No. 4 November 2017

The Hammer Frankensteins

By Rumsey Taylor

Edited by Lucie Shelly

Illustrations by Michael Hoeweler

Cover image from Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, 1969

A flash of lightning pierces the sky and thunder bellows all around, and the alpine features of some faraway place are briefly described: spruce trees perched upon a hillside, an outcrop of stone and a castle set impossibly atop it. Inside a ghastly creature is awakened. Its eyes, the irises contracting to light for the first time, open fearsomely and address the astonished gaze of its creator, whose eyes reciprocate and lock upon his creation’s misbegotten countenance.

This scene is a mainstay of the horror genre, having originated in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in 1818. The novel concerns the physiological manufacture of a human being and the resultant question of the creature’s identity. Its setting is traditionally a Central European locale during the Romantic era, the creator – the novel’s namesake – a controversial anatomist whose expertise proves ruinous, and the creature a misshapen assembly of body parts. These aspects catalyze the novel’s dramatic trajectory, which encompasses themes of existentialism, bioethics, prejudice, self-actualization, paternity, abortion, birth and death, the latter typically the focus of the numerous film adaptations.

These commenced in one of Thomas Edison’s silent films in 1910, which approximates the novel’s gothic tone and dwells upon the creature’s alchemic birth—this is staged in a playful sequence in which the creator sets fleshy detritus aflame in an oven; he giggles as the pieces grow to constitute a skeleton and then a whole (imagine a candle burning in reverse).1 The most iconic depiction of Shelley’s source would follow in Boris Karloff’s ashen-skinned, taciturn rendition in Universal Picture’s Frankenstein, 1931, and The Bride of Frankenstein, 1935. Both films have come to elucidate the novel’s visual dimension, or at least it’s easy to envision the creature therein with a bulbous forehead and electrodes that protrude from his neck.

Frankenstein adaptations have since proliferated in cinema.2 They exhibit an array of ethically suspect geniuses of human anatomy who constitute a wide range of idiosyncrasy. Some are devilish men, others sport crazed Albert Einstein-like masses of hair, and the few who have been women proffer a response to the novel’s unidimensional depiction of gender. Some inhabit gothic laboratories strewn with arcane equipment, others are surrounded by the suburban accouterments peculiar, for instance, to a New Jersey garage.3 They reside in the past, the present, and the future. All of them populate stories of creation in which the novel’s moral query is subdued if not absent. These are monster movies foremost, and what they lack in existential interrogation they gain in shock and exploitation. They feature exclamations of blood and death and sex and conclude with rampage and fire. They are baroque spectacles about the human condition. But from within those craggy labs and even that New Jersey garage emerge a multitude of different creatures. Some are lumbering behemoths, some are house pets, some are cosmetically flawless sex mates, and some are something else altogether.


In Mary Shelley’s novel the prototypical Frankenstein, named Victor, is a prodigious young fellow whose defining characteristic is ambition. The death of his mother, in Geneva, compels his departure for school in Ingolstadt, where he excels in chemistry and anatomy.

Frankenstein’s objective is to create life from scratch, an aim that disregards the rationale of his academic elders and inclines him to develop it in isolation. His research yields a revolutionary thesis that Shelley describes without specificity:

After so much time spent in painful labour, to arrive at once at the summit of my desires was the most gratifying consummation of my toils. But this discovery was so great and overwhelming that all the steps by which I had been progressively led to it were obliterated, and I beheld only the result.4

The ensuing narrative emphasizes the outcome of Frankenstein’s work but not its precise nature. Nevertheless, two details have become central to the novel’s offshoot mythology: one, that Frankenstein frequented graveyards to study and amass body parts:

To examine the causes of life, we must first have recourse to death. I became acquainted with the science of anatomy: but this was not sufficient; I must also observe the natural decay and corruption of the human body. […] Darkness had no effect upon my fancy; and a churchyard was to me merely the receptacle of bodies deprived of life, which, from being the seat of beauty and strength, had become food for the worm.5

And two, that his procedure involved electricity. One may infer that all the radiant experiments in the films – the conceptive flashes of lightening, in particular – are drawn expressly from the word “spark” in the book’s climactic passage:

It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet.6

The creature motions toward Frankenstein at this moment, in the same instinctive manner as a newborn baby seeking solace in a warm embrace. Unsettled, Frankenstein flees, never to consider his surrogate offspring with anything but alarmed disgust. The creature is then exiled, in turn derided by everyone he encounters. His desire for mercy becomes the singular purpose of his existence.

Frankenstein is structured in portions of monological self-analysis, told in first person and in retrospect, in which both parties in conflict establish their plight at length. The first half is told by Frankenstein, who considers his creation a failed experiment and not a being whose sentience warrants consideration:

I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardor that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.7

The creature responds in the novel’s second half. He confronts Frankenstein after many months alone, during which he has become literate and bitterly aware of people’s discrimination against him. All but one whom he encounters are dispelled by his appearance, a blind hermit who listens to his story undeterred. The creature later restages this exchange with his creator: “Begone!” Frankenstein says to him, “Relieve me from the sight of your detested form.” The creature complies in placing his hands over his creator’s eyes, “Thus I relieve thee, my creator,” confirming Frankenstein’s failure as one of perception.8

The hypothesis of this exchange is that the creature is only monstrous in a superficial sense, his ghastliness broadcasted in the full-throated screams of those who see him. His appearance belies his profound humanity, and his need for unbiased acceptance in spite of his appearance instills in him a latent capacity for menace:

If the multitude of mankind knew of my existence, they would do as you do, and arm themselves for my destruction. Shall I not then hate them who abhor me? I will keep no terms with my enemies. I am miserable, and they shall share my wretchedness.9

He and his creator confront each other in increasingly fraught exchanges until they are isolated, somewhere deep and uninhabitable within the Arctic Circle. Frankenstein perishes in the final pages, but not the creature, who vanishes into the frozen landscape. He does this with resolve, without consolation and with permanent despair, a projection of the novel’s fundamental horror: that Frankenstein has not created a monster, but a being whose monstrosity is afterward impressed upon him.


Shelley’s Frankenstein spurred adaptation almost immediately. By 1823 there were about five stage productions in London alone. In these the creature lacked the pathos conferred to him in the novel, and was without question a monster, “leaping down staircases, smashing doors, and snarling ferociously.”10 He would perish in each of these in increasingly elaborate manners, “by fire, avalanche, lightning,” and even “a leap into the smoking crater of Mount Etna.”11 By the time of Frankenstein’s first film adaptation the novel’s mythos had been pruned of much of its psychological depth.

In the films the creatures are generally all monstrous, or at least perceptibly sub-human. Many of them don’t even speak, deprived of the literary acumen accorded to Shelley’s creature12, and move heavily down some cobblestoned street afore a cult of torch-bearing townsfolk. The films seize upon the novel’s horror as opposed to its tragedy, its ethics or existentialism. Their horror is not conceptual but physical, and they are liberal in their depictions of the outward violence of Shelley’s novel. One of my favorites is Lucky Mckee’s 2002 film May, in which the title character chooses victims according to the aesthetic beauty of their body parts. (“I love every part of him,” she says about one of them. “Especially his hands.”) Another is Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator, 1985. Although foremost a crude H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, the film features a familiarly brilliant, misguided scientist in his wanton reassembly of lifeless flesh, including a house cat. In both of these the creations are either mute or cartoonishly vicious, as they are in almost all Frankenstein films.

There have been many dozens of these, some straightforward adaptations (The Bride of Frankenstein; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, 1994), others partial, only contriving the creature – who invariably resembles Boris Karloff’s exemplar – within a different scenario (Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein, 1948; The Spirit of the Beehive, 1973; The Monster Squad, 1987), and some have been indirect (Vertigo, 1958; Eyes Without a Face, 1960; RoboCop, 1987). In sum these films are richly diverse, but they are all descendants of Shelley’s parable of unnatural conception, even when the offspring of said conception vary and wander far away from their source. This aspect is singularly distilled in the output of British film studio Hammer Films, beginning in the 1950s.


Hammer Films, née Hammer Productions Ltd., was founded in London in 1934, and would become known for its resourceful, assembly line-like output. By its hiatus in 1979 Hammer had produced over 150 features, the most renowned of which were horror films stocked with bogeymen of various provenance: mummies, phantoms, aliens, zombies, werewolves, witches, devil worshipers, mad scientists, lesbian vampires, Dracula, and Frankenstein.13

  • 40s
      • Death in High Heels, 1947
      • The Dark Road / There Is No Escape, 1948
      • Dick Barton: Special Agent, 1948
      • River Patrol, 1948
      • Who Killed Van Loon?, 1948
      • The Adventures of P.C. 49, 1949
      • Celia, 1949
      • Dick Barton Strikes Back, 1949
      • Doctor Morelle – The Case of the Missing Heiress, 1949
      • Jack of Diamonds, 1949
      • Man in Black, 1949
      • Meet Simon Cherry, 1949
  • 50s
      • Dick Barton at Bay, 1950
      • The Lady Craved Excitement, 1950
      • Room to Let, 1950
      • Someone at the Door, 1950
      • What the Butler Saw, 1950
      • The Black Widow, 1951
      • A Case for P.C. 49, 1951
      • Chase Me, Charlie!, 1951
      • Cloudburst, 1951
      • The Dark Light, 1951
      • To Have and to Hold, 1951
      • The Rossiter Case, 1951
      • Whispering Smith Hits London / Whispering Smith Vs. Scotland Yard, 1951
      • Death of an Angel, 1952
      • Lady in the Fog / Scotland Yard Inspector, 1952
      • The Last Page / Man Bait, 1952
      • Never Look Back, 1952
      • Stolen Face, 1952
      • Wings of Danger, 1952
      • Blood Orange, 1953
      • The Flanagan Boy / Bad Blonde, 1953
      • Four Sided Triangle, 1953
      • The Gambler and the Lady, 1953
      • Mantrap, 1953
      • The Saint's Return, 1953
      • Spaceways, 1953
      • 36 Hours / Terror Street, 1953
      • Face the Music / Black Glove, 1954
      • Five Days / Paid to Kill, 1954
      • The House Across the Lake / Heat Wave, 1954
      • Life with the Lyons, 1954
      • Mask of Dust / Race for Life, 1954
      • The Men of Sherwood Forest, 1954
      • A Stranger Came Home / The Unholy Four, 1954
      • Third Party Risk / Deadly Game, 1954
      • Break in the Circle, 1955
      • The Glass Cage / The Glass Tomb, 1955
      • The Lyons in Paris, 1955
      • Murder by Proxy / Blackout, 1955
      • The Quatermass Xperiment / The Creeping Unknown, 1955
      • X the Unknown, 1956
      • Women Without Men, 1956
      • The Curse of Frankenstein, 1957
      • The Abominable Snowman / The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas, 1957
      • Quatermass 2 / Enemy from Space, 1957
      • The Steel Bayonet, 1957
      • The Revenge of Frankenstein, 1958
      • Dracula / Horror of Dracula, 1958
      • The Camp on Blood Island, 1958
      • Murder at Site 3, 1958
      • Up the Creek, 1958
      • The Snorkel, 1958
      • I Only Arsked!, 1958
      • Further Up the Creek, 1958
      • The Hound of the Baskervilles, 1959
      • The Mummy, 1959
      • Don't Panic Chaps!, 1959
      • The Man Who Could Cheat Death, 1959
      • The Phoenix / Ten Seconds to Hell, 1959
      • The Ugly Duckling, 1959
      • Yesterday's Enemy, 1959
      • The Stranglers of Bombay, 1959
  • 60s
      • The Brides of Dracula, 1960
      • The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll / House of Fright / Jekyll's Inferno, 1960
      • Hell Is a City, 1960
      • Never Take Sweets from a Stranger, 1960
      • Sword of Sherwood Forest, 1960
      • Visa to Canton / Passport to China, 1960
      • The Curse of the Werewolf, 1961
      • Shadow of the Cat, 1961
      • Cash on Demand, 1961
      • The Full Treatment / Stop Me Before I Kill, 1961
      • Taste of Fear / Scream of Fear, 1961
      • The Terror of the Tongs, 1961
      • Watch it, Sailor!, 1961
      • A Weekend with Lulu, 1961
      • The Phantom of the Opera, 1962
      • Captain Clegg / Night Creatures, 1962
      • Pirates of Blood River, 1962
      • The Kiss of the Vampire / Kiss of Evil, 1963
      • The Damned / These Are the Damned, 1963
      • The Maniac, 1963
      • The Old Dark House, 1963
      • Paranoiac, 1963
      • The Scarlet Blade, 1963
      • The Evil of Frankenstein, 1964
      • The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb, 1964
      • The Gorgon, 1964
      • The Devil-Ship Pirates, 1964
      • Nightmare, 1964
      • The Brigand of Kandahar, 1965
      • Fanatic / Die! Die! My Darling!, 1965
      • Hysteria, 1965
      • The Nanny, 1965
      • The Secret of Blood Island, 1965
      • She, 1965
      • Dracula: Prince of Darkness, 1966
      • The Plague of the Zombies, 1966
      • Rasputin, the Mad Monk, 1966
      • The Reptile, 1966
      • The Witches / The Devil's Own, 1966
      • One Million Years B.C., 1966
      • Frankenstein Created Woman, 1967
      • The Mummy's Shroud, 1967
      • A Challenge for Robin Hood, 1967
      • Quatermass and the Pit / Five Million Years to Earth, 1967
      • The Viking Queen, 1967
      • Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, 1968
      • The Devil Rides Out / The Devil's Bride, 1968
      • Slave Girls / Prehistoric Women, 1968
      • The Anniversary, 1968
      • The Lost Continent, 1968
      • The Vengeance of She, 1968
      • Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, 1969
      • Moon Zero Two, 1969
  • 70s
      • The Horror of Frankenstein, 1970
      • Taste the Blood of Dracula, 1970
      • Scars of Dracula, 1970
      • The Vampire Lovers, 1970
      • Crescendo, 1970
      • When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, 1970
      • Blood from the Mummy's Tomb, 1971
      • Countess Dracula, 1971
      • Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, 1971
      • Hands of the Ripper, 1971
      • Lust for a Vampire, 1971
      • Twins of Evil, 1971
      • Creatures the World Forgot, 1971
      • On the Buses, 1971
      • Dracula A.D. 1972, 1972
      • Demons of the Mind, 1972
      • Vampire Circus, 1972
      • Fear in the Night, 1972
      • Mutiny on the Buses, 1972
      • Straight on Till Morning, 1972
      • Nearest and Dearest, 1972
      • The Satanic Rites of Dracula / Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride, 1973
      • Holiday on the Buses, 1973
      • Love Thy Neighbour, 1973
      • Man at the Top, 1973
      • That's Your Funeral, 1973
      • Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, 1974
      • The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires / The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula, 1974
      • Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter, 1974
      • Man About the House, 1974
      • Shatter / Call Him MISTER Shatter!, 1974
      • To the Devil a Daughter, 1976
      • The Lady Vanishes, 1979

All Hammer films Hammer horror films Hammer Frankenstein films

Most all of Hammer’s horror films possess a distinctive tonal signature, discerned in the velvety interior design, original orchestral music, and luxurious satin, tweed, and wool costumes. They tend to take place in castles and the proximate English moors bathed in fog or moonlight. The male characters are often older and cosmopolitan, and the females discrepantly younger and naif; their accents and delivery are stagey and subdued, as though the performances are tempered by the social etiquette of a fancy black tie gathering. Imagine two characters – men over the age of 50, in heavy topcoats and wistful grey hair – walking into a medium shot and speaking with flawless enunciation for many minutes without moving and without edits, before exiting undramatically on either side of the composition. Think of a Hammer film as a sort of stage play with sophisticated music and art direction, libidinous double entendres, and replete with murder.

In 1948 the burgeoning outfit moved into an unfurnished, 23-bedroom mansion an hour east of London and situated within view of the nearby River Thames. This would optimize Hammer’s resourcefulness. The location would serve as lodging (cast and crew would live on set, as would a butler), and enterprising studio space considering many of their films took place in semi-rural townships anchored by a very large stony dwelling with several rooms and the requisite staff. Many Hammer films were consequentially borne of the same constraints, instilling in them a consistent aesthetic despite their topical variety, like a marching band outfitted in identical regalia.

In 1955 Hammer produced their first major hit in an adaptation of the popular BBC television serial The Quatermass Experiment, begun in 1953. The TV version was a deft if sparing science fiction fable of an astronaut who returns to Earth possessed by an abstract alien force. Considering it a low-risk investment (the television serial had been a major success), Hammer optioned the rights and proposed a more sinister work—this was conveyed in the film’s very title, which excised the “E” in “Experiment” and defaulted to a menacing, hand-scrawled “X.” The conceit referred to the film’s distribution certificate, and was to contemporaneous audiences an assurance of frights the television version did not permit.14 The conclusion of Hammer’s film was a particular departure from the serial in which Quatermass – the moralistic scientist of the title – convinces the bewitched astronaut to take his own life in mercy, sparing those he involuntarily threatens on Earth. In the film, the astronaut mutates into a physically indeterminate, tentacled creature intent to wreak havoc upon its new planet. Quatermass commandeers a trap in which the monster is forcibly electrocuted to death.

The Quatermass Xperiment was the studio’s most popular film to date. Hammer ascertained that the horrific aspects of the film were of specific interest to audiences,15 a claim macabrely confirmed in one of the film’s legendary footnotes: during a screening in Illinois a child suffered a ruptured artery in what is reportedly the only known instance of an film viewer’s death from fright.16

Hammer’s prodigious foray into horror herewith commenced. By the end of the 1950s they would initiate their beloved Dracula and Mummy franchises as well as a Quatermass sequel, and a miscellany of films titled with “murder,” “stranglers,” an “abominable snowman,” “blood” or “hell” or “death.” Following The Quatermass Xperiment, Hammer's next film more assuredly christened their horror enterprise: it would be in color, a first for Hammer and uncommon for the genre in general, and based upon Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which was with the Universal films already a considerable success in the United States where Hammer’s films were infrequently distributed.

The Shelley novel was in the public domain at this time, but in adapting it Hammer courted litigation in the wake of the Universal franchise, which numbered seven films and had enlarged both the novel’s audience and visual vernacular. The appearance of the creature was done identically across them, and its elements were as iconic as Dracula’s widow’s peak, satin cape, ominous Eastern European drawl, and fangs. The Universal films furthermore distended the novel’s narrative, and encompassed a deeper ancestry and a wider gamut of action and consequence. There is the famous Bride (who is alluded to but uncompleted in the novel), and in the third film Frankenstein’s son attempts to redeem his father’s surly reputation for monster-making. This is to say nothing of the creature’s encounters with the Wolf Man, Abbot and Costello, and Dracula. Point being, a Frankenstein adaptation was for Hammer a curious venture considering the span, variety and popularity of the Universal films. In confirming Frankenstein as their next production, producer Max Rosenberg outlined the studio's ensuing labor:

Unless an incident is mentioned in the book Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, it must be very carefully checked that there is no parallel in the original [Universal] film. It is not sufficient to take the book and write an original from it; if this is done you will find that at least 80% of the good ideas were used in the original. Wherever the new screenplay deviates from the book it must use ideas well-clear of the original. We suggest that the screenplay is carefully checked against the original film by somebody competent to recognise infringement of copyrights.17

More pressing was the issue of how the creature would be done, and whether – like Karloff’s version – it was to be the film’s visual hallmark. This belabored production up until a day before the creature was filmed, and the solution was a hastened one, a consensus between director Terence Fisher, producer Tony Hinds, make-up artist Phil Leakey, and a handsome, baritone-voiced, totemic six-foot actor who would become Hammer’s marquee attraction, Christopher Lee.18 According to Leakey:

[W]e came to a sort of consensus of opinion—more or less. That we would try and forget all about monsters and other people’s films and anything else that was worrying us. The idea evolved that we would just try sticking lumps of flesh on a skeleton or skull and stitch it all up. That is what happened. I felt that another week and it would have been much better.19

The Curse of Frankenstein was completed in 1957. In it Lee’s monster is mute and unexpressive, his face caked up with bulbous protrusions of flesh. He ballasts this with a stiff-legged performance: his eyes cavernous and unblinking, he jerks forward and raises his arms sleepwalk-like each time an unknowing victim is within reach. His appearance is less distinct alongside Karloff’s, but it is not derivative. Nevertheless, Lee’s creature is overshadowed at every turn by his creator, played with ruthless aplomb by Peter Cushing.

01_Cushing_vert
Cushing in a production still from The Evil of Frankenstein, 1964.

Cushing assumed the role of Frankenstein for all but one of Hammer’s Frankenstein films, and his centrality to the franchise cannot be overstated. He was a departure from Colin Clive in the Universal films,20 commandeering his surroundings or presiding over some well-furnished laboratory with a placating assistant, impulsively murdering people for the benefit of science, and confronting his creation with uncharacteristic agility—in a later film Cushing, at 59 years of age, leaps onto the back of his latest creation in a brave attempt to subdue him. Both impetuous and remorseless in his actions, he is the principal cause of the films’ violence, and so adept in his diabolical labor that at one point he even recreates himself in another body.

The Curse of Frankenstein demonstrably confirmed Hammer’s specialty in delivering haunts and violence. Not only did it secure their marketability (it was immediately distributed in the U.S.21) but it intensified the predominantly monochrome horror genre. It was different from the Universal films and yet popular, and was so without humanizing its creature. In the Universal films, the iconic moments are not those of mayhem, but when Karloff approaches a young girl, for instance, tragically misinterpreting her delicacy and tosses her into a pond like a flower, or when he encounters his bride for the first time and heartbreakingly calls out for her—“Friend?” The Hammer film was emphatically more sadistic. When Frankenstein isolates an involuntary donor for his creation’s brain, the last part he needs for assembly, he invites the guest over for dinner and then shoves him off a balcony. After this happens, the creature’s actions are trivial in comparison to its creator’s violence against the human form.

A sequel came within a year, The Revenge of Frankenstein, 1958, followed by five more: The Evil of Frankenstein, 1964; Frankenstein Created Woman, 1967; Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, 1969; The Horror of Frankenstein, 1970; and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, 1974. Between these there was little continuity (Cushing’s Frankenstein was the principle through line, although he was absent in the penultimate entry, in which Frankenstein was played by one of Hammer’s emergent stars, Ralph Bates), but like all Hammer films they were of a piece with one another. Hammer’s staple directors Terrence Fisher and Freddie Francis helmed five of them in combination, and likewise company writers Jimmy Sangster and Anthony Hinds scripted (or co-scripted) three films each.22 Apart from the casting and appearance of the creature, the Hammer Frankensteins possessed a consistent roster of talent across its fifteen-year span.

  • The Curse of Frankenstein
  • The Revenge of Frankenstein
  • The Evil of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein Created Woman
  • Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
  • The Horror of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell
Director
Terrence Fisher
  • The Curse of Frankenstein
  • The Revenge of Frankenstein
  • The Evil of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein Created Woman
  • Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
  • The Horror of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell

Freddie Francis
  • The Curse of Frankenstein
  • The Revenge of Frankenstein
  • The Evil of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein Created Woman
  • Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
  • The Horror of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell

Jimmy Sangster
  • The Curse of Frankenstein
  • The Revenge of Frankenstein
  • The Evil of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein Created Woman
  • Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
  • The Horror of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell

Writer
Jimmy Sangster
  • The Curse of Frankenstein
  • The Revenge of Frankenstein
  • The Evil of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein Created Woman
  • Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
  • The Horror of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell

Anthony Hinds
  • The Curse of Frankenstein
  • The Revenge of Frankenstein
  • The Evil of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein Created Woman
  • Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
  • The Horror of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell

Bert Batt
  • The Curse of Frankenstein
  • The Revenge of Frankenstein
  • The Evil of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein Created Woman
  • Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
  • The Horror of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell

Jeremy Burnham
  • The Curse of Frankenstein
  • The Revenge of Frankenstein
  • The Evil of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein Created Woman
  • Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
  • The Horror of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell

Dr. Frankenstein
Peter Cushing
  • The Curse of Frankenstein
  • The Revenge of Frankenstein
  • The Evil of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein Created Woman
  • Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
  • The Horror of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell

Ralph Bates
  • The Curse of Frankenstein
  • The Revenge of Frankenstein
  • The Evil of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein Created Woman
  • Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
  • The Horror of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell

The Creature
Christopher Lee
  • The Curse of Frankenstein
  • The Revenge of Frankenstein
  • The Evil of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein Created Woman
  • Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
  • The Horror of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell

Michael Gwynn
  • The Curse of Frankenstein
  • The Revenge of Frankenstein
  • The Evil of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein Created Woman
  • Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
  • The Horror of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell

Kiwi Kingston
  • The Curse of Frankenstein
  • The Revenge of Frankenstein
  • The Evil of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein Created Woman
  • Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
  • The Horror of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell

Susan Denberg
  • The Curse of Frankenstein
  • The Revenge of Frankenstein
  • The Evil of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein Created Woman
  • Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
  • The Horror of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell

Freddie Jones
  • The Curse of Frankenstein
  • The Revenge of Frankenstein
  • The Evil of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein Created Woman
  • Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
  • The Horror of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell

David Prowse
  • The Curse of Frankenstein
  • The Revenge of Frankenstein
  • The Evil of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein Created Woman
  • Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
  • The Horror of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell

  • The Curse of Frankenstein
    1957, 83 min.
    The Curse of Frankenstein
    1957, 83 min.
  • The Revenge of Frankenstein
    1958, 89 min.
    The Revenge of Frankenstein
    1958, 89 min.
  • The Evil of Frankenstein
    1964, 84 min.
    The Evil of Frankenstein
    1964, 84 min.
  • Frankenstein Created Woman
    1967, 92 min.
    Frankenstein Created Woman
    1967, 92 min.
  • Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
    1969, 101 min.
    Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
    1969, 101 min.
  • The Horror of Frankenstein
    1970, 95 min.
    The Horror of Frankenstein
    1970, 95 min.
  • Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell
    1974, 99 min.
    Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell
    1974, 99 min.

Generally, Cushing’s Frankenstein is exiled or sentenced to death at the end of each one, and in the subsequent film relocated to some near-identical township, the inhabitants of which are dismayingly unsuspicious of Frankenstein’s nefarious practices because he changes his name to something mindlessly conspicuous like Dr. Victor, Dr. Franck or Dr. Stein. He aims to preserve and resume his anatomical research, and he seems to assume that at some point his innovations will be confirmed by the local intelligentsia and all his murdering will be pardoned. But this never happens, so in all the Hammer Frankenstein films are about a doomed scientist growing more desperate and merciless in his labor, and like Shelley’s model indifferent to his creations’ identities. The common expectation in watching these films is in speculating who Frankenstein will torment and what, precisely, he’ll create, before he’s found out and banished to another untarnished town with some uninhabited castle in it and an unused lab at the ready…

As for Frankenstein’s creations, they are different in each film. After Lee’s mute rendition some become more cognizant and learn to speak, whereas others remain primitive. Frankenstein never flees from them like he does in the novel, even though some are so innately malicious they reach straight for his throat the moment they awaken. The ones that don’t are nevertheless tormented by their unnatural conception, and the remainder of their short-lived existences are predicated upon some form of vengeance. They range between Karloff facsimiles, ape-like humanoids and ordinary looking people.

  • head_01
    Christopher Lee

    The Curse of Frankenstein 1957

  • head_02
    Michael Gwynn

    The Revenge of Frankenstein 1958

  • head_03
    Kiwi Kingston

    The Evil of Frankenstein 1964

  • head_04
    Susan Denberg

    Frankenstein Created Woman 1967

  • head_05
    Freddie Jones

    Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed 1969

  • head_06
    David Prowse

    The Horror of Frankenstein 1970

  • head_07
    David Prowse

    Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell 1974

After Lee’s turn the monster was accorded more humanity in the second film, The Revenge of Frankenstein, which was the only one of the series with any direct continuity. It followed the events of the first film, with Frankenstein escaping death (the precursor ends ominously as he walks toward a moonlit guillotine) and relocating to Carlsbruck whereupon he assumes his practice in stride. Frankenstein’s past is known only to his laboratory assistant, Karl, who aided in his escape. Karl is severely hunchbacked and volunteers for Frankenstein’s next experiment: to transplant an able brain into a physically uncompromised body. Once completed, Karl’s relief is interrupted when he observes that the lab chimpanzee, on whom Frankenstein first demonstrated the procedure, has cannibalized its mate. Karl is then repelled by his new form, intermittently regresses into his previously handicapped state, and like the ape becomes savage.

Karl is the first of the Hammer creatures to verbalize his hardship, and much of his monstrousness is relayed in Michael Gwynn’s performance as opposed to his appearance. His lapses into violence are articulated in his arms and face clenched into frozen spasm-like expressions. His deformity gradually returns, and before Frankenstein may hasten a solution Karl collapses in anguish and dies. The tragedy is emphasized because it occurs in view of other people, and confirms Frankenstein’s identity as the creator of the monsters they had heard about. He is then beaten to death by the patients at the hospital that employed him.

(Although Frankenstein perishes, his entrepreneurial ingenuity is confirmed at the end of this film, when his assistant collects his body and performs the same procedure as before upon him—transplanting Frankenstein’s unharmed brain into a new body, one that, save for a mustache, looks identical to his previous one. Strictly speaking, he is another of his own creations.)

At this point Hammer was enjoying much success in the U.S. where their films were now distributed by Universal. This arrangement nulled Hammer’s previous copyright issues with Universal’s Frankenstein property, permitting them license to emulate Boris Karloff’s monster for the first time. Their next entry, The Evil of Frankenstein, summarizes Frankenstein’s exploits in flashback: he reanimates a creature much the same way as before, only the creature escapes unharmed, his whereabouts unknown. He is serendipitously found frozen in a glacier, and Frankenstein resolves to resuscitate him. When the creature is again awakened his appearance specifically recalls Karloff’s: his eyes set darkly behind a cantilevered brow, his clothes plain and his gait pendulous, his flesh a pale grey, and electrodes on either side of his head.

For The Evil of Frankenstein Roy Ashton took over from the makeup artist of the previous two films, Phil Leakey, and outlined the nature of their homage:

The design had some resemblance to the original American Frankenstein with Boris Karloff, but was different in several ways. I had the idea of the cranium being opened across the top of the forehead and rather clumsily sewn together with large thongs, to suggest the crude surgical procedures of the time. I think I put the electrodes on the temple whereas, in the Karloff one, they put them on the neck. I had [the actor] wear divers’ boots which I thought would suggest a great lumbering creature.23

Despite these flourishes the result is a blatant approximation of Karloff’s rendition, and in comparison emphasizes the nuances of his performance. Karloff transcends the creature’s physical stiltedness and imbues him with a certain pathos, his face more an attrition of sorrow than it is an armature for prosthetic sculpture. The Hammer creature is played by a 6'5", 238-pound New Zealand wrestler named Kiwi Kingston with no prior acting experience:

[T]he end result of Roy Ashton’s painstaking make-up research resembled little more than an inanimate papier-mâché mask, allowing no facial movements and thus losing all trace of humanity. Coupled with Kingston’s limited repertoire of stomping around in his heavy diving boots, the upshot was a robotic, stumbling brute which, to all intents and purposes, was little more than an expensive prop.24

Hammer’s next Frankenstein film would be in a markedly different direction, and the series’ most inventive and ambitious riff on their mad scientist formula. In Frankenstein Created Woman Cushing’s creator resuscitates a female for the first time and in the process amplifies her beauty, Pygmalion-like. The title was a capitalistic riff on Roger Vadim’s And God Created Woman, a smash hit eleven years prior, but more generally it pronounced Hammer’s burgeoning tendencies toward exploitation. Even the film’s creature was portrayed by a former Playboy Playmate.

The film begins with Frankenstein as the subject of his latest experiment. He’s rolled into view in a coffin that’s been set in a freezer for an indeterminate but clearly perilous duration. His lab aids begin to revive him, and he awakens no worse for the wear. From here, and as before, he endeavors to locate another unwilling specimen for his ongoing string of belligerent resuscitations.

Elsewhere, one of Frankenstein’s assistants Hans courts Christina, the daughter of the local innkeeper. She’s bashful and partially paralyzed, and wears her hair over her face so as to obscure an unsightly scar. Their modesty is tender and mutual, they even turn off the lights before they make love. When three goons come by the inn and harass Christina, Hans valiantly defends her by slicing one of the invaders in the face. Emasculated, the goons return later that night for revenge, and when Christina’s father finds them they impulsively beat and kill him—a crime for which Hans is later convicted and sentenced to death. Hans is braced in a guillotine when Christina arrives at the very moment the blade is released. Inconsolable and distraught, she jumps into a river, killing herself.

In witnessing this injustice, in particular the fresh corpses it’s permitted, Frankenstein has an enterprising if bewildering idea: to place Hans’s soul into Christina’s body. As per usual he does this with no apparent consideration of the consequences, but this instance is more invasive than before. His earlier creations compounded characters with little or no establishment, their ensuing monstrousness thus unquestionable. In this film, the creature as it were doesn’t emerge until halfway through, after the plights of its dual constituents are established.

Frankenstein’s eyes brighten when his newest creature awakens: her previously brunette hair blonde, her face clear and absent of any blemish, her beauty total and obvious. She recalls nothing of her past, and Frankenstein, as a means of sheltering her from the complementary tragedies that inspired her creation, does not oblige when she asks of her identity. “Please,” she says, “who am I?” He responds, “You’re a very, very lovely girl my dear.”

The two souls within Christina soon become manifested in competition with one another. The result is a sexual being whose primal instincts are at odds with her developing consciousness. Hans’s hold on Christina’s psyche grows firmer, engendering her with tenacious resolve to paradoxically avenge both her and her lover’s deaths.

Christina is unlike any other creature in the Hammer Frankensteins. She is cosmetically idealized, in other words not monster-like in any appreciable way. Outfitted in a tight-fitting dirndl that pronounces her cleavage, she immediately draws the attention of men, in particular the three who killed her father and falsely testified against Hans. She lures them into dark alleys with the promise of sex, her feigned lust giving way to a sudden and insistent expression of malice. As she raises a butcher knife to one of them, her teeth gleaming in a garish scowl, her prey is too awestruck to defend himself.

Having succeeded in her quest for vengeance, Christina invokes Hans and reports to him like a placating lover. The exchange has none of the tenderness the two shared earlier—Christina raises Hans’s decapitated head, which she’s been toting around in a picnic basket, and stares reverently into its hollow eyes. Even Frankenstein, who’s been chasing after her in an ineffectual attempt to stop the killing spree, is disturbed by this. She drops the head and flees instinctively toward the lip of a river, eyeing its propulsive current. Frankenstein pleads for her to step away. But her identity has been corrupted, and she turns away from her creator and jumps in.

The woman of the title was played by Susan Denberg, one of Hammer’s trademark ingénues.25 She anchors the film memorably, distinguishing the predeceased Christina as a pitiable girl who recoils from the gaze of passersby, and shouldering her metamorphosis into a lethal seductress. All the while Denberg enriches the character with subtext: the resolve for vengeance, the question of both gender and identity, the Vertigo-like conflict of her express purpose to please men. She’s among the most successful of Frankenstein’s creations in a purely mythological sense, given that these are almost uniformly plagued by their appearance. Appearance in a Frankenstein narrative is a sort of broken interface to the public; it is the ghastliness of Shelley’s original creature, for one, that disables his salvation because people cannot bear to look at him. The appearance of Denberg’s creature in Frankenstein Created Woman not only resolves this particular conflict but introduces another flaw in Frankenstein’s creation thesis: that identity is volatile, distinct apart from the life he imbues in dead flesh, and therefore uncreatable.


By the end of 1966 Hammer moved out of their studios at Bray Mansion (the last of their production dwellings), housing the bulk of their remaining films at nearby Elstree or Pinewood studios. The gothic ambience that once pervaded their features would relent, granting less dramatic and more exploitative fare, as evidenced in the notorious Karnstein trilogy (The Vampire Lovers, 1970; Lust for a Vampire, 1971; Twins of Evil, 1971), which forewent Dracula in lieu of lascivious lesbian vampires. Their remaining 1970s output tended toward even more vampire films, oscillating between reliable stalwarts (The Satanic Rites of Dracula, 1973), would-be franchise startups (Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter, 1972), and occasional standouts (the raucous collaboration with Shaw Brothers Studio, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, 1974). Hammer produced three more Frankenstein films during this period.

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, 1969, begins with Peter Cushing’s evil creator determined to mend one of his academic peers, named Dr. Brandt, whose prodigious mental faculties have been jeopardized by a brain tumor and summoned in him the “most violent and murderous rages.” Accordingly, Brandt has been committed to the local mental institution, where Frankenstein intends to kidnap him and restore his intellect.

Frankenstein’s goal isn’t philanthropic, as he intends to recruit Brandt for his own experiments afterward. But Brandt suffers a fatal heart attack when Frankenstein retrieves him for the surgery, rendering his body unusable. Undeterred, Frankenstein simply scouts for another one in which he’ll install the brain, setting into motion much the same disastrous chain of events he has summoned multiple times before.

At this time Frankenstein is hiding out under an assumed name at a boarding house managed by a spritely young woman, Anna, whose fiancé, Karl, is employed at the very same institution that imprisons Brandt. Karl has been confiscating narcotics there, and in discovering the thieving, and much in need of assistance, Frankenstein coerces the young couple to abet his own scheme in kidnapping Brandt.

Frankenstein is enabled by lab assistants throughout the Hammer series. Some of these are unwitting minions of a hunchbacked sort, and others are genuinely thoughtful apprentices who bolster Frankenstein’s goal for legitimacy. He tends to treat all of them indifferently, which is not a point of criticism because most serve merely as expositional scaffolds. These assistants tend to emerge unscathed by the end despite however implicated they are in facilitating Frankenstein’s catastrophic experiments.

The young couple Frankenstein recruits in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is distinct among his bullpen of lab assistants. Because Karl and Anna do not help him voluntarily, and because Frankenstein treats them with unrelenting condescension, each scene between them is rife with tension. This culminates in an astonishingly incongruous scene in which Frankenstein, capitalizing on the libidinous gaze he’s fixed upon Anna, enters her bedroom one night and rapes her.

This is the cruelest action in all of the Hammer Frankensteins.26 Notwithstanding its brutality – an element that describes many late-era Hammer films, but not with such discordant salaciousness as here – the rape is out of character for Cushing’s Frankenstein. Prior to this he’s apparently abstained from sexual advances of any sort, with the exception of a housemaid he impregnates in the first film (this before he petulantly accuses her of philandering). He’s a character for whom there is no real leisure apart from his experiments, and even dinner is no more than a forum to discuss the day’s work. All the people with whom Frankenstein socializes are implicated into his scheme, which is to say he is imprudent regarding the moral boundaries of others, but he is not sadistic.

Frankenstein’s experiments are intent to dignify the human form. The moment of reawakening is one of profound dignity for each of his multivariate creatures, and he’ll orbit them sensitively, tending to their re-emergent senses until they can see and speak on their own. All the people he kills, all the limbs he harvests or the scholar he shoves off of a balcony, all of this is done with this moment of rebirth singularly in mind; to Frankenstein murder is a perverse compliment. His rape of Anna confirms her lack of dignity to him, as well as her inadequacy as an anatomical specimen. Had he strangled her and taken her corpse to his lab then nothing would be amiss, because of the possibility that she could be resurrected with her dignity shaken but intact.

This scene notwithstanding, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed has one of the strongest of Hammer’s Frankenstein narratives. After Frankenstein completes the brain transplant, Brandt’s so appalled by his appearance, complemented in a vulgar scar that encircles his cranium, that his expression becomes unremittingly one of anguish, characterizing him as a more nuanced being than Susan Denberg’s conflation of lovers in the previous film. He resents Frankenstein for disfiguring him, and in classic form confronts his creator with fire as police descend upon the two in embittered conflict.27 Frankenstein intends to retrieve Brandt’s research, which is encompassed in a stack of papers that he did not know about until this precarious moment. Brandt, intent to craft his own demise, sets the place aflame and delivers an ultimatum to his creator: “You must choose between the flames and the police,” he says, cursing Frankenstein to perish of his own hubris or in the humiliation of imprisonment. The film ends soon after, in an exterior shot of Brandt’s house, engulfed by the inferno, the fates of its inhabitants unknown.

Brandt remains the most literate and emotional of Frankenstein’s creations, which is to say he isn’t especially monstrous. He opposes his creator with logic instead of violence, and he spends most of his time lurking in his own house, tearfully withdrawn from his wife. The fire that concludes the film, as well as the rape at its midpoint, counterbalance Brandt’s lack of fearsomeness, an aspect resoundingly corrected in Hammer’s two remaining Frankenstein entries.

Hammer’s output at this time tended to supplant the studio’s roster of older gentlemen (Cushing, for one, was in his late fifties) with younger actors. The stony castles were the same, only they were now inhabited by fresh-faced bohemians, and the police that investigate them bereft of any wrinkles or gray hair. In one outlandish instance Christopher Lee’s Dracula is resurrected in the 1970s where he encounters his victims in London at its most vibrantly modish.28 Hammer films were now more puerile than they were gothic, and their next Frankenstein entry would follow suit.

The Horror of Frankenstein, 1970, was a rare directorial effort from Hammer’s most prolific screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, who penned over thirty films for the studio including their first two Frankenstein films. Sangster co-wrote the film with neophyte screenwriter Jeremy Burnham, who specialized in television and for whom this was one of his only feature screenplays. Rounding out the roster of untested talent was 30-year-old Ralph Bates in the title role, and who forewent Cushing’s more disciplined depiction in favor of a more lecherous one.29

Bates’s Frankenstein is still in medical school at the beginning of the film, where his academic interests are so unsatisfied he spends much of his time smattering his gaze upon his female classmates. He’s reprimanded once it becomes known that he’s impregnated the Dean’s daughter, a controversy he only exacerbates in personally offering to abort the fetus.

The Horror of Frankenstein was a roundabout remake of The Curse of Frankenstein, although it dispenses with the earlier film’s stark humorlessness, assuming a more playful tone, less an homage and more a clothesline for Bates’s charmless hijinks. His cold arrogance makes him genuinely unlikeable, and his resolute lack of fear of getting discovered (he collects body parts via murder and grave robbing as per his antecedent) undermines the film’s suspense. It all plays like a joke that fails to arrive at a satisfactory punch line.

The Horror of Frankenstein was the first Hammer film that cast David Prowse in the role of the creature. A tall actor enrobed in a carapace of muscle, Prowse had coincidentally played Frankenstein’s creation once before in the spy comedy Casino Royale, 1967, and would reprise the role in the subsequent Hammer Frankenstein film.30 His two renditions are different in composition and appearance, beginning with another Karloff approximation in this film, ashen-skinned and flanked with electrodes, but more sexualized. Whereas Karloff looks like a decrepit garden statue come to life, Prowse’s body is in peak physical form, Frankenstein’s creature as a sexy Halloween costume. He’s shirtless when he’s first awakened: he opens his eyes blankly and flexes his chest, crisply popping out of his leather restraints. Impressed, Frankenstein greets him with an extended arm, “How d’you do?” The creature’s ensuing rampage, told in the endearing B-movie tradition of smashing through doors instead of opening them, proceeds in the same cartoonish fashion.

The franchise concluded with Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, 1974, a capable if modest execution of Hammer’s proven Frankenstein template that reinstated the studio’s hallmark talents: director Terence Fisher (it would be his final film), screenwriter Anthony Hinds, and a considerably gaunt Peter Cushing as Frankenstein.31 At the start of the film he’s working in a mental institution under an alias. His surgical practice is belabored by his hands that have been badly burnt in an accident (perhaps he has escaped the fiery inferno at the end of Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, but this is unclear), rendering them all but unusable in surgery.

Elsewhere, a young medical student, named Simon, toils in his isolated laboratory. He’s bribed a local troglodyte to retrieve a fresh corpse for his research, which he sets about in now familiar style: without gloves or a surgical mask, meticulously pruning flesh off with a scalpel. Simon refers to a thick tome that arrays the controversial findings of one Dr. Frankenstein; Cushing’s dour visage graces the frontispiece. Before he accomplishes anything a policeman arrives unannounced, and arrests him after he finds a stockpile of eyeballs that resembles a jar of jawbreakers at a candy store.

Simon is summarily committed to the local mental institution. When he arrives there he eyes his fellow inmates with dismay, all of whom have some obvious physical or mental handicap. He’s forcibly sprayed clean with a fire hose and sent back to his cell, where he’s mended by the prison medic, none other than the Frankenstein of legend.

Simon is star struck and quickly sees through Frankenstein’s ruse (he’s donned the alias Dr. Carl Victor): he’s been sentenced here as punishment for his experiments, and has blackmailed the warden in order to continue practicing in secret on the institution’s woeful patients. He tours Simon around the premises and introduces its star inmates: a violinist who has elegant hands; another is a genius; and one is heralded for his physical strength, but he is conspicuously absent from his cell (the thick iron bars on its window have been pried open). Simon learns that all three will be combined in Frankenstein’s newest creation, the prototype of which is kept in a cage and resembles nothing of his human precursors. It’s as though Frankenstein has repeatedly renovated the same body over and over with better parts.

The creature is played by Prowse in the only holdover from the previous film, although his appearance is far more monstrous than before. He is more apelike, his physique obscured behind a coat of hair, his lips bulbous and pursed into a frown. His arms culminate in a pair of hastily mended stumps (where the violinist’s hands will go), and his eye sockets are initially vacant. Stowed away in a cage, he resembles a piteous sideshow attraction, a blind double-amputee. One of his only lines in the film recalls that of the ill-fated scientist Andre Delambre in The Fly, 1958—“Help me.”

Pivoting between little more than three studio sets, Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell is more sparing than Hammer’s previous Frankenstein entries. The plot satisfies the franchise’s natural grave-robbing and monster-making arc, and the bulk of the film concerns Frankenstein’s labor in reinstating the creature’s limbs. One is certain that this will be another of his failed experiments judging from the volatility exhibited in the creature’s forebears. The film is more violent than its precursors, and the creature a more primal, more dangerous beast who ably demonstrates his resistance to captivity. When his rampage begins late in the film, the creature descends upon the corrupt warden with the shank of a broken carafe and viciously slices open his neck. Afterwards he lumbers away, his hands glistening in blood. The creature later perishes at the hands of the asylum’s horde of inmates who encircle and dismember him with their hands and teeth.

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell’s trenchant violence did little to distinguish it from Hammer’s comparatively less savage horror films. To audiences it was a Hammer property all the same, a gothic period film populated with miscreants who blackmail and harass each other. Frankenstein had become timeworn in his continued exploits, like the weathered rounded corners of the stones that constituted the dungeons in which he toiled.

At the time of the film’s release the horror genre was revitalized both within and outside the studio system. The Exorcist debuted to enormous critical and commercial success the same year as Hammer’s film, and the following year The Texas Chain Saw Massacre opened to modest returns but was uniformly acknowledged for its brutality. In combination these films delineated the widening parameters of the horror genre: one was a more cerebral story employing more abstract or imagined fears; the other was predicated upon realistic haunts, those that lurk in dark basements or rural cabins, its horror thus comprehensible. Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell was an antique alongside these films, and in emblematizing Hammer’s familiar pedigree had additionally broadcasted the studio’s failure to adapt. Terence Fisher attended the film’s sparsely populated press screening, which doubled as a sort of wake given the studio’s waning popularity:

The few critics present ignored him, preferring to chat among themselves about the new Woody Allen film that they had seen earlier in the day. The 70-year-old director sat impassively on the sidelines, only too aware that the concluding installment in the saga had now been enacted.32

Hammer’s remaining slate consisted of five more films, culminating in The Lady Vanishes, in 1979, which failed to emerge from the shadow of the Alfred Hitchcock original. The studio hereafter ceased production.


In retrospect no single creature in the Hammer Frankensteins satisfactorily approximates Mary Shelley’s original. The ones that are composites of body parts are garish and animalistic, and the ones that inhabit unadulterated bodies have alert mental faculties and subordinate the novel’s physiological horror. They are each an exploratory riff on the Shelley prototype, in sum refracting the complexity of the original creature in piecemeal, demonstrating a varied and comprehensive consideration of the novel.

  • Literate
  • Whole
  • Ignorant
  • Composite
  • The Creature, 1818
  • Christopher Lee, 1957
  • Michael Gwynn, 1958
  • Kiwi Kingston, 1964
  • Susan Denberg, 1967
  • Freddie Jones, 1969
  • David Prowse, 1970
  • David Prowse, 1974
  • The Creature

    Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus

    1818
  • Christopher Lee

    The Curse of Frankenstein

    1957
    head_01
  • Michael Gwynn

    The Revenge of Frankenstein

    1958
    head_02
  • Kiwi Kingston

    The Evil of Frankenstein

    1964
    head_03
  • Susan Denberg

    Frankenstein Created Woman

    1967
    head_04
  • Freddie Jones

    Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed

    1969
    head_05
  • David Prowse

    The Horror of Frankenstein

    1970
    head_06
  • David Prowse

    Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell

    1974
    head_07

Frankenstein’s method in making each of these creatures is more or less the same: he suspends the completed cadavers in coffin-like bathtubs connected to a powerful electric current. In some films this process is abstracted, but the creatures all tend to wake up and groggily unravel their bandages, reconciling their surroundings and appearance as their vision deblurs. From this point onward the creatures all vary in appearance and behavior, and between them evince no clear lineage. Put simply, one creator has authored the same experiment multiple times and gotten multiple results, each one of them tragic.

Over the course of Hammer’s seven Frankenstein films the creatures, in their mélange of corporeal permutations, demonstrate a crude scientific method that ultimately fails to confirm the viability of Frankenstein’s creation thesis. But what of this thesis? As a creator of life Frankenstein lacks empathy, morality, taste, and often aesthetics. There’s never a clear sense that he intends to do anything more than secure his own renown. His creations are all afterthoughts, each one a living nightmare; they are successful renewals of existence, but this renewal doesn’t preclude the creations’ acute despair, as though they have all been reborn in a coffin buried somewhere deep in the cold earth. At best, Frankenstein succeeds only in creating a being sentient enough to kill itself.

The novel’s status as horror is compelled by a duality between Frankenstein and his creation, as the two are poised in symbiotic opposition. It’s inconclusive as to whom is the more destructive or tormented: one is the novel’s sole instrument of death, and the other its fabricator. Frankenstein’s monster is interchangeable, as evidenced in the title’s appropriated connotation in reference to either creator or creature.

The novel’s adaptations generally seize upon the creature as the figure of terror, a tactic expressed inconsistently in the Hammer films. But it is clear that Peter Cushing’s Frankenstein, in his unrelenting ambition and lethal capability, is purposefully the namesake of the Hammer Frankensteins and the fundament of their bold and foredooming titles. Unlike Shelley’s creator, Hammer’s archetypical mad scientist, to whom his creatures' agonized existences are inscrutable, remains ensconced in his resolute belief that death is worse than living even a tragic life. So it is without fear that at the end of many of these films he’s captured and sentenced to execution. He’s taken to a guillotine, a moonlit chiaroscuro erected upon a hill, and as he approaches regards its readied blade up above him, certain that perhaps even his own death will not be permanent.

  1. Edison’s film on YouTube.
  2. The most recent as of this writing was Victor Frankenstein, in 2015.
  3. Frankenhooker, 1990.
  4. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, 1818 (Penguin Classics Edition, 2003), 53.
  5. Ibid, 52.
  6. Ibid, 58.
  7. Ibid, 58.
  8. Ibid, 104.
  9. Ibid, 103.
  10. “Frankenstein: The Myth,” from The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural, 1986, 157.
  11. Ibid, 157.
  12. After his exile, the creature reads “Paradise Lost, a volume of Plutarch’s Lives, and the Sorrows of Werter.” (Shelley, 130.)
  13. It was later sold and revived in 2008.
  14. U for all audiences, A for adults, and X for ages 16 and older. The latter replaced the “H” certificate (1932–1951), which pertained expressly to films with horrific content.
  15. Wheeler Winston Dixon, A History of Horror, 2010, 87–88.
  16. “Parents Sue on Horror Pix After Boy, 9 Dies,” Variety, 1956, which read: “Family of a nine-year-old boy who died of a ruptured artery in a theater lobby here recently is suing the theater and a film distributor for admitting children to horror pix. Suit blamed the death on fright.” (Cited in Denis Meikle, A History of Horrors: The Rise and Fall of the House of Hammer, 2008, 278.)
  17. Quoted in Wayne Kinsey, Hammer Films: The Bray Studio Years, 50.
  18. Lee would debut as Dracula the following year, and become Hammer’s foremost star. This was his only appearance in Hammer’s Frankenstein franchise.
  19. Kinsey, 65.
  20. Clive is typically subordinated once his creations are given life, and was absent in the later Universal Frankensteins due to his untimely death in 1937.
  21. The Quatermass Xperiment and other films would take years, and were often permuted into different versions, before they were distributed abroad.
  22. Hinds was credited pseudonymously, under “John Elder.”
  23. Kinsey, 277.
  24. Kinsey, 278–9.
  25. Apart from a bit part in a Star Trek episode the year prior, Denberg’s career was sparse. She retired from acting after Frankenstein Created Woman.
  26. The rape was insisted upon by Hammer executive James Carreras, to complement the film’s thorough violence with salacious sex, vitalizing it as an exploitation property in the U.S. Cushing, actress Veronica Carlson and director Terence Fisher all objected to the inclusion.
  27. Fire being one of the cinematic additions to the Frankenstein mythology. It accompanies the climax of the first Universal film as well as some of the Hammer ones. This is the only instance I know of in which the hell-like death is instituted by the creature and not those endeavoring to stay him. It’s as though he manufactures the titular hell for Cushing’s profane creator.
  28. Dracula A.D. 1972, 1972, which sports the tag line, “He’s waiting to freak you out, right out of this world.”
  29. Bates debuted the prior year in Taste the Blood of Dracula, in 1969, and returned for two more Hammer outings the next: Lust for a Vampire and Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde in 1971.
  30. Despite this redundancy Prowse’s most famous role was Darth Vader’s physical form in Star Wars, in which neither his face nor voice is seen nor heard.
  31. The death of Cushing’s wife in 1971 prompted his momentary withdraw from acting. Upon his return the next year, Cushing’s collaborators took note of physical toll the grief wreaked upon him.
  32. Meikle, 308.