FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1967)
Directed by Terence Fisher
Written by Anthony Hinds
Starring Peter Cushing, Susan Denberg, Robert Morris, & Thorley Walters
I’m embarrassed to say that I had never seen FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN until recently. Although I try to get my Hammer on on a regular basis, this movie has eluded me through the years. I guess if it’s Hammer and Peter Cushing and it didn’t co-star Christopher Lee, I wasn’t too interested. But since I was putting together a woman-centric column for the ladies, I decided to check this one out and I’m so glad I did.
Though there is no neck bolt brandishing, stitched up zombie lumbering about, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN is a pretty fantastic film and much like James Whale’s classic THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, it can be viewed as a pretty bold statement on both a metaphysical level as well as a statement about women at the time. FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN revolves around a great plot of revenge as Hans, a peasant lad, and Christina, the scarred daughter of an innkeeper, share a romance, but it is short lived as Hans (played tough by not so tough looking Robert Morris who sports a fancy scarf that all the kids were wearing in the sixties) is framed for the innkeeper’s murder. After he is beheaded in a scene that mirrors an earlier scene where Hans witnesses his own father’s beheading, Christina commits suicide. Meanwhile, Dr. Frankenstein’s experiments have shifted from reanimating the dead to focusing on the soul. Frankenstein notices that his experiments in the past have failed because he hadn’t taken the soul into account. With the two young lovers’ deaths occurring so recently, Frankenstein gets to grave robbing again and tries to bring back the both of them in one body using Christina’s body and Hans’ soul. Of course, shit goes wrong.
This shift from body to soul as the focus for Frankenstein is a nice evolution of the character. Peter Cushing reprises his role as Dr. Frankenstein in this fourth installment of the Hammer FRANKENSTEIN films. Whereas THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN stuck way too close to the Universal film for my tastes (even though it did have Christopher Lee as the Monster) and REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN and EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN lingered around the same themes at the original as well, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN took Frankenstein’s interests into a natural evolution, having him acknowledge his mistakes of the past and try to improve on them. Cushing, as always, is superb, utilizing the bawdy and oblivious Thorley Walters as his lab assistant Dr. Hurtz to maximum effect as both a comedic break in tension and able bodied henchman. Hurtz is a fun addition to the cast (he appears as a different character in the follow up, FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED, as well). Walters plays a drunk, but someone who also knows his science, and though he rarely understands what Frankenstein is ordering him to do, he is more than willing to be the doctor’s hands since Frankenstein’s hands were rendered useless in the previous Hammer entry. Frankenstein makes his entrance in a nicely played scene where he is frozen and declared dead for an hour in an ice cabinet (a la FLATLINERS, one of Schumacher’s more digestible films), then brought back to life in order to see how long a soul remains in the body. Even without the heavy-footed monster, Cushing makes every frame worthwhile as the doctor dedicated to solving life’s riddles.
When Frankenstein and Hurtz bring Christina back to life, they also turn her from a shrewish looking brunette next door into a blonde bombshell. Susan Denberg was a Playboy Playmate and even when she’s supposed to be a scarred plain girl, she’s gorgeous. At the time, Playboy was busy showing the world what beauty was all about. In the framework of this film, set in the 19th Century, Frankenstein not only improves Christine by healing her scarred face, but makes her a blonde as well. Frankenstein acts as a Gothic Hugh Hefner, remaking women to be the perfect specimen while trying retain some kind of inner beauty as well, in this case a soul. The stories of the Playmates and their transformation from girl next door to centerfold are legendary. This film’s “monster” reflects the soullessness that one often sees in the pictorials of plastic surgery-heavy, bleached bombshells that frolic in the grotto.
It’s also worthy to note that Frankenstein doesn’t save Christina’s soul, but that of Hans. Maybe this signifies Frankenstein’s misunderstanding of women in that he places a man’s soul into a woman’s body. Anyone who has seen Rob Schneider’s THE HOT CHICK knows that a man in a woman’s body brings nothing but trouble. Where that film went for laughs (and failed), this one goes for the horror as Christina inherits Hans’ thirst for revenge and seeks out the actual killers of the innkeeper for bloody retribution. Christina uses her feminine wiles in order to lure the men close to her, then in true Hammer fashion, disposes of them in a bright red bloody manner. To add to the creep factor, Christina has stolen the head of her lover, Hans, chatting with it and carrying it around in a hat box.
Though this isn’t my favorite Hammer Frankenstein film, it is one of the most original. I loved the kooky science Frankenstein performs (freezing himself in a cryo-crypt, making an indestructible wine glass, transferring minds and souls from one corpse to the next). The science may not be that realistic, but when his work is dubbed magic by his assistant Hurtz, Cushing wryly replies “magic is simply science unexplained.” FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN is an amazing film on many levels: as a commentary on women, on a metaphysical level, and most importantly, as pure entertainment.