Looking back at The Curse of Frankenstein, Christopher Lee was, of course, made for the role of the monster. In actuality, he made the role.
“With no disrespect towards the director and writer, I was on my own as to how to play the Creature, “ Lee said. “After all, how does one direct an actor to play such a part?”
Lee imagined that the creature, assembled from multiple corpses, would be disconnected and need to discover how his body worked. Thus, the slow walk and fragmented movements were born.
However, Lee wasn’t the only one considered for the role, and the casting call seemed to suggest that the only requirement was height – of which, the six feet, five inches Lee knew much about.
“Most British stars flatly refused to have me anywhere near them in a film because I was easily the tallest man around.”
Lee beat out twenty tall men for the part, including Bernard Bresslaw.
While Christopher created the monster’s mannerisms, Hammer’s make-up men defined the look. As mentioned here, the production company had to be sure not to infringe on Universal’s take on the monster. Another challenge was finding a look that was unique, scary, and yet fast enough to work with a small budget and time frame.
“We wanted a thing which looked like some wandering, forlorn mistral of monstrosity, a thing of shreds and patches,” said Director Terence Fisher.
The idea for the Creature was to give the impression of someone who had been in a holding tank. Putty, cotton wool, and wax were used to build layers, and Lee wore a contact in his right eye to create a cataract effect. Lee described the intention as someone who looked like they had been in a “road accident”. Altogether, it took three hours to be made-up.
In the end though, the make-up was so realistic that Valerie Gaunt and Hazel Court didn’t want to eat next to him.
Lee found it amusing and believed the role would lead to bigger things.
“I hadn’t got very far as myself, so I thought that if I became unrecognizable, and it works, people will begin to wonder what I really look like,” Lee recalled. “Little did I know.”
The Curse of Frankenstein brought much attention to Lee’s performance, as it did Cushing’s.
Lee’s unique interpretation of Frankenstein'’s horrifying yet vulnerable monster ranks as one of the best performances. Lee would make another dent in horror history as the titular villain in his next Hammer production, The Horror of Dracula.