It’s time to consider a female version of Frankenstein’s monster – Hammer style.
While Frankenstein Created Woman is not a favorite entry in the Hammer horror arsenal, it is not without merit. In fact, it’s an intriguing film. And after having seen it, I’m surprised it’s not discussed more often.
The story goes…
Baron Frankenstein, played by Peter Cushing who reprises the role he played in three previous films in Hammer’s Frankenstein series, has been contemplating the idea of the soul. When we first see him he’s frozen, the consequence of his latest experiment. For all intents and purposes the Baron is as dead as a man can be – for an hour, after which he is re-animated by his colleague/assistant, Dr. Hertz (Thorley Walters) using electrical currents – and smelling salts. After coming back to life, Frankenstein is fascinated by the fact that his soul remained in tact, never separating from his body. That fascination is the constant throughout the film and what drives Baron Frankenstein to create woman.
“Bodies are easy to come by, souls are not.”
Christina (Susan Denberg) is a deformed, young local woman who is ridiculed and tormented by many she encounters. Upon learning of the death of her young lover, Hans (Robert Morris) who is guillotined for a crime he didn’t commit, Christina drowns herself. Baron Frankenstein then recovers Christina’s body wanting to create a life wherein he can prove his theory regarding the soul. Having acquired the head of the beheaded Hans, Frankenstein now brings Christina back to life – a new, beautiful version of the old Christina with Hans’ brains. All of Christina’s former physical flaws have been erased, but in their place is Hans’ soul. His memories, his anger and his fears all become hers – as does his hunger for revenge.
Christina learns very quickly to use the beauty given to her by the Doctor to do the bidding the darkness within her now demands. One at a time she sets traps and destroys life – all who had hurt her and Hans meet their maker.
Another experiment of Baron Frankenstein that doesn’t turn out quite as planned.
Her role in Frankenstein Created Woman is the last of only four acting roles for Susan Denberg, a fact that surprised me, but her inexperience serves her depiction of Christina well. The German-born Austrian, Denberg, who changed her name professionally from Dietlinde Zechner, was a dancer and former Playboy Playmate before appearing in Frankenstein. Her other famous role, which is the one I am more familiar with, is as Magda in the 1966 episode of Star Trek, “Mudd’s Women.” Denberg’s voice was dubbed in Frankenstein Created Woman because her Austrian accent was considered too strong. I’m not familiar with the reason why Denberg’s acting career was so short, but I am curious.
Aside from Peter Cushing’s return as the Baron in this film, Terence Fisher is back to helm another Hammer production. The music, by Hammer music genius, James Bernard is not as memorable as say the score for Horror of Dracula, but it matches the story depicted. It is a much more reserved score to match a much more reserved film. Visually Frankenstein Created Woman follows the Hammer tradition. It’s ALIVE, IT’S ALIVE! Um…sorry. I mean, as expected, it’s vibrant and lush.
I was surprised by Frankenstein Created Woman for several reasons, but one most of all. Although I didn’t know what to expect, the one thing I was sure of was that I’d get to see a monster – but one doesn’t quite get a monster here. Despite the film’s tagline – “A beautiful woman with the soul of the devil” – Christina always remains a sad, wronged woman with the brains of a wronged man. I found this film disturbing due to the social injustices depicted throughout, rather than because of the horror. The injustices here are well beyond those that result from the actions of one man, even if he were to create a murderous beast. From cruelty toward a badly deformed young woman to the execution of an innocent man to a suicide, by the time Baron Frankenstein is ready to bring his newest creation to life I am beyond desensitized. And even that creation’s actions are of sadness, worthy of pity – never shock. From my perspective, Frankenstein Created Woman is a horror-less Hammer horror in the traditional sense. The monsters here are not disfigured creatures or mad doctors, they’re you and me.
Finally, and perhaps the most interesting aspect of Frankenstein Created Woman is the fact that the film blurs the lines between good and evil more than other films do. It is a tale of morality on several levels, not only with respect to the creation of a life brought forth to suffer. And I must say Cushing, who never gives a bad performance, is especially good in this entry. He is less the mad doctor and more the philosopher.
“Be careless in your dress if you will, but keep a tidy soul.” – Mark Twain
One never knows.
This post is part of the Hammer Halloween Blogathon hosted by the Classic Film & TV Café. Go to www.classicfilmtvcafe.com to view the complete blogathon schedule. Fantastic entries will be featured all week. I bloody dare you to miss it!