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Frankenstein Created Woman

Frankenstein Created Woman(1967)


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When British production studio Hammer Films first found success reviving the classic movie monsters with remakes of Universal horror films of the thirties in full, blood-dripping color and lurid Gothic style, they tried their hand at every iconic horror classic they could, but they found their biggest successes minting sequels to The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and The Horror of Dracula (1958). The Dracula films turned into a curious mix of spin-offs, sequels, and modernized updates, with guest bloodsuckers filling in for Dracula until Lee returned to title role. The Frankenstein movies, however, became a more connected cycle of films, variations on a theme centered not on the creature (as in the Universal films) but on Baron Frankenstein, played by Peter Cushing in all but one of the films. They followed a chronology (with minor exceptions) that charted the Baron's monomaniacal obsession to create life at any cost and Peter Cushing defined him as a ruthlessly ambitious man of science, a pitiless rationalist ready to sacrifice human life in the name of scientific discovery. He was, in an odd way, both hero and villain of the series, and a very different portrait of the scientist than presented in either the novel or the iconic 1931 film.

The 1967 Frankenstein Created Woman, Hammer's fourth Frankenstein film, is a loose sequel that finds the Baron in residence at a generic Bavarian village with a new assistant, Dr. Hertz (Thorley Walters), an old, amiably befuddled, apple-cheeked country doctor, and a whole new plan of attack. Instead of the familiar surgical patchwork bodies cobbled together from unwitting organ (and body) donors and reanimated with electricity, he takes a more metaphysical approach this time. His initial experiments are performed on himself and he puts his efforts into created a force field that will isolate and preserve the disembodied soul of the recently deceased for transfer to a new host. The previous films aren't directly referenced but the Baron's hands are too crippled for fine surgery, a nod the fiery finish of The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), the previous chapter in the saga. Dr. Hertz serves as his hands, guided by Frankenstein's experience and intellect.

Hammer's top director Terence Fisher returns to the franchise for this film (Freddie Francis directed The Evil of Frankenstein) and begins the film in the shadow of death: a guillotine looming starkly over the film against a gray sky on a bare hill, a condemned man carted to his doom, a young boy watching the man--his father--beheaded despite the man's pained entreaties to leave. Years later, the boy has grown into Hans (Robert Morris), an assistant to Baron Frankenstein, and remains haunted by the guillotine, which still stands like a threat to all who pass by. Hans loves Christina (Susan Denberg), the crippled daughter of the local tavern keeper and the target of abuse from a trio of cocky, bullying rich young dandies, and his temper gets him into trouble he seems fated to suffer: framed for murder and sentenced to death by guillotine thanks threats he made in anger while defending her honor. Fisher makes effective use of that ominous guillotine; every fall of the blade reverberates with more deaths.

This Baron isn't the same sociopath of The Revenge of Frankenstein and The Evil of Frankenstein and he even has a grudging affection for Hertz and Hans, but he is as arrogant as ever, with no time for the superstitious villagers and barely civil when called to give testimony in court. His character is quite evocatively captured in his behavior at Hans' trial, flipping through the pages of the Bible as one might peruse a gossip magazine in a hospital waiting room, raising an eyebrow with skeptical bemusement and then dismissing it indifferently. The deaths of Hans and Christina, who drowns herself in grief, give him the raw materials to execute his experiment and soon he has dropped the soul (a glowing white sphere) harvested from the fresh but headless corpse of Hans (according to Frankenstein's research, the soul sticks around for an hour or so after bodily death) into the body of Christina, which he and Hertz repair and bring back to life. But while she has no conscious memory of either past life, the ghost of Hans emerges and the Baron's lack of empathy for his own patient causes him to miss the schizophrenic war of wills within the amnesiac girl.

This is a budget-minded production made at the newly-acquired Bray Studios, limited to just a few small sets and locations. It feels smaller and more constrained than the earlier Frankenstein productions, with less gore and grotesque imagery (though Fisher does make effective use of one particular severed head), and it doesn't even deliver a monster in the expected sense, turning to the lurid and the lascivious for its production value. The cover to the Blu-ray shows a very fit looking Denberg, a German-born actress whose credentials include Playboy's Playmate of the Month in August, 1966 and playing one of "Mudd's Women" in the original Star Trek, in a kind of bandage-wrap bikini. These are from a series of titillating publicity stills and are nowhere to be seen in the film, where she is more traditionally clothed. However, her low-cut peasant blouses do show off her d├ęcolletage in the scenes where she uses her wiles to lure her victims--the three blades who framed Hans for murder--to their untimely deaths.

Frankenstein Created Woman plays less like a classic Frankenstein tale than a ghost story or possession horror, with the dead driving the living to carrying out his vengeance. While the script (credited to John Elder, the pseudonym of Hammer producer Anthony Hinds) never really explores the internal conflict of the male essence within the female body or mine the potential of the two lovers sharing the same body, it does offer a disturbing kind of relationship between the two identities that borders on overlord and devoted apostle. And there is something perverse in Denberg's transformation from innocent maiden to seductive beauty to possessed killer speaking with the voice of a dead man.

Frankenstein Created Woman was edited to 86 minutes in Britain but the U.S. version features footage cut by British censors and runs 92 minutes. This edition features the longer cut. The case lists the aspect ratio at 2.35:1 but it is not actually a widescreen production. It was shot to be projected at the more modest 1.66:1 (protected for 1.85:1 in the U.S.) and the disc takes the standard 1.77:1 compromise of modern 16x9 widescreen TVs and it looks correct and well balanced. This edition features the same HD restoration produced for the Studio Canal Blu-ray release in Great Britain. The color is muted by design and the print is fine.

It features new commentary by co-stars Derek Fowlds and Robert Morris (who remark that they may be the last living members of the cast) and film historian Jonathan Rigby, who plays host and provides all the historical detail and background while the stars fill in with their stories and remembrances. Morris informs us that Susan Denberg's accent was so heavy that she was dubbed on post-production. Also new to this edition is the 45-minute documentary "Hammer Glamour," featuring new interviews with Valerie Leon, Caroline Munro, Martine Beswicke, Madeline Smith, Vera Day and Jenny Hanley and clips from dozens of Hammer films that show the increasing sexuality of Hammer films. The disc is filled out with two episodes of the 1994 House of Hammer series ("The Curse of Frankenstein" and "Hammer Stars: Peter Cushing," both narrated by Oliver Reed), a gallery of stills and the original trailer.

By Sean Axmaker