Despite the presence of the always reliable Peter Cushing as the titular mad scientist, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN moves at a shockingly slow pace for a Hammer Film—especially one directed by Terence Fisher. It takes nearly an hour for the promised “creation” to occur, leaving not much time for the wrap-up of an unnecessarily convoluted revenge story that Fisher and screenwriter Anthony Hinds (credited as John Elder)–both usually reliable Hammer Films veterans–spend so much time setting up.
Other than Cushing playing Baron Frankenstein, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN operates as something of a hard reboot of Hammer’s FRANKENSTEIN movies. He and his drunken assistant, Dr. Hertz (Thorley Walters), act as though they are attempting something completely new by resurrecting a corpse, establishing the film as its own weird, slightly bloodier, more risqué animal.
The film opens with a grotesque, drunken man being dragged to the guillotine by the police. He cracks jokes with his captors and the Priest as he approaches his death. Claiming he is ready to go, he willingly puts his head under the blade, only to have a last second horror as he realizes his young son has arrived on the scene just in time to see him beheaded. The story then jumps ahead roughly fifteen years as the boy has grown into a young man named Hans (Robert Morris). Hans works as an errand boy for Frankenstein and Hertz, assisting them with their whacked out scientific experiments (like letting the Baron die and stay in a freezer for an hour before reviving him—just to see what happens).
It is in the aftermath of this experiment–that apparently proves the soul does not leave the body after death for at least an hour—that Hans is sent to the local pub to purchase a bottle of celebratory champagne and the heavy lifting of exposition kicks in between the young man and the pub owner’s disfigured daughter Christina (Susan Denberg). The highlights of the interminably long dialogue scenes that take place in the pub amount to: the villagers don’t trust Frankenstein and fear what he is getting up to in Hertz’ office, the same villagers expect Hans to turn out just like his murdering father, Hans and Christina are in love but her father doesn’t approve (of course), and three ne’er-do-wells terrorize the town and target Christina specifically to cruelly mock her many physical handicaps.
After reiterating these points over and over, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN finally kicks into gear as Hans is convicted of a murder committed by the villainous ne’er-do-wells and—in a cruel twist of fate—he is beheaded in front of Christina who then kills herself by jumping from a bridge into a creek (the small scale of the bridge and stream make this a very unintentionally comedic moment). Never ones to let a readily available corpse go to waste, Frankenstein and Hertz manage to transfer Hans’ soul into Christina’s body before raising her from the dead and performing miraculous surgeries to cure all of her ailments. Oh, and did I mention her hair magically changes color and all of her facial scarring is eliminated, making her unrecognizable to the villagers? Yeah, that happens and is important to the plot in the third act.
As much as I want to make fun of the last thirty minutes of FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN, at least the thoroughly goofy plot twists that ensue from Hans and Christina occupying the same body are entertaining in an “anything goes” kind of way. It never quite becomes the Hammer horror version of ALL OF ME that the plot description makes me want, but it is a lot of fun as Hans uses Christina’s body to carry out his mission of vengeance upon the ne’er-do-wells while the remains of Christina’s soul assumes Hans is some sort of god (she goes so far as to dig up his head and worship it).
While Fisher may let the pacing drag at times, his work with the actors is spot on. Cushing is, of course, the main draw here. His Baron Frankenstein was always a pompous, callous (possibly sociopathic) bastard, but here he gets to betray some hints of human emotion that allows for a more dryly comedic tone as he plays off the scene-stealing Walters. Morris does earnestness and anger well, which is really all that is asked of him. Peter Blythe, Barry Warren, and Derek Fowlds are memorably sleazy as the ne’er-do-wells, really making the audience root for their demises. The most surprising performance here comes from Denberg who was mostly known as a model and chorus dancer, not an actor. Asked to basically play three different characters (disfigured victim, child in an adult’s body, and cunning predator), she does a great job of differentiating between the different incarnations of Christina while holding audience sympathy. Her turn here is even more impressive when you consider her dialogue was dubbed by a different actor when her German accent was deemed by the producers to be too thick to understand.
It is both difficult to recommend FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN and impossible to disregard it. I would never call it upper tier Hammer, but despite how very slowly it moves for the first hour, it is still a fun, goofily-plotted twisting of the FRANKENSTEIN formula that also serves as a bridge from the studio’s past to its more explicit future with its more graphic violence and Denberg’s near-nudity. In the end, you have to give the benefit of the doubt to a movie that gets this weird with a straight face.
The main selling point of this Collector’s Edition Blu-ray from Scream Factory is the new 2K scan of the original film elements. It is impressive and really makes the colorful cinematography of Arthur Grant pop in all its Mario Bava-inspired green and red glory.
Beyond the new scan, there is a new commentary with Hammer Films historians Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr that is well worth checking out. The two men clearly have a greater love for the film than I do, making a fairly convincing case for it as Fisher’s twisting of the Cinderella fairy tale for adults. Their talk is the best kind of commentary, both informative and entertaining (especially when they throw shade at the later, much more explicit Hammer films), and capable of making the viewer think about the film in a new way. An older commentary from a previous home video release is breezy fun as Morris, Fowlds, and film historian Jonathan Rigby reminisce on the film in a manner that can only be described as cheerfully chummy and very, very British.
A new interview with Morris is included, as well as interviews with surviving crew members Eddie Collins and Joe Marks. Both segments are sweet-natured, but do not really add much to the overall package. Two old episodes of the World of Hammer TV show are included, as well as a featurette about the beautiful women of Hammer horror called Hammer Glamour. The usual trailers, TV commercials, and radio spots round out the disc.
FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN hits Blu-ray today from Scream Factory.
–Matt Wedge (@MovieNerdMatt)
Tags: Arthur Grant, Barry Warren, Constantine Nasr, Derek Fowlds, Eddie Collins, frankenstein, Frankenstein Created Woman, Hammer Horror, Joe Marks, Jonathan Rigby, Peter Blythe, peter cushing, Robert Morris, scream factory, Steve Haberman, Susan Denberg, Thorley Walters