Our review of Hammer Horror Classics, published May 6th, 2013, is also available.
Everything we don't understand is magic, until we understand it.
The fourth in Hammer Studios continuing series of Frankenstein movies, comes 1967s Frankenstein Created Woman.
Set in a 19th century Balkan village, this episode finds Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing), up to his old tricks. With the help of the local physician, Dr. Hertz (Thorley Walters), Frankenstein is convinced that he has discovered how to isolate the human soul even after death has claimed the body. With this discovery Frankenstein is only waiting for the opportunity to take a soul after a body has met its demise, storing that soul and transferring it to another body that has also just met death.
Following the brutal murder of a local tavern owner, Hertz's lab assistant, Hans Werner (Robert Morris), is falsely arrested for the crime. Werner was unable to have committed the homicide because he was spending the night with the tavern owner's disfigured daughter, Christina (Susan Denberg). Werner, who rather would be found guilty then bring dishonor upon the fragile Christina, is indeed sentenced to death. Arriving back to the village after seeing a doctor about her disfigurement, Christina is just in time to see her lover's head removed. Shattered with grief, Christina runs into the woods and commits suicide.
Leaping at this golden opportunity, Frankenstein repairs Christina's scars, brings her back to life and puts Hans' soul in the young girls body. Unknown to Frankenstein, the angry soul of Hans Werner wants revenge against the true killers of the tavern owner. So using Christina's newfound beauty, the soul of Werner begins its bloody rampage in the village.
Confronted by the bizarre murders and being aware of Dr. Frankenstein's strange reputation, a group of angry villagers wants to know what is going on. Confused and frightened by her actions, Christina is unable to help herself as she hunts for the third and final victim. After meeting with the scared and hostile mob the Baron becomes aware of what is really happening, thus the films final act spins towards its tragic conclusion as Dr. Frankenstein begins his own desperate hunt for the woman he created.
This version of the Frankenstein story is notable for a few reasons. First of all it marked the return of Director Terence Fisher. More than anyone else Fisher was the man responsible for the look and style of the Hammer horror films. The director on the original Frankenstein movie, The Curse of Frankenstein as well as the companies first Dracula and Mummy pictures, Fisher brought a great deal of know-how and panache to the effort. His return to the series marks Frankenstein Created Woman as one of its high water marks. The movie is also interesting because it is less a standard horror scenario than it is a quirky, poetic and often surreal mood piece.
Usually the body or bodies of the normal is transformed into a disfigured, lumbering creature but with Frankenstein Created Woman, we are shown the opposite. In life, the girl is disfigured and disabled but after death she is turned into a vision of health and beauty. Like all creatures before her though she wants to know the answer to the most difficult of questions, who am I?
In the film's most chilling and creepy sequence her question is finally answered. After learning what and who she is, she has a conversation with the severed head of her ex-lover. A conversation that is continued when the executed man speaks in his own voice out of Christina's mouth.
The movie also takes the idea of the monster as a hermaphrodite and quietly runs with it. The beautiful, blonde woman with the soul of a male who uses the body to draw its victims into the trap and instead of coming forth with the promised sex instead delivers death. Pretty complex stuff for your usual, run-of-the-mill horror flick.
One of the things that I have always enjoyed about the Frankenstein movies is how, with Peter Cushing, they are more about man's arrogance and need than with all-out horror. Frankenstein is not truly evil but mistaken in what he is working towards. Wanting to create, to take from nothing and make something, Frankenstein is trying to impress and better his father, God. It is a sense of drive and ambition that Cushing always played brilliantly. His blue eyes burning with intelligence, Cushing takes a somewhat softer tone with his performance this time out and it is a choice that benefits the overall tone of the movie. Christopher Lee may have always had the flashier roles but Peter Cushing was the rock on which Hammer was built and this is a great example of what he brought to the table.
In the role of the monster, former Playboy Playmate Susan Denberg is actually pretty good in the role. She conveys a sweetness and hope that stands in direct contrast to the horrible acts she performs once the spirit of Hans takes control. Hammer did a good job with making her look disfigured in the first half of the film but it is Denberg's performance that makes it work. Her transformation gives the appearance of a different person but still has a great deal of the wounded girl at her center. She had a good deal of raw talent and it really is too bad we did not see more from her after Frankenstein Created Woman.
In various roles of support there are several members of "Hammer Rep," among them are Thorley Walters (Vampire Circus, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed), Robert Morris (Quatermass And The Pit) and Philip Ray (Dracula, Prince Of Darkness), all turn in their usual level of work.
Behind the camera the usual Hammer suspects were also running around. In addition to Fisher, Screenwriter John Elder (AKA producer Anthony Hinds) contributes the elegant and evocative screenplay. The music is from Hammer's best house composer James Bernard and the movie was shot under the watchful and skilled eye of Arthur Grant.
As part of their continuing Hammer Collection, Anchor Bay once more does right by these cult classics. The picture is framed in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Par for the course with Anchor Bay, the disc is given a new anamorphic transfer that makes the picture pop off the screen. Colors are beautiful, appearing saturated and full but not overly so. Detail is marvelous with there being hardly a trace of enhancement. Blacks are rock solid with great detail and no signs of pixel breakup. As usual the print used is of the highest quality and there are very few signs of age or deterioration.
Sound is Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono and it is quite a pleasant experience. Given the limited level of fidelity, sound is rather full, almost never sounding thin or weak. Bernard's score is well mixed with dialogue to complete a listening experience that defies its age. Distortion, pops and background hiss are virtually nonexistent.
The disc features the normal amount of trailers and TV spots and they are a welcome inclusion. Vintage advertising is always fun to look at and this is no exception.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I don't have a lot of complaints with the movie itself. Frankenstein Created Woman is easily one of the better films in the Frankenstein series and in the upper tier of Hammer films in general. Anchor Bay once more fails to disappoint on the technical end of matters.
It is however on the extras side that Hammer drops the ball. As on The Mummy's Shroud we are treated to a repeat episode of the "World Of Hammer." Here it is the segment called The Curse Of Frankenstein which was the same segment shown on the movie, Four Sided Triangle. I for one can accept that they are running out of new episodes to give us but please don't give us the same thing twice. Either put nothing at all on or better yet, produce some new material in-house. Chances are fans of Hammer Studios are picking up every disc released, I know I am, and getting the same episode over again is frustrating.
Although I am happy to report the start of close captioning on Anchor Bay's wonderful Supergirl disc, no such feature is present here. I am glad to see the little DVD house that could finally go down that path but now we need it across the board.
I also suppose the caveat should be given that if you are looking for either a gore-fest or lots of T and A, Frankenstein Created Woman is going to let you down. Hammer was still a few years away from any kind of graphic sex or nudity and gore was never a really strong suit in this period.
As a fan of Hammer Studios, I am really happy with this disc. It looks and sounds great, plus the movie itself is one of the strongest films they produced in that time frame.
Terence Fisher and Peter Cushing…I mean, how could they go wrong?
If you know these movies, you probably already have this disc on your mind to buy, so all I can say is purchase with confidence.
If you like well written and interesting suspense movies, this movie is worth a shot. Don't be put off by the garish nature of the movie's advertising. All others, give it a rent, keep an open mind and you might find yourself enjoying something new.
With the noted reservation of repeated extras and no closed captioning, Anchor Bay is released, all charges dropped. Hammer Films and all connected with the production of this movie are also free to go. That is all I have. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Theatrical Trailer
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