Monday, 4 April 2011

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

Country: UK

Hammer’s fourth Frankenstein adventure is a significant improvement over the previous entry - the lacklustre and feeble The Evil of Frankenstein (1964). One possible reason for the shabbiness of that film might be the insipid and blatantly imitative direction of Freddie Francis. Without a doubt Francis was an accomplished cinematographer, but his skills as a director were less impressive. Fortunately for Frankenstein Created Woman (one of the silliest and most inappropriate titles for a film) Terence Fisher was invited back to the series. It had been nine years since Fisher had last had the pleasure of the Baron’s company, and his comfort with the material is obvious from the assured confidence of the direction and his eye for striking visual compositions. This is despite the fact that Fisher is working with, by the standards of Hammer, an incredibly offbeat and outlandish screenplay courtesy of Anthony Hinds. Hinds implements a number of important changes that make this an altogether unique entry in the series.

The first notable change is in the characterisation of the Baron himself. The razor sharp intellect and dashing charisma remain undiminished, but Hinds also adds a sense of justice and fair play to the character. The Baron is at his most morally sympathetic, even if his morality is still in servitude to his desire to harness the secrets of life and death. In previous entries the Baron has murdered in order to gain suitable body parts, in this film he responds more to events out of his control. The faulty judicial system of the village is what enables him to continue his experiment on the body of Hans (Robert Morris), and not before the Baron has tried to save his life with an impassioned defence. The Baron is also more interested in the metaphysical - gone is the creature made up of an amalgam of ill fitting body parts, instead the Baron is seeking to contain the human soul. By using himself as a guinea pig the Baron discovers that the soul does not leave the body on the instant of death, and he subsequently directs his experiments to capture the human soul and ultimately transplant it from one body to the other. This gives the film a peculiar spiritual dimension that is at odds with the normal violent physicality of the Baron’s experiments.

One failing of the Hinds screenplay however is that this element of the narrative is almost a subplot. Frankenstein and Dr. Hertz (Thorley Walters) play second fiddle to the characters of Hans and Christina (Susan Denberg). Christina must endure the cruel mockery of a trio of aristocratic, wine slurping libertines, due to her debilitating deformities. Her imperfections torment her, and provide grist for the sadistic bastards who view her as sport. Hans has is own imperfections, he watched his murdering thief of a father executed at the guillotine, and has spent his adult life rejecting the claims that such behaviour can be passed down from one generation to the next. Hans and Christina make an odd couple, but the performances of Morris and Denberg are not strong enough to carry the film. The middle section is extremely laborious, and it is only when Hans’ soul has been transplanted into Christina’s body does the film retain some of the intrigue it opened with. It is this plot element that gives Frankenstein Created Woman its peculiar notoriety. Hans’ soul uses Christina’s sexuality in order to lure the three murderous aristocrats to their doom. This has naturally led to a swathe of psychoanalytical interpretation, all of which adds nothing to ones understanding of the film.

Christina represents both the power of female sexuality and the brutal violence of masculine vengeance. In all reality Frankenstein’s decision to transplant Hans soul into her body was not his most intelligent moment! The final third of the film has a set piece structure as Christina eliminates the trio of toffs responsible for all the turmoil. But despite these moments of violence the film comes across more as a tragic gothic romance than horror, and the Baron’s experimentations with cryogenics, force fields and the human soul makes this easily the most science-fictional of Hammer’s Frankenstein films. There are some wonderfully entertaining moments here; the opening shot of the guillotine and the execution of Hans father, the three aristocrats light up the film every time their malicious faces sneer into view, and Peter Cushing is typically excellent, though admittedly he his able to shine due to the bumbling ineptitude of the idiotic Thorley Walters. But by placing the dramatic weight with the two members of the cast who cannot act the film falls down. This is a very protracted and talky film, but the intriguing concepts at the heart of Frankenstein Created Woman make it a passable distraction and something of a semi return to form after the misstep of The Evil of Frankenstein.

© Shaun Anderson 2011


  1. I really enjoy this movie, Shaun. It's one of my favorites of the series. Fisher's treatment of Frankenstein here isn't too far removed from the dwindling screen time afforded Chris Lee in each succeeding DRACULA picture.

    Still, I didn't mind this one being talky. I enjoyed the plot and have always had a soft spot for the downtrodden. Those three cretins deserved everything that was coming to them. When I first saw this, that scene where they all serenade Christina with that malicious song, that was one of the most incredibly cruel things I could imagine a person doing to somebody else, especially someone who is crippled.

    Thorley Walters always seemed to work best when he was a kindly, good-natured bumbler, or comic relief such as his pompous, yet clueless inspector from FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED.

    I also appreciate this entry for not being simply "the same old thing". Wonderful movie and wonderful review, Shaun!

  2. Thanks Brian - I think this is more of an acquired taste, and I've never been wholly taken with the Baron's characterisation. I must admit I prefer the cold sadism of FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED where he rapes and murders his way to his nefarious goal.

    Those three libertines certainly get their just desserts, which kind of makes their cruelty and bullying slightly mor palatable. In fact their first encounter with Christine in the tavern is pretty amusing! Anthony Hinds never fails to get in his class commentary.

    I agree - ultimately FCW deserves a certain recognition and attention for its attempts to do something different with the formula. I found the Baron's interest in the metaphysical to be a very intriguing departure.

  3. FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED is my favorite of the series as well. I loved his pure evil, manipulative, deceptive personality in that one.

  4. This is actually my favorite Hammer film of all time, i`ve seen it over 600 times (literally), for me it is total perfection: the characters, the atmosphere, the story, the acting, its all pure brilliance from first frame to last. By the way, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed was OK but it was nothing in comparison to this pitch-perfect all-time classic.

  5. Out of the seven Frankenstein films Hammer produced this one would come in 4th for me...behind REVENGE, CURSE, and MUST BE DESTROYED. Isn't 600 times a little excessive?

  6. As i said, for me, theres always been something truly magical about this film, something thats difficult to actually put into words perhaps. The only other films i can think of that i`ve seen a comparable number of times would be: Forbidden Planet, House On Haunted Hill (1959 version), The Time Machine (1960 version), The Fall Of The House Of Usher (1960 version), and Conflict (an almost completely forgotton 1945 Humphrey Bogart movie and my one concession on this list to non-genre film making). They`ve all got that same elusive rewatchability factor that so few movies possess.


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