…And not all Frankensteins were created equal. Case in point: Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), the fourth film in the series from Hammer and one that’s decidedly different and sufficiently weird enough to set itself apart from the pack. This isn’t your granddad’s Frankenstein. (Well technically it is, but apparently he loosened up his bow tie and dropped some acid for this one.)
Now, I’m still playing catch up with Hammer, especially the Frankenstein series; but the biggest recurring theme seems to be the Baron (once again assayed by Peter Cushing)’s assholery, and his utter disregard for existing human life while chasing his re-animating dream. Fear not; Created Woman does not disappoint on this front, in fact it introduces new colors into the Hammer lexicon that prevents it from being a musty retread.
Released Stateside in March with a U.K. rollout in June, Created Woman was not a hit with critics or filmgoers, although Martin Scorcese is a big fan, so it’s got that going for it (which is nice). And it’s really not hard to see why, as the film uses familiar settings to tell a tale that veers quite a bit from not only Shelley, but Hammer’s Frank pics as well. Change was not welcome at the time, but now it can be admired for its decidedly different take on the legend.
We open on a guillotine as a drunken, disheveled man is about to lose his head for murder; he has no terrible issue with this, other than the fact that his son Hans is watching from the bushes. Not wanting Hans to be exposed to his beheading, dad pleads with the boy to go home; unfortunately, curiosity gets the better of the boy and he witnesses one dad decapitation.
Flash forward and a grownup Hans (Robert Morris – Quatermass and the Pit) is now an assistant to Doctor Hertz (Thorley Walters – Tales of the Unexpected) and the Baron himself, who’s got a whole new lab and theory on how to make re-animation work: soul transplants! (Why not? It’s not like everything else has gone according to plan.) The only problem is, he needs some fresh cadavers.
Not to worry; Hans is in love and has a secret relationship with Christina (Playboy model Susan Denberg), the deformed daughter of the local barkeep. When three aristocratic and sleazy locals continually harass Christina, Hans cleans the floor with them. But when the innkeeper is killed by the three rapscallions, Hans is charged with his murder and is hung from the same gallows as his father. This sends Christina into a suicidal tailspin and she drowns herself in the river. Now the Baron has his two bodies to work with; Christina is given a fresh look post mortem, and Hans’ soul is given to her. Now that’s a beautiful love story! Except Hans has a plan for revenge…
Frankenstein Created Woman is many things, all at once: it melds vengeful horror – think Dr. Jekyll and The Invisible Man – with gothic trappings, a decidedly feminist slant, and a brave move away from the terrestrial landscape of people parts into the metaphysical.
A soul transfer is a fascinating idea; the conflict between donor and host could lead to great drama, but unfortunately Created Woman doesn’t go far enough with it. There are scenes post resurrection where we can see Hans reacting through Christina that are effective, but the schism between the two isn’t fleshed out fully. It works much more effectively when it shines a light on the moldy patriarchy of the entire village, and especially the Baron; as he orders her around, you can feel Hans’ shock on Christina’s face at her mistreatment.
The action of the film kicks in when Christina sets out on Hans’ behalf to avenge his death; she seduces them with her new visage, until they realize that Hans is behind the advances, at which point they try to flee in terror. They’re not afraid of the woman, but the man within her: but who’s to say she isn’t retaliating for all the abuse she’s endured? Christina is the same person she was before her death – only her appearance has changed; it would seem that she’s only using her image to lure the men to their deaths. Sounds pretty empowering to me.
Hammer legends Terence Fisher and Anthony Hinds (AKA John Elder) sure make it seem like the usual fare, however; the gorgeous set designs, beautiful photography, and committed performances (even if Cushing isn’t used enough) are the norm for a Hammer production. But the potpourri of weird that the film exudes – even if it doesn’t always mesh – guarantees it’s unlike any other Hammer (or Frankenstein) film you’ve ever seen. With or without acid.
Frankenstein Created Woman is available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: DEVIL TIMES FIVE (1974)