In 1967 Hammer Films’ most famous director and one of the best ever filmmakers of the horror genre Terence Fisher returned to helm his third Frankenstein feature. ‘Frankenstein Created Woman’ ignores the inferior Freddie Francis stand-alone effort ‘The Evil of Frankenstein’ (1964) which was a limp dick attempt in paying homage to the previous Universal incarnations of the Mary Shelly mythology and was actually distributed by the Hollywood studio. It was a shoddy shot in the foot for the franchise with a terrible cartoonish screenplay and woeful SFX work. This entry put the series back on track returning to the continuity established with Fisher’s own ‘The Curse of Frankenstein’ (1957) and The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) but with a refreshing new take on the material.
The movie is a mixture of fairy tale atmosphere and science fiction themes with Frankenstein’s experiments this time to isolate the soul and transplant it into a new body entailing cryogenics and creating forcefields. It also has a revenge plot incorporating elements that could arguably be influential to the rape and revenge and slasher sub-genres.
The film opens with a young boy Hans Werner witnessing the execution of his town drunk father beheaded at the guillotine for the crimes of burglary and murder. Forwarding many years later to Hans as a young man (Robert Morris), he is now taken care of by Doctor Herz (Thorley Walters). Herz also happens to be a lab assistant to the infamous doctor Baron Victor Frankenstein (late great genre veteran Peter Cushing) who Herz has just resurrected from being technically dead for an hour after being frozen. Frankenstein realizes his past mistakes with his previous creature creations as when frozen his soul did not leave his body during that time frame and so he takes a break from his physical experiments and concentrates on the metaphysical to capture the soul before it leaves the body so it may live in another.
In celebration of Herz’s successful revival of the good (or not) doctor he sends Hans to fetch a bottle of champagne. He decides to go to a local cafe so he can see Christina (Susan Denberg) a disfigured and crippled waitress working for her father. While Hans is still there three despicable young upper class men turn up to drink a bottle of wine. The leader of the trio of posh spoiled brats Anton (Peter Blythe) asks specifically for Chritina to serve him and his friends Johann (Derek Fowlds) and Karl (Barry Warren) so that they can make fun of her. When Christina has an accident spilling a glass of the wine on Anton he becomes furious pushing her away and calling her a “bitch”. Hans demands an apology from Anton. When Anton refuses Hans attacks him and takes on Johann and Karl as well in a brawl. When the police turn up and restrain Hans as he is holding a knife Christina’s father (Ivan Beavis) takes it away from him and Hans threatens to kill him.
This brash reaction in the heat of the moment proves to be Hans’ downfall as the three toffs return later that night while the cafe is closed to break in to help themselves to the wine. When Christina’s father disturbs them when he returns to his establishment to pick up his forgotten keys, they beat him to death with their canes. The next day after the discovery of the body, the police arrest Hans when he turns up at the cafe. Put on trial with Anton testifying against him as a character witness he is convicted of the murder and sentenced to death. Seeing Hans beheaded at the guillotine before her very eyes Christina commits suicide by throwing herself in the river.
Frankenstein sees Hans’ death as the perfect opportunity to capture his soul. After Herz procures his body, the two set about preserving it. After completion they are brought to their place of work Christina’s body that has just been retrieved from the river in which Frankenstein seizes the moment and immediately plants Hans’ soul in her body. Repairing her facial scar and disabilities and renamed Anna, she awakens as a striking picture of health and a woman of such beauty. However, she has retained Hans’ memory and takes revenge on the horrible rich boys who cost him his life.
The movie sets up the intriguing concept of the confusion felt by a man living inside a woman’s body but never actually realizes these crossed gender roles. On top of that, we also have here the bizarrely interesting idea of the soul of a wrongly executed man and his vessel being his girlfriend’s body who committed suicide that again is not elaborately explored. Although, it is still a cleverly disturbing premise with Anna listening to the commands of her dead lover Hans as she holds his severed head and obeys his demands of seeking his retribution.
The film descends into a well ahead of its time prototype of rape and revenge and slasher movies. Okay there is no rape committed on Christina but the well executed sequences of her Hans driven body with a thirst for revenge on the foul rich boys does indeed employ the sub-genre’s characteristic traits. Anna lures her prey in with seductive charms with their weakness for female flesh trapping them and it is too late by the time she uses what blunt instrument she has at hand. Despite the missed opportunities here it is still very satisfying to see these loathsome upper class twats get their comeuppance and it makes a nice change to see a piece of eye candy committing the murders this time around rather than a unsightly monstrosity dealing out the death. There is also a social sub-text of the class system with the poor peasant boy taking revenge on the rich whom the justice system favours.
Despite the brilliantly naturalistic Cushing taking more of a back seat in like a supporting role here playing a secondary role to the characters of Hans and Christina/Anna, he still manages to steal the show eating up the screen whenever he is on it with his cool persona delivering crisp dialogue so effortlessly. Playing more of a caring fatherly figure here to Christina/Anna this is the most empathic we have seen the character of Baron Victor Frankenstein under the direction of Terence Fisher. Frankenstein has also lost the use of his hands in this instalment due to them being severely burnt. This could be a direct reference to the destruction of his laboratory in the climax of ‘Evil’ but that was a stand-alone entry and in the following ‘Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed’ (1969) he has the full use of his hands so the only logical explanation is that ‘Created Woman’ takes place after ‘Destroyed’ which ends in a burning house. Another downside is that the title and the movie's promotion is misleading, as Frankenstein does not actually create a woman at all.
With another of Fisher’s trademark downbeat endings and although it has its shortcomings, ‘Frankenstein Created Woman’ is a worthy effort and a solid addition to the Hammer Frankenstein franchise and to the great production company’s legacy in general. It might not be quite as strong as the very best of the series - ‘Curse’, Revenge and ‘Destroyed’ but it is still well worth the time of any fan of golden age horror and new genre fans looking to go back a bit further. Recommended.
*** out of ****
Dave J. Wilson
©2012 Cinematic Shocks, Dave J. Wilson - All work is the property of the credited author and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.