Anthony HindsHammer FrankensteinThorley WaltersSusan Denberg
Frankenstein Created Woman
Medium: film
Year: 1967
Director: Terence Fisher
Writer: Anthony Hinds
Keywords: horror, Hammer, Frankenstein
Country: UK
Actor: Peter Cushing, Susan Denberg, Thorley Walters, Derek Fowlds, Robert Morris
Format: 86 minutes
Series: << Hammer Frankenstein >>
Website category: Horror pre-1970
Review date: 15 March 2008
The halfway point of Hammer's Frankenstein series brought a change in direction as they cut some important ties with Mary Shelley's original. I'm all for honouring the novelist's vision, but not when it's been done to death in a gazillion movies already. Hammer had already given Peter Cushing three films' worth of making monsters from body parts, but from now on instead he'd tend to save himself some trouble and go straight for the head. Admittedly this is less iconic. Creating new life from the dead was the whole point of Mary Shelley's fable. Brain transplants don't have the same primal horror, but on the other hand they introduce new dramatic possibilities. If you're resurrecting people with pre-existing lives and unfinished business, this opens up whole new storytelling avenues. For once, your creation's motivations aren't going to be a blank slate.
If you think about it, this also saves much unnecessary work. Why sew together all those disconnected parts if you have a perfectly good intact corpse? If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) is barely a Frankenstein story. The Baron's almost an incidental character, being merely the plot device by which a tragic love story turns even stranger and sicker than it was already. Arguably it's returning him to his rightful place, the (approximately) well-meaning agent of something great and unnatural, but thereafter essentially an observer of someone else's story.
It's certainly different. I admire the fact that they tried something new, but I also can't help feeling that it turned out a whole lot less twisted and screwed-up than it perhaps should have done. Oh, it's still doing lots of interesting things and well worth your time. However if one starts wondering what the directors of Frankenhooker or Return of the Living Dead 3 might have done with the basic concept, Hammer's treatment starts looking a bit straight-laced. I'd have liked to see something trashier! There are one or two enjoyably sick surprises, but overall it's a straightforward revenge tragedy that gets a bit predictable once we're started on the killings.
That doesn't mean it's bad, of course. I'd go so far as to call it classy. The bad guys are satisfyingly vile, despite being strictly small-scale villains with no ambitions beyond being jerks and throwing their weight around at the local tavern. Amusingly one of them is played by Derek Fowlds, i.e. Bernard Woolley from Yes Minister. What's great about this film is that it takes itself deadly seriously, which really helps the tragedy and lets them shade it with subtleties. The hero and the killer are one and the same! The film begins with Hans as a boy seeing his father guillotined for murder, after which everyone knows what he might (and indeed will) be capable of. No one lets him forget it, but the person who tortures Hans the most over the darkness in his soul is actually Hans himself.
Meanwhile his girlfriend Christina is a deformed cripple. Played by Playboy playmate Susan Denberg (albeit dubbed), she's just as striking as Hans. Together they're quite a pair.
One surprise is this film's discussion of the soul, which is the first time I've seen a Frankenstein movie wrestling with the theological and spiritual implications of cutting people up and gluing bits of them together like custom kit parts. Oh, and the reasons behind Hans's fateful decision not to defend himself in court are, to put it mildly, not well thought-through.
If your average Hammer horror film is a pulp dime novel, this is almost literature. It's a shame that it took a Playboy playmate to drag focus away from Cushing's Baron Frankenstein and on to his resurrected creation, but at least it finally happened. Logic isn't the script's strong point, but arguably it's almost a fairy tale rather than something to be taken too literally. Frankenstein movies traditionally drape themselves in scientific trappings, but at the end of the day they're fantasies and this one is doubly so.