The Archivist — Welcome to the Archive. As home video formats have evolved over the years, a multitude of films have found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Manufacture-On-Demand DVD operation devoted to thousands of idiosyncratic and ephemeral works of cinema. The Archive has expanded to include a streaming service, revivals of out-of-print DVDs, and factory-pressed Blu-rays. Join us as we explore this treasure trove of cinematic discovery!
With this week’s release of The Curse of Frankenstein, Warner Archive presents the original Hammer Horror classic that kicked off their tradition of horror and iconic monster films, typically featuring one or more of the triumvirate of horror legends who make this one so memorable: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and director Terence Fisher.
Whereas the Hammer monster canon would come to cover a lot of fantastic ground and original storytelling, this first film is loosely based on Mary Shelley’s original novel, with some judicious tweaking. Gone are the sympathetic approaches to both the creature and his maker. Cushing’s Victor Frankenstein is far more menacing and less tragic than the traditional version of the character, and similarly Lee’s version of the creature is wantonly destructive and bestial. (In this reimagining, his encounter with the blind woodman, which serves as the very heart of the novel, is handled completely differently — and ruthlessly).
Instead, Hammer turned to other characters as the tale’s protagonists, balanced between the two wildly different villains: It’s Victor’s fiance, Elizabeth (Hazel Court), and his tutor — an original character — Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart), who ultimately must deal with both the creator’s madness and his creation’s wrath.
The film features some goopy anatomical effects work and unsavory sexual politics (the engaged Victor cavorts with his housemaid, lying that he intends to marry her) to complement its rather dark version of the story, which immediately differentiated and cemented it as a new, gnarlier vision for classic horror, a style which would immediately come to define Hammer’s house style and draw contrast to Hollywood’s output.
Warner Archive’s Blu-ray edition of the film offers a very rare vision of the film, displaying the film in three aspect ratio options. In addition to 1.66 and 1.85 widescreen, an open-matte 4:3 version — which was used for television and home video (and considered by some the intended native ratio) — is also included. Unlike pan-and-scan home video edits of films which crop off the sides of a widescreen image, the open-matte presentation opens up the scan of the film to display more of the film cell vertically.
Understanding and celebrating this unusually comprehensive home video vision, we present a gallery of screenshots comparing these aspect ratios.
Warner Archive went the extra mile to ensure that The Curse of Frankenstein has a worthy Blu-ray release. The two-disc package includes the film in three aspect ratios as well as a number of several excellent new special features.
Special Features and Extras (Disc 2)
The features disc includes four meaty featurettes produced by Rivendell Films — all new and in HD. Creating new extras for classic films is difficult when the creators have passed on, but for this edition they rounded up a terrific group of modern subject matter experts to discuss the film and its influence.
The Curse of Frankenstein [open matte] (83:35)
The Resurrection Men: Hammer, Frankenstein and the Rebirth of the Horror Film (21:51)
Hideous Progeny: The Curse of Frankenstein and the English Gothic Tradition (22:49)
Diabolus in Musica: James Bernard and the Sound of Hammer Horror (17:05)
Torrents of Light: The Art of Jack Asher (15:14)
Theatrical Trailer (2:19)
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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.