Friday, July 10, 2015

Review: 'The Curse of Frankenstein (Devil’s Advocates)'


Marcus K. Harmes lodges a fair complaint early in his book on The Curse of Frankenstein for the Devil’s Advocates horror cinema studies series: Terence Fisher’s film is usually discussed in terms of being a first—first Gothic Hammer horror, first pairing of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee—rather than being “a creative output in its own right.” From there Harmes attempts to prove that valid point by putting the film into context as an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel, finding its place in the tradition of British horror films, exploring its roots as a horror comedy, and comparing it to Gainsborough Pictures’ costume dramas.

The problem is that Harmes fails to connect his dots in a way that warrants all the discussion. While constantly referring to The Curse of Frankenstein as an adaptation of Shelley’s Frankenstein, Harmes spends 15 pages of his 88-page book explaining how it really isn’t a true adaptation at all. Has anyone ever suggested it was? Personally, I’ve always viewed Fisher’s film as an installment in a long line of works that merely use the novel as a nugget of inspiration, like Peggy Webling’s similarly unfaithful stage play or J. Searle Dawley and James Whale’s movies.

Instead of finding Curse of Frankenstein’s place in the line of British horror films, Harmes concludes that there really wasn’t one prior to Curse’s 1957 release. Here, the writer fails to connect a saucer-sized dot when he concludes that Hammer’s own Quatermass Xperiment is hardly the precedent many critics suggest it is because it isn’t Gothic and differs in “tone, style, [and] sources.” Harmes doesn’t even mention the fact that Quatermass features Richard Wordworth as a creature seemingly directly inspired by Karloff’s portrayal of the Frankenstein monster, or that Wordworth’s encounter with a young Jane Asher in Quatermass is a direct reference to one of the most famous scenes in Whale’s Frankenstein. I’d call that precedent.

The book’s biggest surprise for me is the revelation that Curse of Frankenstein was originally intended to be a horror-comedy along the lines of Abbott & Costello’s monster meetings, but once again, this leads nowhere since Fisher’s film most certainly is not a comedy. Harmes never reveals anything about what the Hammer execs had in mind for their funny Frankenstein flick. Another dead end.

Harmes’s only avenue of inquiry that leads somewhere is his comparison between Fisher’s film and the Gothic bodice rippers of Gainsborough Pictures, which employed Fisher before he found work with Hammer. But this only constitutes nine pages of the book.

I suppose Harmes’s point is that Curse of Frankenstein was an original work without much literary or cinematic precedence. My questions are: has anyone ever suggested otherwise and does an 88-page explanation of what a film isn’t adequately convey why it’s special?

Get The Curse of Frankenstein (Devil’s Advocates) on Amazon.com here:
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