Frankenstein Created Woman Review

Frankenstein Created Woman is the fourth in Hammer’s series of films featuring the various adventures of Baron Frankenstein, played with matchless poise by the great Peter Cushing. The Frankenstein films were, for a long time, considered inferior to the series of Dracula films made around the same time, but in some ways they have aged rather better. Little attempt is made at a direct continuation of the story throughout the films – although the first two are linked – but Peter Cushing’s portrayal of the Baron goes through some fascinating changes. In the early films he is an effete sadist whose scientific curiosity is strong enough to allow him to disregard such trifling side-issues as ethics and humane treatment. However, following the aberrant Evil of Frankenstein, a bizarre Freddie Francis concoction which is very badly written and has only Cushing to recommend it, Cushing turns Frankenstein into first a philanthropic researcher and, following his failure in this film, into a sociopathic monster. Finally, by the time of Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell, he’s just as mad as the inmates in the asylum where he works. It’s a great actor-director partnership – all the Frankenstein films of any worth were directed by Terence Fisher – and Frankenstein Created Woman is one of the best of the series.

The plot is disarmingly original. Frankenstein has moved into a small mittel-European village where he works with a local researcher Dr Herz (Walters) and his assistant Hans (Morris). Hans is in love with Christina (Denberg), deformed daughter of the local innkeeper, and she has fallen for him in return, as she shows after he defends her honour against three snobbish thugs. When these three yobs kill her father, they frame Hans for the crime and he is hanged, much to Christina’s distress. She kills herself but Frankenstein retrieves her body and performs plastic surgery on her facial deformities. But his attempt at charity backfires when he decides to give her Hans’ soul and she goes off on a rampage of vengeance against the men who brought him to his death.

The first few minutes immediately declare that Terence Fisher is back on top form. He had been going through a career downturn and was gradually being replaced by younger hands at Hammer – Francis, John Gilling, Don Sharp – but this films shows him at his best. The pre-credits execution of Hans’ father (Duncan Lamont) is an unnerving, windswept set-piece, set on a remote hill and beautifully filmed by Arthur Grant. We then go straight into a fascinating reversal of the usual Frankenstein formula – this time, it is Frankenstein revived from the dead by the power of electricity. It’s simply an experiment but it leads into one of the key themes of the film; the nature of the division between body and soul. This is something which is never quite answered satisfactorily in the narrative – although since a genius like Descartes couldn’t entirely achieve it, it’s a bit much to ask the same of Anthony Hinds – but it does add an extra layer to a story which is more complex than the usual villagers-with-pitchforks malarkey. The film suggests that the soul lives on after the body – Frankenstein claims that he was bodily dead for an hour but that his soul remained alive – and that if a sufficiently strong force surrounds the body then the soul cannot leave and can thus be trapped and isolated. There’s a scene in the film in which Frankenstein impatiently explains all this to “drunken, broken-down old muddlehead” Dr Herz but, in all honesty, I must be as dim as the Doc because I don’t entirely understand it either. Not that it really matters but it does indicate that the film has higher ambitions than you’d expect.

The first third of the film sets-up the story of Christina and Hans, the second third deals with the scientific revival of Christina and the last third deals with her revenge against the three yobs. Of these, the last is the best as it contains three stunning set-piece murder scenes which are directed with immense delicacy by Fisher. In a sense, this is like a sort of prototype rape-revenge movie without the rape and there’s no doubt that we in the audience are delighted to see the three bastards get what’s coming to them. Susan Denberg makes a very strong impression in a very difficult role and she even manages to get across some of the confusions which motivate Christina’s rampage. When alive, she is merely an object with the purpose of serving customers and obeying her father. When brought back to life, she is objectified by everyone around her with Frankenstein expecting her to be a servant and Herz treating her as a little girl. The film never quite manages to address the feminist implications of the storyline but that it even succeeds in implying them is quite an achievement. The climax, in which Christina’s actions reach their logical conclusion, is beautifully handled and genuinely touching. In a more sexist vein, one has to point out that she looks gorgeous throughout but then you'd expect no less from a Playboy Playmate.

One of the best reasons to see the film is Peter Cushing. Always a much better actor than he got credit for – he was, after all, a veteran of Olivier’s Old Vic company in the late 1940s – he is effortlessly convincing as the Baron. Somehow, we never quite blame him for the terrible things he does, possibly because he’s always so much more interesting than any of the other characters in the film. Cushing’s presence is particularly memorable in the scenes when he’s appallingly rude to people who he considers beneath him (i.e.; most people) and he’s got a comic flair which gives shading to a man who is, on mature consideration, rather unpleasant. He works very nicely with Thorley Walters, one of those actors who used to be the backbone of the British film industry and a man who is capable of being funny even when he’s got nothing much to do. As the three bullies, Peter Blythe, Derek Fowlds and Barry Warren are all just as horrible as they should be and there are nice bits from the familiar likes of Peter Madden and Colin Jeavons.

Terence Fisher is a director who tends to have been either overrated or dismissed. Neither view of him is especially helpful. A balanced opinion would probably note the fact that while his staging tends to be static and his exposition a little stodgy, he has a real flair for atmosphere and is able to bring out subtexts without pounding the viewer over the head. Give him a good script – as in this film, Dracula, The Devil Rides Out, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed for example – and he will do a very good job but he doesn’t have the resources to overcome a bad screenplay in the way that, say, Roger Corman did at his best. Frankenstein Created Woman is a good example of his directorial style at its most effective and is a film which manages to be surprisingly rewarding.

The Disc

Frankenstein Created Woman is only available in R2 as part of the Warner Hammer Horror Resurrected boxset. It’s not a bad transfer in some respects, but like the other films in the box, it’s not particularly impressive either.

The film has been transferred in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio and is anamorphically enhanced. The transfer is very much a mixed bag. It’s sharp and full of detail and the colours are generally quite striking. But there is a lot of minor print damage – small scratches, white speckles – and grain is often very distracting. The opening credits look particularly horrible. Every time you think the picture is good then it will go unattractively grainy. There is not a great deal of major artifacting but small examples are frequently present.

The soundtrack is a faithful representation of the original mono recording. As with Quatermass And The Pit it’s a good track which contains clear dialogue and music and does not suffer from distortion or hiss.

There are no extra features or subtitles. This lack of subtitling is the major drawback of the boxset and I regard it as inexcusable miserliness on the part of Warners.

The film is divided into 16 chapter stops.

Frankenstein Created Woman is another impressive Hammer offering and a fine addition to a generally strong boxset of films. However, as the disc contains an average transfer, it’s unlikely that it would be worth buying in its own right.

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