to be shown on TV late Friday nights as SHOCK THEATER. I was five, and my parents let me stay up past my bedtime to watch THE MUMMY with Karloff. The flashback in the pool of water, where you go back in time and see him buried alive, and the slaves are speared and buried with him. That was the scene that captivated me. I was hooked.

Dan MacRae Probably about 4 years old – taken to the Classic Cinema at the bottom of Renfield Street in Glasgow to see Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Screamed and cried for a while at the arrival of the dinosaurs and felt a horrific sense of desolation when (spoiler alert!) the villain killed the duckling at the end.

Fiona Watson I have two. One is being taken to the Regal Cinema in Broughty Ferry to see Pinochio in a group as part of someone elses Birthday treat, and thinking that the ice-cream woman was GIVING AWAY the frozen goodies. I became quite irritable when I discovered this wasn’t the case. The first, and probably earliest (I think, aged 4 or 5) was being hauled out of The Jungle Book at some now long defunct cinema in Dundee after being traumatised by the appearance of King Louis the orangutan. I started sobbing in terror, loudly. “His arms are too long!” I shrieked as I was dragged intothe lobby. Ironic given my present fascination with primates.

I think it was the ‘skipping with his arms’ thing that did it.

Randall William Cook ‎@Fiona: King Louis arms too long=childhood trauma. King Louis singing like Louis Prima= no big deal.

Fiona Watson I ADORE that sequence now. It’s brilliant!

Chris Schneider My memory, none-too-detailed, is of being taken to a a downtown fancy-schmancy showing of the Disney SLEEPING BEAUTY … and of having some young male malcontents drop a water balloon on my mother and me.

Fiona Watson That’s horrible Chris! I hope they were duly admonished and thrown off the premises.

Chris Schneider Thanks for your sympathy. Perhaps they were sedated and surrounded by a forest’s worth of nettles.

Travis Reeves Mine is very much like Marvellous Mary’s: also Disney’s Snow White at age 5, in downtown Melbourne. Living in sprawling suburbia some ten miles away, Melbourne was a distant hazy Emerald City to us. To actually be there, and in the grandeur of an old cinema was amazing. My twin, Helen, cried at Snow White in her glass coffin. I didn’t, but remember being very sad.

Later, aged about 10, we would be taken to see Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday and Mon Oncle on successive Saturdays at a tiny independent cinema in Melbourne by our father. As I remember it, the cinema was downstairs, or under the road, and sat maybe 50. I can’t help thinking, years later, that it must have been a porno theatre at some point in its history.

Marvellous Mary I think I too would be aged about 5 or possibly 6 – on the other hand we did have an great uncle who was a real life Willy Wonka who did own the sweetie factory! Other memories include going to Filmhouse from the pend at the backwhen there was ONLY cinema 2 and watching Coalminers Daugher aged 11 or so!

Jim Hickey I was six years old when I saw The Robe on its initial release. So my first film was in Cinemascope with sound that seemed really loud. I loved the rich colours and the costumes and it felt like things were happening for real. We had no television then, of course. I have fond memories of Jay Robinson’s performance as Caligula. And it was a thrill to encounter him soon afterwards in the film’s sequel, Demetrius and the Gladiators. Seeing the films again some years later I think it was probably Robinson who made me believe I could be an actor. And then I discovered Laurence Olivier.

Simon Fraser I believe that my first film was “Blackbeard’s Ghost” starring Peter Ustinov ( a favourite of my mother’s ) It’s dated 1968 but I’m sure I saw it in 1974 in Halifax Canada. My second movie at the cinema was more interesting, again Halifax but this time it was Moustapha Akkad’s ‘The Message’ about the life of the prophet Mohammed. I believe that there were serious protests about this at the time , people died. It made an impression on me, though I remember little of the film itself.

Jim Hickey The other films that I clearly remember seeing around that time were Danny Kaye in Hans Christian Andersen, Edmund Purdom in The Student Prince and Burt Lancaster in His Majesty O’Keefe – films no-one talks/writes about now, but from which some elements have stayed with me. But I don’t think I want to re-visit them as there are plenty of great films that I still have to see!

Roz Kidd Peter Pan at The old Calais on Lothian Road – was so awestruck that I hung out my window that evening and yelled for Peter Pan to come and teach me to fly!

David Fiore it was definitely Star Wars (during its original release), at the sadly-long gone York Theatre on Ste-Catherine Street in Montreal… I was 3. I remember freaking out a little bit during the trash compactor scene, but apparently I managed to keep my cool enough to prevent any ugly incidents with other patrons.

Gareth McFeely My first movie memory is going to see The Cat From Outer Space at the pictures in Fermoy (Ireland), probably in late 1978, when I was almost five. We were back there visiting friends after a move away, and I went off to the pictures with mostly older children. We sat in the front row upstairs in what seemed to me like a vast movie palace, which was of course almost certainly a fleapit (it closed years ago; I’ve no idea what it was called). We watched a film about park rangers and friendly bears (I think; it seemed like a kind of documentary to me), and then enjoyed the main feature. I recollect enjoying the experience but later had terrors at bedtime — something to do with that darned cat — and my hosts had to drive me 15 miles to where my parents were staying.

Then Fiona got in on it and invited her friends –

Kay Goodall My first film was Bambi but I don’t really remember it. The first one I remember was the first I chose to go to, which was The Last Snows Of Spring. It was with my best friend; going by the IMDB date we must have been in primary school; and I sobbed without stopping for the entire final hour. It was a very successful day out.

Fiona Watson I remember the trailer for The Last Snows Of Spring, because that film seemed to be on permanent trail throughout my childhood. Never saw it. Wasn’t up my street at all.

Kay Goodall Yes it mystifies me now.

Mishker McKay At age 4 or 5 it’s The Aristocats for me….I loved Thomas O’Malley. I remember having the 7″ record of the title tune and ‘O’Malley, the Alley Cat’.I also have a memory which may be earlier, of a movie scene where a monkey ends up stranded in a bathroom filling with bubbles; I was distraught! I remember bawling my eyes out as I was convinced it was going to die. It might have been a live action Disney film; any idea which?

Fiona Watson Is it THIS Cliff?

Mishker McKay OMG!!!!!!!! After all these years!!!!!!!!!!!! I was TERRIFIED and it’s all coming back to me now!!!!!!!

Thanks Fiona!!! x

Lorna Hewitt The Jungle book, must have been aged about 4 or 5 as well. Just mesmerised with the music and the jungle and the pretty girl. Was living in Brazil at the time so probably felt it was kinda my back yard. Hah. (Although it’s based in India). That’s earliest, but bestist and the rights of passage film for me was Grease aged 12. Didn’t know what half of it meant (‘wise to the rise in your levi’s’ and ‘bun in the oven’??), just knew I fancied John Travolta! Actually probably more Kenicky. Oh I don’t know, can’t make up my mind even now!…..Useless info but felt I had to get it off my chest! :-D

Roderick Ramsay Earliest – The Incredible Journey (1963). I was pre-school and had to be taken out because I was bawling my eyes out. That would be nigh on 40 years ago. Gosh. I hasten to add that I did not see it IN 1963. It must have been at one of the now sadly defunct Saturday shows they did for kids and was probably around 1973.Scariest? I was 6 and was being babysat by my 13yo aunt who woke me up to come and watch Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein. It was TV though. Scary cinema was Jaws in 1976. It was my first experience of queueing around the block to get into a movie and it was my first A-rated film. It was a huge step up from U-rated and when Richard Dreyfus was trying to find a shark tooth in a wreck my hands locked onto the chair arms in terror. It was a while before i could let go :-)

Most awesome? Being 8 and going to see Star Wars in 1977. Wee spaceship comes on the screen and I thought “Wow!”, then the prow of the Star Destroyer came in from the top of the screen and gradually filled it with huge spaceship awesomeness. One of those cinematic memories that stay forever. Unless you’re my Dad and you fall asleep.

Lorna Hewitt Oh God yeah, Jaws, most impact on my life, still can’t ‘get back into the water’ without a shiver and keeping an eye out!! Agh!

Mark Van-Daal Saturday morning – ABC Minors in Paisley – episodes of Flash Gordon with Larry (Buster) Crab followed by gawd knows what – Disney’s Return from Witch Mountain maybe? Also the Apple Dumpling Gang? I have a ‘hilarious’ story about trying to get in to the Odeon in Renfield St Glasgow to see Alien dressed as a ‘workman’ that my dad had pushed me in to doing. it involved padding my big parka with newspaper, balancing a corduroy Donovan cap with more newspaper perched on my head for extra height and a pair of my mums suede platform boots and my face smeared with brown water colour paint to look like stubble. The Odeon Renfield St weren’t buying it and my Dad had to take me home again. Also me and my tike pals used to sneak in the fire exit and hide under a stage in front of the big screen and watch thing and Burt Cort buddy movies that were a kind of shit Cheech N Chong. Also queuing for hours to see Star Wars but I suspect that’s standard fare for most people in this thread.

Mark Van-Daal Oh and at Primary School we were taken to rooms below the Art Galleries in Glasgow to watch a special screening of the Amazing Mr Blunden (it was a posh school -we did lots of stuff like that)

Lorna Hewitt That’s so weird Mark, I remember going to see Saturday Night Fever, aged 15(?) dressed as an ‘adult’, with the help of my mum’s props no less, so I wore her tweed hat and carried a long black umbrella which I swung in a jaunty fashion! Strange to think that that’s what I thought someone of 18 would wear! More 80! Me and my 3 pals somehow got in hiding behind my older sister who bought the tickets for us. Another give away I somehow think!

My first ‘X’ rated film…

Roderick Ramsay I never saw an ‘X’ at the cinema as they changed ratings when I was 14. There’s a long-ish story where I saw Conan The Barbarian at 13 – underage for a AA-rated film and then was denied entry for the same film 6 months later when I was finally 14 but they’d changed it to a 15-rating.

My first 18-rated movie was The Company Of Wolves. I was 15 or 16 but was accompanied by an alleged adult. I think we all probably remember the first time we broke new ground in ratings: Jaws, Monty Python’s Life of Brian and The Company of Wolves for me.

Fiona Watson I remember queueing all afternoon in Dundee to see Star Wars (dropped off by Mum, left there, then picked up again after the screening). There was a man with half an arm standing infront of me. I spent the best part of three hours staring at his stump. I also remember seeing Jaws at The Regal in Broughty Ferry, again I was on my own (I was ALWAYS going to the cinema on my own as a kid!) and made the mistake of sitting next to ‘bigger girls’. Just before the ‘head in the bottom of the boat’ reveal was about to happen, the ominous music and general set up cued me into knowing a scary bit was coming up. The ‘big girls’ had apparently seen it before, so I trustingly asked them to ‘tell me when it was all over’ and put my hands over my eyes. Seconds later I get a dig in the ribs and look. IT WAS THE F***IN HEAD! They all pissed themselves laughing as I shot vertically out of my seat. I couldn’t even move because it was a sell out. Bitches…

Mishker McKay Hilarious reading about Lorna’s 18 outfit; I worked in the Odeon a long time ago and received training on how to spot/ interrogate and trip up such types when I was on the ticket desk. Was a great job ruined by the ‘dark sales’ girl leaving; every 4 weeks it was my turn to don the tray of KiaOra and Cornettos. The effin stap was too short and leaning down to let others see my wares my change would cascade in among the choc-ices and Strawberry mivis. The last straw was facing the packed screen 1 on a Saturday night, Crocodile Dundee if you please. The jeers of ‘check the poof wi the ice cream’ was just too much to bear!

Fiona Watson (a different Fiona Watson, confusingly) Wow! I have loved reading these. I have vague memories of seeing Snow White at a drive in movie in Australia when I was 4 or 5 and not being able to see properly as we were in the back seat. My first proper memory is being taken to the Odeon in Derby, England by my Nana to see the Sound of Music. I was 7 and had never seen a musical before. I was spellbound by the hugeness of it all. I remember wondering about the ‘soldiers’ in it and why they wanted to catch the Von Trapps. It was a few years before I put the horrors of the Nazi’s into the film and realised the darker side that was present. To this day I still find new things on the odd occasion I watch this film. I think it was that outing that created the bond between myself and my Nana because we liked the same things and I have loved musicals ever since.

Mark Medin Mine is different than most since my dad hated going to movie houses from about the time Jeanette and Nelson quit being a team (I only wish I were joking about that). My first cinema experience was going to a matinee to watch a movie my brother wanted to see. We bought tickets and this place had only one bored ticket taker who didn’t even direct us, so we walked into the wrong theater (it was an early multiplex, I think it had three or five screens). So I got to watch The Long Goodbye almost in its entirety (it had already begun, we got there just when Gould was returning from the supermarket to feed his cat). I was 12, TLG was an R rated film, and I got away with it. I think many theaters in the ’70s were pretty lax in enforcing age restrictions. My friends never had trouble getting into R films at certain theaters.

I think I recounted this once already. Maybe twice.

Frankenstein Must Be a Freud

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 17, 2008 by dcairns

Headshrinker.

Well, he describes himself as an expert in psychiatry at one point in FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN…

“I always regarded ‘Baron Frankenstein’ as a forerunner to Dr. Christian Barnard, the South African surgeon who was the first man to transplant the human heart, which he did in 1967…” ~ Peter Cushing.

That same year, as I was working up to getting born, Cushing returned to the role of Dr. F in the third canonical Terence Fisher-Peter Cushing-Hammer-Frankenstein, which Fiona and I looked at again as part of our week-long Frankathon

Strange film! After the extremely neat dovetailing of the first two films in the series, this delivers a bit of a jolt, continuity-wise. After last seeing Frankenstein ensconsed in a thriving Harley Street practice and a new, but identical body, it’s kind of a shock to see him experimenting with soul-catching force fields in Europe, his hands mysteriously mutilated… it would seem the fabled Frankenstein sequence is not as coherent as advertised — unless you do what we’re doing, and swap this film with MUST BE DESTROYED. That explains the Baron’s burned hands, at least.

But to briefly consider this film in the light of the year it was made:

Almost a decade had passed since director Terence Fisher’s last visit to the lab, and in the interim screenwriter John Elder had given us EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN for director Freddie Francis. Francis was a very competent director who was sometimes actually inspired (he was a seriously brilliant cameraman, whose work on THE INNOCENTS and THE ELEPHANT MAN should be enough to earn him immortality, without the need for Frankenstein’s soul-catcher) but he couldn’t do much with Elder’s wandering, unstructured script. Jimmy Sangster might cheerfully own up to being not the world’s best screenwriter, but he’s a veritable Joe Mankiewicz compared to Hinds.

Alas, Hinds does duty as writer on this one as well, and having, in EVIL, sabotaged the careful continuity of Sangster’s work, here he procedes to ride roughshod over his OWN continuity. One of the weird things about EVIL is the way it’s a sequel that contains its own original. This also happens in EVIL DEAD II, which begins by reprising the first film. Elder fits his remake of CURSE into an insanely prolonged flashback, reminding us of all the stuff that should be pretty obvious from the framing story — like, how Frankenstein is this guy who’s made a monster… In this alternative universe, the Baron’s first monster WASN’T destroyed in an acid bath, but frozen, to be revived later on, in this movie…

I’m going to stop writing about EVIL OF now because it makes my head hurt (oh, for a sharp bone saw and some forceps). On to FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN, which has the benefit of a groovy title (although I’d prefer it to go all out and begin with “…AND”) and a slightly less shaky narrative. Elder’s biggest mistakes this time are, in order of egregiousness:

1) Ignoring both Sangster’s and his own continuity. Not only has Frankenstein aquired a new lab and assistant (an uncharacteristically muted Thorley Walters as a drunken old village doctor) but a new speciality, physics. He spends the film’s first half wasting our time with his force field, which may be novel but rather lacks the gory frissons of his early surgical experiments. 

2) Beginning far too early, a recurring Hammer problem (I always cite CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT as the daftest, since it begins, for no reason, with the protagonists’ birth). This one starts off in a supporting characters’ childhood, in what seems to be a borrowing from Frank Borzage’s sublime MOONRISE: our loveable stooge Hans (there’s ALWAYS a character called Hans, and usually a Karl and a Kleve, for some reason), having witnessed his father’s execution on the guillotine, feels predestined for the same fate.

3) Metaphysical crimes. Suddenly Cushing’s Baron is obsessed with THE SOUL, which never interested him before. The whole plot could have been made to work with brain transplants, which would have taken less time to set up and would have been consistent with the Baron’s M.O. as established in three previous films. The film’s soul transplant never makes much sense, but it IS intriguing.

A progressive touch: a disabled, unmarried character with a sex life.

4) Crude characterisation. Three Vicious Local Toffs are set up early on, and their characters fail to develop beyond being V.L.T.s for the whole running time. During the first forty mins they endlessly repeat their basic cycle of nasty behaviours, taking forever to actually set the plot in motion. Once they do, Hans is executed for a murder they committed, his disabled girlfriend drowns herself (oh, what hours of misery Lars Von Trier could make of this!) and “Baron Frankenthing” as a local yokel calls him, can finally do something, implanting the captured soul of Hans in the repaired body of his beloved, Krista.

5) For some reason, this causes her to go blond.

Frankenstein’s personality is a little different here, but I’m not going to call that a fault, just a difference. As in EVIL, there’s more of a sense of Dr. F as a Great Man Surrounded By Fools, persecuted for his genius by an uncaring world. There are certainly hints of the old callous bastard Sangster created and Cushing brought to unapologetic life, but mostly this is a reformed Frankenstein who generally means well. He’s a little warmer, more concerned with justice, and altogether less rapey than the Baron seen in MUST BE DESTROYED. Maybe his experience almost being roasted alive by Freddie Jones has reformed him somewhat.

When Dr. F testifies as a character witness for his unjustly accused assistant (Cushing idles in the witness box, flicking through the bible he’s sworn on — “Looking for loopholes,” Fiona suggests) he makes a poor job of it, but one feels he meant well. If Sangster were writing this, he’d have Cushing deliberately condemn Hans, just so he could get his body (and soul) to experiment on. Which would have given Cushing a lot more to bite into, actually.

Elder redeems himself with Cushing’s zestful seizing of the opportunity to abduct the executed man’s soul. He’s his old cold-blooded self again, arguing against asking his subject’s permission: “He might refuse.”

Capturing the human soul with a satellite dish and a carrot.

The mystery and majesty of the human soul — stripped bare! And if that doesn’t suit you, we have Susan Denberg.

Then we get a very odd remake of MY FAIR LADY/PYGMALION, with Cushing and Walters making a lady out of, well, in this case, a cadaver, and granting it a male soul. Soon they have her making breakfast for them. Krista is played in both disfigured and reanimated versions by starlet Susan Denberg, a slightly controversial figure. Here’s what the IMDb has to say:

Mini Biography

After becoming immersed in the 60s high life of drugs and sex, Denberg left show business and returned to Austria. News interviews at the time show a depressed Denberg in the company of her mother, at home in Klagenfurt. These news items, repeated in fan periodicals for years, gave the impression Denberg was suicidal or had already died. Actually, she is still alive.

Spouse: Tony Scotti (? – 1968) (her death)

So, according to this, she died in 1968 but is still alive. Shades of her character in this film.

(Tony Scotti, incidentally, had his moment of fame in VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, playing a character with a truly beyond-fabulous name: Tony Polar. I propose a new sequel, TONY POLAR MEETS FRANKENSTEIN. The Baron, rendered immortal by injections of spinal fluid, has set up shop as a plastic surgeon in Vegas, where a reclusive Howard Hughes type is sponsoring him to create the Perfect Woman from murdered showgirls. Only Tony Polar can stop him!)

PYGMALION soon collides with THE BRIDE WORE BLACK as Denberg, urged on by her lover’s transplanted soul (?), begins wiping out the V.L.T.’s who caused his death. Confusingly, the soul’s urgings seems to emanate from his severed head, even though it’s supposed to be inside HER, according to the Baron. Logic was never Elder’s strong suit. What follows should be immensely satisfying, as the horrible V.L.T.s (who include Derek Fowlds of TV sitcom Yes, Minister) are bloodily murdered, but it’s somehow all a little underdone. Frankenstein becomes the Man Who Knew And Tried To Warn Them, kept under house arrest by the authorities until it’s too late. Leaving Thorley Walters to ineffectually drop out of the narrative, Cushing arrives at the scene of Denberg’s last murder too late to do anything but witness her suicide.

In a welcome nod to NIGHT MUST FALL, she’s been trotting around with Hans’ head in a hatbox. Now she drowns herself, AGAIN. As usual, she transforms into a burly, gallumphing stuntman.

The film has more ideas than REVENGE, to be fair to it, but many of them are not the kind of ideas that can be usefully exploited for horror purposes. The business with trapping the soul is echoed in a howlingly wonderful ’70s weirdfest  called THE ASPHYX, with the Roberts Stephens and Newton Powell attempting to trap the “death force” in a similar fashion, and similarly, that film fails to actually behave like a horror film (but it does contain my favourite ever mind-boggling line, yelled by Stephens in a crescendo of passion: “Was the smudge trying to warn Clive of danger?”).

So, once again, Baron Frankenstein lives to operate again (although throughout this film he requires the buffoonish Walters’ assistance, since his hands are maimed — when did this happen?). I think it might have been nicer if Hammer had gone to the trouble of killing him off each time, as they did in CURSE, and then beginning the next film by explaining how he escaped death. REVENGE breaks with this pattern by showing Cushing die AND be resurrected at the end, which is OK too. But having the Baron just sort of wander off, as he does here, is a little less than awesome.

Frankenstein Must Be Deployed

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2008 by dcairns

…THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.

Yes! This week we watch all the Terence Fisher Hammer Productions about Baron Frankenstein and his varied creations.

This means omitting EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN, which isn’t a Fisher and doesn’t fit the continuity of the other films (indeed, it seems to go all-out to destroy all coherence) and HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN which stars Ralph Bates instead of Cushing and likewise isn’t a Fisher.

Most of the Fishers are written by Jimmy Sangster, Hammer’s prime creator of thick-eared dialogue and inventive plotting, a very important figure in the development of the Hammer style. While the cast may have despaired of Sangster’s speeches (Christopher Lee grumbled about having no lines and Cushing told him to be grateful), he was instrumental in stripping away the niceties of Universal’s gothic tales, substituting brutality, villainy and nihilism.

Of course, part of the Hammer approach is catchpenny hucksterism, beginning with the title of this one — there’s no curse mentioned in the movie. (Similarly, the later VIKING QUEEN has no Vikings, but a line of dialogue has been helpfully added to appease pedantic Scots like me: “She is our Viking Queen!”) Hammer obviously wanted a title distinctly different from Universal’s, because they were nervous of lawsuits. I don’t see any evidence that Sangster ever read Mary Shelley’s original novel (try it, it’s perfectly readable and entertaining), but he probably glanced at it, borrowing the notion of referring to Lee’s mangled creation as “the creature” rather than “the monster”, which again was useful in differentiating the new film from its predecessor.

Despite the fear of being seen as an unlicensed remake, Sangster cooked up a few references to the first two James Whale movies — at one point, a small boy and a blind man are introduced. The boy immediately heads to the shore of a lake, where he sits and picks something off the ground, immediately recalling Boris Karloff’s encounter with the flower-picking little girl. Meanwhile, the blind man, a direct swipe from BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, meets and is immediately attacked by the creature. Hammer films are setting out their store: there is to be no pathos and no sentimentality here, just nasty surprises all the way.

The other classic horror film that seems to inform this movie is Murnau’s NOSFERATU, both in the cut of Lee’s coat, and in his pose when spying on Hazel Court through a skylight. Images like this show Fisher’s flair for this kind of storytelling. Robbed of the dreamlike somnambulism of Murnau, CURSE picks up the pace and delivers muscular thrills and punchy delivery. Fisher is helped enormously in this by his cast.

First, Cushing. Influenced by his admiration for Laurence Olivier, Cushing delivers an energetic and highly physical performance, throwing himself into the action sequences with abandon (see how he mimes getting a stitch in his side after running upstairs to fight the monster– sorry, “creature”). Baron Frankenstein may be a man of science, but he’s also a MAN. Sangster has also added an illicit affair with the French maid, so that from the very first film, Cushing’s Baron is morally tainted by more than his zeal for medicine. MOST of his crimes are motivated by a desire to achieve greatness in science, but he’s also perfectly capable of beastly behaviour for purely selfish ends.

Cushing is so perfect for this film, and this genre, and somebody was smart enough to realise it. He goes with the generally vigorous style of the movie (vigorous in a slightly stiff way, like Lee’s energetic yet ungainly creature) but adds cultivation and a believable intelligence. He’s also adroit at getting away with Sangster’s more boggling lines of dialogue, such as “We hold in the palms of our hands such secrets that have never been dreamed of.” And when handed a nice gag, like “Let him rest in peace — while he can,” he underplays magnificently.

Playing the juvenile version of Cushing is Melvyn Hayes, whose presence can be distracting to some: he’s famous in Britain for playing a transvestite bombardier in a campy sitcom about a military “concert party” (troupe of entertainers) in WWII Burma, called It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. Imagine OBJECTIVE, BURMA! only with more songs and dragging up. But Hayes is a very good actor and, unlikely as it seems, a resonably plausible physical embodiment of a juvenile Cushing. (Irrelevant sidenote: Cushing was dressed as a girl by his mother, a reaction perhaps to so many boys being lost in WWI.)

Second lead: Robert Urquhart, as the Sensible Friend. “I bet nobody talks about him because they’re all too busy looking at Cushing,” says Fiona. “But he’s GOOD.” It’s true. Playing straight man to Frankenstein can be a thankless role, but Urquhart (good, unpronounceable Scottish name) espouses the morality without becoming priggish or boring. Whenever he’s given the chance to loosen up a little, he takes it, breathing life into the character as surely as he restores respiration to a dead puppy. Plus he gets that great end scene, betraying his old friend in the hour of his greatest need — Hammer’s moral characters often tend to be even nastier than the villains, and Urquhart’s cold-bloodedness here prepares the way for horrible heroes like Van Helsing (what an appalling man!).

(Side-note — the best perf in Kenneth Branagh’s Francis Ford Coppola’s MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN is Tom Hulce, in the tedious role of Sensible Friend. He should be a bore, but he winds up the only character you’d care to have a pint with. Hulce, the miracle-worker.)

Talk about thankless parts: Hazel Court has little to do save remain in ignorance throughout. Seeing her in something like MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH or THE RAVEN shows what a capable, sexy and witty performer she could be: Roger Corman always gave her enjoyable parts. She’s in lots of Hammer films but rarely got any interesting business: she doesn’t even get vampirized. Not once.

Then there’s Christopher Lee, of course. I think it’s fair to say, with no unkindness intended, that the man was cast for his height, here. The part nearly went to Bernard Bresslaw, another tall man, who had to content himself with fleshing out the role of Rubba-Teetee the mummy in CARRY ON SCREAMING instead. Lee’s one-off perf as the creature — he couldn’t return in sequels because Sangster had, perhaps shortsightedly had him dumped in an acid bath at the end of this film (having already been shot and set alight) — did, however, lead him to the role of Dracula, which he made his own and got a whole series out of. Indeed, a whole career (262 screen roles listed on the IMDb, and still going strong).

Lee’s creature is devoid of any of the nobler qualities of the Karloff monster, but the performance is not without detail. “Looking like a road accident” in Phil Leakey’s gruesome slap (crude but effective would be a polite way to describe it), Lee plays the character as brain-damaged and confused. The encounter with the blind man is particularly interesting for Lee’s odd movements and posing. This creature isn’t evil, as such, just bewildered, and he lashes out in violence at everything he doesn’t understand — which is EVERYTHING. It took some effort, but I was able to find him sympathetic at some level, although the character/behaviour is a bit too close to that of some school bullies I recall. At least the Lee-creature has an excuse: the jar with his brain in was smashed against a wall. His brain’s probably full of broken beaker (his revival is prefigured by a sound of smashing glassware: Fiona wonders if this is the sound the creature makes when he thinks). Why didn’t Frankenstein just get a new brain?” asks Fiona, agitated. “Even a bog-standard brain would be better than a genius brain that’s full of broken glass!”

Lee gets the film’s coolest shot (quoted by Kubrick in LOLITA! I should write a whole piece about Kubrick and Hammer films’ odd synergistic relationship) is Lee’s unmasking. Lurching about in muslin wrapping, he’s discovered by Cushing just as he raises his hand to the bandages swathing his lumpy kisser. The hand clutches the cloth, and just as it pulls away the covering, Fisher’s camera switches from 24fps to something more like 6, and we track in impossibly fast, Lee swooping forward at us in all his milky-eyed awfulness, his small movements suddenly insectoid in their inhuman speed.

“Hold your horses, I’m thinking with GLASS, here!”

It’s fascinating to me how Sangster and Fisher get away with delaying the monster’s appearance until about halfway through, with only a bit of medical grue and gallows-robbing to sustain the tension until the big reveal. Of course there’s something else at work: anticipation. Mary Shelley gets her monster onstage faster, but she was telling the story for the first time. Hammer realised they could rely on the audience already knowing the basic premise: they await the monster with eager dread. The tactic was to deliver a monster more unpleasant than expected.

The whole thing goes like a train, with the monster escaping, running amok, getting shot in the head, brought back to life, killing the French maid (as arranged by the Baron, since she’s outlived her usefulness and grown inconvenient) and finally escaping AGAIN and attacking Hazel Court. Time for the first of Hammer’s patented overkills (never JUST shove a stake through Dracula — try throwing holy water in his face, causing him to fall from a belfry into a pit with a stake in it, then poke him with a shovel just for good measure: DRACULA A.D. 1972), as Cushing shows more of his physical dexterity:

“I’ve created a monst — I mean, creature!”

Not only a great actor, also a great SHOT — right into the lens! The slung lantern sets Lee alight, and he falls into the convenient acid bath. Every home should have one. Except — not so convenient. Now there’s no evidence the monst creature ever existed, so Cushing’s going to be executed for the creature’s crimes. Which is fair enough, really.

A missed opportunity! As Cushing is led off to be executed (it suddenly occurs to us to wonder how he was convicted of the French maid’s murder, since presumably he dissolved her remains), we cut to the guillotine, its blade cranked up to the highest position. The credits roll…

And then — nothing! Fade to black. When it’s obvious to any gorehound that the blade should descend with a sickening SHOONK after the last credit has crawled off the top of the screen. THAT would be showbiz. Perhaps Hammer were already thinking about sequels, already regretting melting their creature like an Alka Seltzer. Using Cushing’s Baron as the constant feature of the films that followed, rather than his first creation, makes the Hammer FRANKENSTEINS delightfully different from their Universal forebears.

As we shall see.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 438 other followers