March 15, 2009

Who Am I?
Frankenstein Created Woman

Frankenstein Created Woman, Hammer’s fourth entry in the series, was released in America on March 15, in 1967.

The story unfolds like a gruesome fairy tale. Imagine Romeo and Juliet with Juliet resuscitated and exacting slasher-like revenge on her and her lover’s tormentors. The Monster To Be is Christina (Susan Denberg), a gentle girl who, despite disfigurement and a clubfoot, has found love with the handsome, kind-hearted Hans (Robert Morris). When her beloved is framed for murder and guillotined, Christina, with nothing left to live for, throws herself off a bridge.

Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) swings into action: He captures the decapitated Hans’ soul — which appears as ball of light — in an electrical field and transfers it to the drowned Christina. Her limp is repaired and she is restored to stunning beauty.

Cushing’s Frankenstein, but for his scientific intervention, is largely relegated to the background in this one. It’s very much Christina’s story. Possessed by her lover’s vengeful soul, she uses sexual attraction to draw the guilty to their bloody deaths. In the end, when Christina again commits herself to a watery grave, The Baron, too late in figuring out what had happened and incapable of saving Christina from her fate, is seen simply walking away as the end credits roll.

Cushing is in fine form, as always. One critic noted that he played Baron Frankenstein as earnestly as if he was doing Hamlet. Though underutilized, he effortlessly nails every scene he’s in. The usual good supporting cast is led by Thorley Walters, a favorite of director Terence Fisher, as a somewhat bumbling Watson (a role he, in fact, played) to Cushing’s cold and calculating character.

Susan Denberg’s screen career was a very short one, spanning barely two years. Introduced in 1966 as a Playboy centerfold, she is remembered today for her Frankenstein film and a Star Trek appearance, in Mudd’s Women. Christina was her only starring role, and her last one. Ironically, she was dubbed throughout because of her germanic accent. The young Denberg fell in with the drug-fueled jet-set crowd of the Sixties and soon dropped out of sight. Happily, sensationalistic rumors of her death proved false. She quit the limelight and retreated to a quiet life in her native Austria.

The film’s title was first suggested a decade earlier by producer/writer Anthony Hinds as a possible follow-up to Hammer’s immensely successful Revenge of Frankenstein. The Roger Vadim-Brigitte Bardot God Created Woman was then a boxoffice sensation. The half-spoof, half-blasphemous title was set aside until Hammer’s American partner, Darryl Zanuck of Twentieth-Century-Fox, offered enthusiastically support for it. Elements of the script can be found sprinkled among the storylines originally written for a planned (and abandoned) Frankenstein television series in 1958. One story featured a homicidal female creation without a soul, and another dealt with cryogenics. In the film, Cushing, experimenting on himself, is first introduced flash-frozen and shocked to life with electricity.

The film’s script, by Hinds, writing as John Elder, is full of ideas, but none are developed in depth, as if not to get in the way of the action. The whole thing bathes in the murky metaphysics of soul transference. Most intriguing is the transsexual context, Hans inhabiting Christina’s body and using her sexuality to attract his/her victims. Hammer would explore the dual sexuality angle to greater effect in Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971).

There’s an interesting symmetry to the film, with Hans suffering the same horrible fate as his father, also unjustly guillotined, and Christina’s double drowning. There are many elements typical of Terence Fisher’s films, such as Christina’s confused identity, a condition visited throughout the Frankenstein series upon several of The Baron's brain transplant victims, and a familiar charge against arrogant and cruel authority. The villains in this tale are the dandies who pin their murder on the powerless, low-class Hans, and they behave like the vicious aristocrats in Fisher’s The Hound of the Baskerville (1959) and The Curse of the Werewolf (1961).

Special mention must be made of Bernard Robinson’s wonderful, prop-laden sets, and the beautiful cinematography by Arthur Grant, two men whose work made Hammer’s modest expenditures look like big budget films. Grant’s work is sharp throughout, tense scenes punctuated with pools of colored light. Memorably, the restored Christina is first seen in extreme closeup, her head wrapped in snow-white bandages, resting against a blindingly red blanket.

The film’s promotion, naturally, relied heavily on the shapely Susan Denberg. One photo session involved lab scenes with Cushing in dead serious Frankenstein mode posing with Denberg in a skimpy bandage bikini.

The shots are perfectly misleading, having nothing whatsoever to do with the actual film, but they fit the film’s title and received wide exposure. An illustrated version was used for the film’s poster.

Frankenstein Created Woman is one of Hammer’s most famous titles, and certainly their most unusual Frankenstein film. I find I like it better with every viewing, a reflexion I can probably apply to all the films in this series. There is an attention, an intelligence to these films that cannot be denied.

A very good, elaborate trailer for the film.

Another trailer, featuring the most deadpan narration ever, of the film and its double-bill companion, The Mummy’s Shroud.

Christina’s awakening scene, an excerpt from the film.

A very perceptive review of the film by Tim Lucas.

Frankenstein Created Woman is available on DVD.

Tales of Frankenstein


The Vicar of VHS said...

I've somehow avoided most of the Hammer Frankenstein movies, but obviously I need to clear up this glaring oversight. That Cushing-in-the-lab-with-his-creation shot? ZANG! ;)

Great stuff!

Will Errickson said...

Easily my favorite of the Hammer Frankensteins. Best moment? Cushing dismissively flipping through a bible while on the stand in court. Ha!

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I`ve seen this one over 800 times (literally), thats how good it is.

Joe Thompson said...

I have always thought Frankenstein Created Woman was the second-best title of the series. Now Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed -- that's a title. Thank you for sharing this with us.