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Hammer Film Productions is a staple in the monster market, so much so that their films are known as “Hammer Horror”. But before they excelled at Gothic storytelling, their company struggled financially and even went bankrupt.
The Curse of Frankenstein brought new life to Hammer and put them on course to make some of the finest films in the genre. Of course, that doesn’t mean their first major success was easy to make…
1. Universal wasn’t happy about it.
In 1956, when Hammer announced their version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Universal threatened legal action if the film copied any elements of theirs, including their iconic monster’s look. Even though Shelley’s work was in the public domain, the studio still didn’t want to step on Universal’s toes, so the monster was referred to as a creature instead.
2. Peter Cushing wasn’t the first considered for Dr. Frankenstein.
Interestingly enough, Boris Karloff was considered. Karloff had played the monster for Universal’s Frankenstein, and producers thought he’d entice American audiences. In the end, Hammer decided Karloff would raise flags with Universal and wanted to feature a British cast.
3. The first draft was very different.
Originally, Frankenstein conducted his experiments at a university, not in the security of his own home. Also, Frankenstein’s bride-to-be perished, and the villagers, not Frankenstein, stopped the monster. The first draft was also considerably shorter, coming in under one hour, and would hav been in black-and-white.
4. There was no budget for peasants.
The small budget of only 65,000 pounds didn’t afford extras. Sets were carefully chosen, and the crew had to work around small spaces, echoes in rooms, leaking ceilings, and cold temperatures to make the film. Another casualty of the budget were the peasants, which are a common plot device in Frankenstein films.
5. It's was a classic ahead of its time.
Reviews at the time called out the film’s content and compared it unfavorably with Universal’s effort. Nevertheless, the box office was a smash, and it grossed $8 million. The film’s success is further seen by its six sequels, with the last one being released in 1973 – sixteen years after the first. Of course today, most critics will agree that Hammer’s adaption is not only good, but a key Frankenstein film. Cushing reprised his role in five more films (read about The Revenge of Frankenstein and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed).