‘The Curse of Frankenstein: Two-Disc Special Edition’ (Blu-ray movie review)
Hammer Film Productions’ loose adaptation of Mary Shelley’s seminal monster novel returns in a remastered high definition format for U.S. audiences in The Curse of Frankenstein: Two-Disc Special Edition (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Not rated, 1.85:1, 1.66:1 and 1.37:1 aspect ratio, 82 minutes, $21.99).
The studio’s first full-color gothic horror film from 1957 starred the initial pairing of two masters of the macabre — Peter Cushing as Dr. Victor Frankenstein and Christopher Lee as the creature. Giving viewers a Victorian tale about a twisted and driven scientist that resurrects a human assembled from dead body parts.
As expected, the reanimated man becomes an uncontrolled misunderstood monster, and sociopath Dr. Frankenstein pays a tragic price for attempting to engineer life.
As part of the Warner Archive Collection, this new presentation was derived from the recombination of separation masters scanned at 4K 16 bit by digital movie wizards MPI Film, before undergoing a full restoration and color correction.
Although the final results are better visually than previously released, unavoidable soft focus and occasional color shifts still exist in segments.
However, those moments can be ignored, especially while basking in the new clarity and enhanced colors. The overall visual upgrade really pays off when first viewing the face of the creature and its grotesque facial abnormalities.
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The enhancements are most noticeable when viewing anything red — from a smoking jacket to frothing liquid in beakers, a bulging red tongue or blood dripping from a head wound — with a saturated hue that will practically burn out the eyes.
The bonus of viewing the movie in three different aspect ratios is also welcomed but slightly a roulette wheel of frustration.
Do I want the full-screen presentation of 1.85:1 but then deal with visual degradation due to magnification, or will I watch the 1.37:1 open matte version that gives the sharpest presentation by far but thick black bars invade either side of the screen?
The Curse of Frankenstein Best extras:
This two-disc set shines with not only the chance to watch the films in alternate aspect ratio but to first enjoy an information-packed optional commentary track (on the 1.85:1, 1.66:1 versions) with film historians Constantine Nasr and Steve Haberman.
The duo, even enlightened by having read Jimmy Sangsters’ revised screenplay and Milton Subotsky’s rejected draft offers an exhaustive deconstruction of the film.
They constantly talk about firsts including the film’s level of gore, the critics’ original response, and Hammer Films’ origins. They also meticulously compare screenplays and original source minutiae, touching on themes, character motivations, and the filmmaking craftsmanship of the movie.
Next, a 21-minute passionate retrospective solely from Richard Klemensen (publisher of British horror magazine Little Shoppe of Horrors and a clear enthusiast of the movie) has the super fan opine on the stagnation of the horror film genre in the 1950s and how the Hammer Films team delivered a classic that still influences filmmakers today.
Follow that up with a 23-minute look at the origins of gothic horror in literature as relayed by cultural historian Sir Christopher Frayling. He discusses the romance and antique aspects of gothic, foundation texts such as “Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” and eventually the cinematic themes of gothic in “The Curse of Frankenstein.”
He even includes quoting Shelley’s work and reminds us that it originally sold only 470 copies by his estimates. Mr. Frayling explores how Hammer Films open the doors to sexuality and taboo in the gothic genre and argues that Frankenstein has taken over as the modern genesis myth.
Cinematographer David J. Miller next offers a 15-minute clinic on the lighting magic of cinematographer Jack Asher.
Specifically, how he used his black-and-white roots to develop the preeminent techniques to illuminate gothic horror classics such as and “Horror of Dracula,” “The Curse of Frankenstein,” and “The Mummy” that, along with Bernard Robinson’s production design, defined the golden age of Hammer Films.
Finally composer Christopher Drake takes 17 minutes to explain, and even deconstruct with examples, the unique musicality of James Bernard and his contributions to Hammer, creating original scores that would help define the company’s horror genre.
The collection of featurettes delivers a documentary’s worth of insight into the Hammer Films methodology and is required viewing for all fans.
• This story originally appeared in The Washington Times.