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The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

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Film poster. Retrieved from

The Curse of Frankenstein was directed by Terence Fisher and written by Jimmy Sangster. It was released in the United States on June 25th, 1957.


The Curse of Frankenstein chronicles the misadventures of Victor Frankenstein as he relates to a priest the events that culminate in his current predicament. At a young age, his mother passes, and he inherits his family's fortune, which he uses to hire Paul Krempe to instruct him in the medical sciences. Of sharp intellect, Victor eventually exhausts Krempe of his knowledge, at which point they become partners in the pursuit of scientific advancement. But as Victor's dedication to his project grows, so too grows Krempe's disdain. His unchecked ambition eventually leads to his demise, as he is executed after being thought mad by the priest to whom he tells his tale.

Major ThemesEdit

Unchecked Ambition Edit

Throughout the film, Victor Frankenstein behaves callously and with scarcely any regard for those around him. He cares about others only to the extent that they might be of use to him in helping him realize his dastardly machinations. So little does he care for others that he is driven to murder to bring his plans about. He first murders Professor Bernstein so that he may extract his brain for use in his creation. Later in the film, he traps Justine in his laboratory with the monster after she threatens to disclose their illicit relationship to Elizabeth. She is killed by the monster, and Victor is blamed for her death. Each of these misfortunes was brought about by Victor's relentless drive toward the creation of his monster. These happenings are intended, as they were in Shelley's novel, to demonstrate to the viewer the potentially lethal results of unchecked ambition. Had Victor's attitudes been similar to Professor Bernstein's, and if he had more of an appreciation for nature, both he, the professor, and the others would have lived. Even Krempe was not so ambitious as Victor. While he strongly endorsed scientific advancement, he understood that progress pursued at the expense of humankind to be morally unconscionable. It is Victor alone who harbors fantasies of such chimerical feats as creating life, and it is the pursuit of these fantasies that ultimately cost more life than they create, a price that, regrettably, he is more than willing to pay until it is his own life in danger of being lost.

Science and its Pitfalls Edit

Science is, in The Curse of Frankenstein, both a great blessing and a grave curse. It is by application of the medical sciences that Frankenstein and Krempe are able to resurrect a puppy. They are able to restore life to the living even when they are at the threshold of death. It is, however, the misapplication of these very sciences that results in the film's several tragedies. The sciences are thus a force of both life and death. Their proper use can improve, ameliorate, birth; their misuse can degrade, diminish, destroy. In this respect, the film remains faithful to the novel. Interestingly, Victor's rather extreme beliefs about science contrast starkly with the more sensible views of Krempe and Professor Bernstein. Krempe and Frankenstein are of equal intellect, and, in the beginning, Krempe is pleased with and excited by the implications of their successful resurrection of the puppy. But, as the film progresses, his excitement diminishes considerably and eventually turns into revulsion. In other words, Krempe never loses sight of the ethical conundrums with which scientists are so often faced. A similar attitude is held by Professor Bernstein, who, though regarded as one of the Europe's brightest minds, nonetheless possesses a striking awareness of the tendency scientists have toward self-absorption. He notably maintains a critical distance from his work and that of his peers and is thus less susceptible to the pitfalls that so frequently accompany it. Frankenstein is, on this front, apathetic. He maintains no such distance and regards the creation of his monster as the sole most important undertaking of his life. In fact, he never expresses any concern for the ramifications his experiments have for the whole of humankind. On the contrary, he is self-absorbed, worried only with how to expedite and perfect his experiments and their results.

Nature Edit

Victor speaks of nature as having "secrets" amenable to scientific discovery, which is all the more incentive to plumb its depths, to break this "barrier", to whatever extent possible, so that the true nature of reality (if there be any such thing) may be revealed. Krempe appears to differ in his conception of nature. While he shares Victor's enthusiasm for the success of the resurrection, he does not go quite so far as to support the creation of a human from separate parts. In other words, he is content to observe nature and has no desire to contravene it. He does not believe it to be an obstacle to be surmounted for the sake of scientific advancement. Rather, he respects the limits imposed on him and his pursuits by nature, his humanity, and his moral beliefs. Importantly, Krempe does not believe nature to be inviolable or sacred. He does not oppose scientific engagement with nature. Rather, he simply believes that serious, potentially dangerous implications attend the efforts of those who wish to subvert some aspect of the natural order. Professor Bernstein is allied with Krempe in this regard. The two may be viewed as espousing different aspects of a similar way of thinking about science. They both maintain sufficient distance from their work to be critical of it. In other words, though they are scientists, they retain enough of a conscience to be able to see their work for what it is.

Significance of Adaptaton Edit

As in the novel, the dangers of the relentless pursuit of scientific advancement are clearly portrayed. Every tragic occurrence in the film can be attributed to Victor's indifference toward the consequences of his work: the death of Justine, the death of Elizabeth, the death of the boy and his relative, and, finally, his own death. Tragedies of similar magnitude may be found in Shelley's novel, though the dangers of the pursuits that produced them are more heavily emphasized in this film. Though in Shelley's novel Victor is alienated from those he loves, his isolation from and lack of interest in the well-being of other people is more profound. His pursuits not only separate him from them, they make him callous and uncaring toward them. He willingly commits murder to procure a brain. He values no life other than that with which he wishes to endow his creation. Nature, it seems, avenges itself, and it could be argued that Victor pays the ultimate price for his transgression of its boundaries. And so the film serves mostly as an extension of the themes of the novel. Though certain details are excluded, so are others intensified and the force of tale's moral augmented by the bleaker resolution of the plot. Victor's brilliance, his ambition, and his negligence remain, and all prove fatal in the end as he is made to share the same fate as his creation.

References Edit

The Curse of Frankenstein. Perf. Peter Cushing; Hazel Court; Robert Urquhart. Warner Bros., 1957. Film.

Petley, Julian. "'A Crude Sort of Entertainment for a Crude Sort of Audience': The British Critics and Horror Cinema." British Horror Cinema. Ed. Steve Chibnall. 1st ed. Vol. 1. London: Routledge, 2002. 34. Print.

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