The Blu-ray release of a widely accepted Hammer classic starring the inaugural pairing of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee should be a no brainer when it comes down to laying out the cash. But when THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN fell into the hands of avid Hammer fans, it did so amidst a wave of controversy. Not only did some feel the picture quality was a little disappointing, the aspect ratio described on the packaging as its "original Academy ratio of 1.37:1" caused somewhat of a furore.

Before I address those issues by offering yet another fans opinion on the Lionsgate Double play 3 disc DVD and Blu-ray package, let’s focus on the actual movie in question.

We start within the unforgiving confines of a prison cell. A priest (Alex Gallier) has just paid a visit to Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) who is facing the death penalty. In a desperate bid for freedom, Frankenstein begins to bestow the incredible sequence of events which has seen him accused of murder.

It begins innocently enough when the Baron was a mere adolescent. His parent’s untimely passing means young Victor (Melvin Hayes) inherits their wealthy estate, allowing him to finance his own education in the field of science. The young Baron recruits Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) to satiate his thirst for scientific knowledge. As the eager student matures (obviously into Cushing!), his ability soon surpasses that of his lecturer. Together, the pair experiment with bringing deceased animals back to life. When success is achieved Paul believes they can use their techniques and equipment for the good of mankind. But the Baron has far greater, if not more morally corrupt, ambitions by wishing to build the perfect being.

Very reluctantly Paul assists the Baron cut down a hanged highwayman. But although only on the gallows for a short while, his eyes have been ravaged by the beaks of hungry crows and in any case, his hands are not the cultured appendages the Baron imagined.

A few backstreet deals later and the Baron is in possession of the required body parts. But only when he attempts to acquire a brain that will give his creation a "lifetime of knowledge" does the true extent of his nefarious nature get exposed. He callously murders Professor Bernstein (Paul Hardtmuth) but doesn’t get the chance to use the perfect organ after violent argument between him and Paul compromises the brain with shards of glass.

Stubbornly Frankenstein perseveres and inadvertently gives his creation life. However, it soon becomes apparent his Creature is a far cry from the perfect being he envisaged...

There are so many reasons why I consider TCOF a classic. Cushing for a start is brilliant as the Baron mixing Frankenstein’s acute genius with regular petulant outbursts. His delightful infantile tantrum when Paul damages the Bernstein’s brain along with his muttered "I did it Paul..." after nearly being throttled to death in his first meeting with the living fiend embodied this wonderfully.

But making his debut for Hammer Films was Christopher Lee. In a role simply billed The Creature and completely devoid of dialogue, Lee delivers a master class. The creature’s initial violent confusion soon dissolves into various states of exploitation. His incarceration in different states of suspension and shackles culminate in an almost heart wrenching scene. After some hasty brain surgery, although the viewer is aware the Creature is a killer, it is hard not to have pity on him as Lee pathetically cowers in the corner, his brutish spirit apparently broken...

Beyond the performances, Terence Fishers direction is perfectly paced while Jack Asher’s cinematography positively oozes gothic aesthetic.

In a twist of irony the movie has swapped its inflammatory "X" rating for a family friendly "12" with this release even though a previously expurgated scene has now been reinstated. It is of course the "eyeball" sequence. With the close up of a removed pig’s eye apparently deemed too offensive for British audiences back in 1957, it great to see this brief shot restored even if the censored cut straight to Cushing’s magnified eyeball was arguably more effective.

Onto the virtues of the disc itself I have to say I find the whole commotion over the picture quality a little perplexing myself. I found the 1080p resolution with the MPEG-4 AVC transfer to be up to scratch. Scenes within the laboratory showcase the apparatus clearly including the colourful array of liquids while the flames in the climatic scenes appear opulently rich. Admittedly some scenes do appear a little ‘soft’ but I found this tended to be mainly when Hazel Court as Elizabeth graced the screen. In the movies most violent sequence, when the creature gets shot in the eye by Paul, the image of glistening crimson on pallid skin had a wonderfully striking contrast even in the long shot as Lee excruciatingly manages his slow collapse to the ground.

The DTS 2.0 master audio was equally as pleasing bringing the dramatic score to life and conveying clear and consistent dialogue devoid of any distortion throughout.

Addressing the controversies of the "original Academy ratio of 1.37:1" now and the picture does have quite a ‘boxy’ appearance considering two vertical black bars either side of the screen. But compared to the blow up and masking applied to 1.66:1 version included, the AOR does fare better in my opinion. For example, the 1.66:1 although appearing bigger does actually deny the viewer details at the top of the screen. The wonderful gothic building perched on the mountains as the Priest’s horse ascends up the winding road in the opening scenes for example is almost completely masked where as the 1.37:1 version shows this in all its glory. The characters heads also bob perilously close to the top of the screen in the more naturally widescreen version.

With standards of high definition ‘remastery’ raising all the time, anything less the perfection these days gets an absolute pasting it would seem. Personally I found Lionsgate’s Blu-ray more than satisfactory but I am admittedly less anal then some folk when it comes to such matters.

Regardless of the hammering the disc got from these quarters, I dare ANYONE to criticize the extras included on the disc.

For starters we get a spanking brand new commentary track delivered by Hammer Films experts Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby. I have to admit I love it when these guys get together and bestow their encyclopaedic knowledge to us fans in a fun but almost aristocratic fashion! It’s not often you can imagine yourself giving a commentary track a repeated listen but such is the wealth of knowledge and polished delivery from Hearn and Rigby I could easily imagine myself giving it a second go at some point.

A new documentary "Frankenstein Reborn: The Making of a Hammer Classic" runs at around 30 minutes. Again its highly informative stuff as we hear from Jimmy Sangster regarding the movies inception. A very intriguing segment is when David Huckvale discusses and demonstrates the intricacies of the musical score. Anyone still toiling with the quality of the picture might be interested in what Paul Collard from Deluxe 142 has to say as he is on hand to examine the transfer process. Melvyn Hayes even pops up to divulge how Christopher Lee effectively snubbed him at a Hammer party a few years back!

A full length feature from Hammer FOUR SIDED TRIANGLE is also included. The black and white 1952 production also directed by Terence Fisher is a fairly relevant addition to the disc due to the similarity of narrative it shares with the main feature. But if Phil Leakey’s special makeup gave TCOF a suitably hideous monster, then on the opposite side of the scale, Barbara Payton’s irrefutable gorgeousness made it very plausible that two scientists vying for her affections could result in a little illegal human cloning!

The movie is based on William F. Temple’s novel and is not without its flaws but with Royal Philharmonic Orchestra providing a dramatic score I found it to be a charming little Sci-Fi based chiller.

An almost obligatory episode of the Oliver Reed narrated "World of Hammer" is included, obviously focusing on TCOF.

"Life with Sir" is a 12 minute touching interview with Cushing’s personal secretary, Joyce Broughton. She offers a unique insight into the iconic actor, recalling the fun times they had together through to his final days alive. This was one of those rare moments other then porn that I genuinely required a tissue after watching it!

A rare TV pilot episode titled "Tales of Frankenstein" is another black and white addition to the disc. Running at 25 minutes, the show never actually came to fruition as a series when it was conceived in 1958 but nevertheless is an interesting enough take on the Frankenstein legacy. Without being too harsh, let’s just say that this segment has definitely NOT been re-mastered in any way!

A "Gallery" chapter runs at around 8 minutes but only included on the 2nd DVD is a PDF 18 page booklet by Hammer archivist Robert J.E. Simpson called "The Creators Spark: Hammers Frankenstein Begins". It’s an economic little addition containing some great facts and some rare stills and posters.

In summary I personally found the disc to be a corker. Some may argue that I am glossing over some blatant failings with sentimentality but I honestly think this is the definitive release of the movie to date. Considering the restored scene, the abundance of Bonus Material along with the fact the retail price has dropped since its release, if you don’t already own a copy grab one now!

Review by Marc Lissenburg

Released by Lions Gate Home Ent. UK Ltd
Region B
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review