Thursday, May 26, 2011

Happy Birthday Peter Cushing!

It's quite the time of year for birthdays involving veteran horror stars. As I mentioned in an earlier post Vincent Price's centennial is currently being celebrated in St. Louis and the great Christopher Lee celebrates his birthday tomorrow, too.

But today we take a moment to remember the one and only Peter Cushing, one of the greatest actors to ever grace the horror genre. I grew up watching Cushing and Lee – as Van Helsing and that cursed Count Dracula – match wits and battle it out on many a Saturday afternoon. But it took years for me to catch up with his truly spectacular work as Dr. Frankenstein in Hammer's impressive cycle of flicks devoted to the not-so-good doc and his attempts to cheat death.

In fact, I finally sat down and caught up with the whole cycle (well, almost) on DVD and wrote about it for the pages of the ER website. The beginning of that article – 'What a Monster! A Spin Through Hammer's Frankenstein Cycle' – is excerpted below. (To read the whole article simply click the "Continue Reading" link at the end of the post.)

As a kid growing up in the 1970s, many Saturday afternoons were spent frittered away in front of the tube digging on the latest offerings from that groovy ghoul Doctor Shock. His 'Creature Double Feature' was a pivotal, damaging influence on my young brain, just waiting to infect me with its delightful blend of gallows humor and D-grade schlock.

For whatever reason, my adolescent psyche had some sort of Frankenstein flick aversion. Not all Frankenstein flicks mind you. I'd watched countless encounters with the Universal variety of the blockheaded monster through the years, especially its meetings with Abbott and Costello.

Buy Horror of Dracula at Amazon and Support ERBut when I'd scan the weekly listings and spot one of the entries from the Hammer Films cycle of Frankenstein flicks, I'd mentally begin making plans for those couple hours. Why? Who knows? I loved the Hammer cycle of Dracula flicks, eating up every encounter between Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Living for that moment in HORROR OF DRACULA when Van Helsing throws back the curtains, exposing the evil vampire to the deadly rays of the sun.

Perhaps I projected my boredom with the Universal cycle – a simmering contempt surely bred out of familiarity – that made me ask, "Why the hell would I want to watch another Frankenstein movie?"

With three decades of trash viewing under my belt, I had successfully avoided each and every one of the Hammer Frankenstein flicks like an episode of 'The Golden Girls.' Sure, I'd seen just about every frickin piece of Z-Grade straight-to-video trash that Full Moon Pictures could offer, but I hadn't seen anything more than the briefest clip of Peter Cushing as the bad doctor.

During a recent vacation I started reading Profoundly Disturbing, the latest book from drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs. Though a touch more scholarly than I was expecting from the man who brought the world Rhett Beaver and the "blood, beasts and breasts" drive-in rating system, the chapter on CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN – the first flick in the cycle and the movie that defined Hammer as a house of horror – made me think I might be missing something.

Thanks to the wonders of DVD I was able to sit down recently and groove on five of the seven flicks in the cycle: CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958), FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1967), FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969) and FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1974). I passed on EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1964) due to its unavailability on DVD (and the whisperings from some trusted sources that it pandered to Universal) and HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970) because it doesn't star Cushing.

Buy Curse of Frankenstein at Amazon and Support ERCURSE – directed by Terence Fisher with a script by Jimmy Sangster – lays the groundwork for the series and immediately establishes it as something far, far different than the Universal flicks. Rendered in flashback, the flick tells how Baron Victor Frankenstein (Cushing) studies – and eventually surpasses – his mentor Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart). After reanimating a dog Victor's itching to build a man and bring him to life while Paul's not so sure this is how they should be spending their time. The arrival of a pre-arranged fiance (Hazel Court) tosses a monkey wrench in Victor's maid-banging activities and creates the necessary tension between Victor and Paul as well as a dull love triangle of sorts.

Continue Reading

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