“Frankenstein Created Woman” (1967)
by A.J. Hakari
Every horror fan has his or her idea of what image best epitomizes Hammer Studios’ legendary genre catalogue. For some, it’s that of Christopher Lee’s Count Dracula, with his cape billowing and befanged maw poised to plunge into a buxom starlet’s jugular. But I’ve always gravitated towards Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein, who toiled in cluttered, ramshackle laboratories in hopes of conquering death’s secrets. This doctor is no misguided scientist; his arrogance is palpable, making you wonder how he’s going to try and spit in God’s face through sequel after sequel. No matter what, you’re in for a funky good time, and even at its fourth entry — Frankenstein Created Woman — the franchise’s penchant for perverse pleasures has barely worn thin.
As our tale begins, Frankenstein has moved on from merely jolting corpses back to life. This time, his interests lie with the incorporeal, namely in capturing and containing what we call the human soul. Remarkably, Frankenstein succeeds in completing a contraption to perform such a daunting task, but how to test it? Enter Hans (Robert Morris), a poor lad who’s gotten a lot of bad licks out of life. His family’s criminal history has made romancing his sweetheart Christina (Susan Denberg) difficult, with further tragedy striking after Hans is pegged for a murder he didn’t commit. But slinking in the background is Frankenstein, whose experiments allow Christina to help her beloved exact otherworldly vengeance on those who wronged them.
Frankenstein Created Woman is a bit of an odd duck in its series. If anything, it stands out mostly because the Baron himself doesn’t figure into the story all that prominently. Oh, he’s around, alright, for his scientific meddling leads to the ghastly horrors that run deep throughout the movie’s final act. But Frankenstein isn’t the main focus, nor is he actively diabolical, for that matter. He serves as bystander to Hans and Christina’s doomed love story, which is handled pretty tenderly. Frankenstein Created Woman is among Hammer’s sadder hours, so adding Cushing playing as big of a bastard as he did in the previous films would be pushing it a little. Director and studio stalwart Terence Fisher still strikes an effective compromise between its romance and its bloodlust, keeping the drama from becoming too cloying and the violence from reaching exploitative heights. It still bears the markings of a Frankenstein follow-up, just one that rewards viewers by looking at the formula from a slightly different angle than usual.
An old-fashioned affair through and through, Frankenstein Created Woman could’ve done with a touch of modernization. With the premise it presents, a whole realm of sexual politics is up for the exploring (as was the case in one of my favorite Hammer outings, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde), but the movie doesn’t so much as glance in that direction. But while an element of daring might’ve helped it make a more lasting impression, Frankenstein Created Woman works well enough with what traditional trappings it has. Even in a dialed-back performance, Cushing is still plenty high and mighty, his Baron navigating through rooms of crude scientific paraphernalia with the confidence of a man who’s spent a lifetime mastering them. As the lovers, Morris and Denberg make for a sympathetic pair, with the latter effortlessly pulling double duty in a role that requires her to play equal parts fragile and seductive.
Courtesy of Millennium Entertainment, Frankenstein Created Woman has risen once more, now in a rather spiffy new Blu-ray release. Boasting such extras as a trailer, a photo gallery, feature commentary, two episodes of the “World of Hammer” TV show, and a new documentary about Hammer’s harem of leading ladies, an edition like this would be a treat for one of the studio’s flagship titles, let alone something from the B-squad. Though a smidge of boundary-pushing would’ve been nice, Frankenstein Created Woman teems with just the right blend of blood, skin, and moody atmosphere nevertheless.