31-days-of-hammerIf The Quatermass Xperiment started Hammer down the path towards becoming masters of horror it was 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein that secured their title as the “house of horror”.

Directed by Terence Fisher and written by Jimmy Sangster, this is a loose adaptation of Mary Shelley’s story. Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) is in prison awaiting execution. A priest has arrived to hear Frankenstein’s story before he is executed. Frankenstein starts his tale.

Curse of FrankensteinAfter his mother’s death Frankenstein had inherited his father’s estate. He seeks out a teacher and finds Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart). Frankenstein learns from Paul and as the years pass they become friends and colleagues. Frankenstein is fascinated with life and death and the two start to plan on a way to reanimate the dead. Meanwhile Frankenstein’s cousin Elizabeth (Hazel Court) has come to stay with them as she was promised to Frankenstein as a wife. Frankenstein romances her but he’s been seeing his maid Justine (Valerie Gaunt) on the side.

Frankenstein and Paul start working on building a creature (Christopher Lee). Frankenstein wants to use the brain of Professor Bernstein (Paul Hardtmuth) and promptly pushes the good professor to his death so he can use his good brain. Paul freaks out and fights with Frankenstein over the brain, damaging it. Despite the set back and Paul leaving, Frankenstein manages to bring the creature to life.

The creature escapes and Paul helps Frankenstein track it down. When they find it Paul shoots and kills it. Frankenstein later brings the body back to life. Frankenstein’s maid starts threatening to blackmail him so Frankenstein sends the creature out to kill her. When Paul discovers that Frankenstein has brought the creature back to life he goes to the authorities. Meanwhile the creature has escaped and is threatening Elizabeth.

Hammer wanted to tackle a classic horror story and they delivered, creating a masterpiece and turning the once floundering studio into a successful one that would become synonymous with horror. The movie disgusted and thrilled audiences (the very little gore there is was too much for 1957 audiences) and would set the standard for horror for over a decade. Many imitators would follow but few could beat the masters. The movie catapulted Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing to stardom and they would spend a big chunk of their careers making movies for Hammer.

Hammer’s last theatrical movie was in 1978 – a mediocre remake of The Lady Vanishes. They would produce some TV shows in the 1980s before they disappeared into the night. Recently new owners have bought the company and tried resurrecting it. This new Hammer has so far made a remake of the brilliant Let The Right One In (Let Me In) and a couple of ghost stories (The Woman in Black). They haven’t exactly rekindled the old magic or reinvigorated the horror genre which seems to have stalled with found footage, haunted houses and the odd exorcism. Still the legacy that Hammer left behind is impressive and their classic films are timeless and fun to watch and rewatch.