Originally intended to be made in 1958 as a sequel to CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Hammer's fourth Frankenstein entry is an offbeat, fascinating gothic masterpiece, now making its U.S. Blu-ray debut courtesy of Millennium Entertainment.
The film ingeniously opens up with the guillotine execution of a drunken murderer (played with hardy relish by Hammer vet Duncan Lamont, THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN), unintentionally witnessed by his young boy, Hans. Years later, the grown-up Hans (Robert Morris, QUATERMASS AND THE PIT) is employed by the half-witted Dr. Hertz (Thorley Walters, VAMPIRE CIRCUS) who has taken in Baron Frankenstein (the one, the only, Peter Cushing), who obviously wants to keep a low profile. Forgetting Freddie Francis' EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN, a definite homage to Universal Studio’s Frankenstein cycle, Fisher picks up the series where he left off and firmly relates that the Baron is really the monster (the character is here introduced as being brought back to life through his own body-freezing experiment), though the character here is more humane than usual.
At the local tavern, Hans gets into a fierce brawl with a trio of spoiled, arrogant aristocrats -- Anton (Peter Blythe, A CHALLENGE FOR ROBIN HOOD, Karl (Barry Warren, KISS OF THE VAMPIRE) and Johan (Derek Fowlds, TOWER OF EVIL) -- after they insult the twisted and deformed Christina (Susan Denberg) when she's serving their drinks. Later that night after Hans consummates his love for Christina, the three delinquents break into the tavern and kill Christina's father, the landlord (Alan MacNaughton, PATTON). Since he refuses to tell where he was during the murderous event, Hans is brought to trial, accused of murder and guillotined like his dad. Christina witnesses this and immediately commits suicide by drowning herself.
In the meantime, the brilliant Baron has contrived a way to capture the human soul ("Bodies are easy to come by, souls are not," proclaims Frankenstein). He gets a hold of Hans' body, captures and isolates his soul, and transfers it into the wretchedly salvaged corpse of Christina. Luckily, the Baron is also a pioneer in cosmetic surgery, and under the faithful hands of Dr. Hertz (the Baron's hands are burned) is able to transform Christina into a beautiful blond bombshell. As she now harbors the vengeful soul of Hans, Christina is able to use her seductive charm to kill the ones responsible for her father's and Hans' deaths.
Though the film is considered by some Hammer fanatics as one of the lesser entries in the series, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN gets better with repeated viewings. It's totally unconventional as far as "Frankenstein" films go, and it takes a director like Fisher, an actor like Cushing and a screenwriter like Anthony Hinds (the dependable Hammer producer, here using his nom de plume “John Elder”) to make it succeed on every level. Hind's script wastes no opportunity at piling up a number of morbid sequences (two executions, a murder, a suicide, and the Baron's unworldly experiments) to lead up to the third act, which involves Christina's revenge on the three antagonists. Add other bizarre circumstances such as Christina carting around Hans' severed head as inspiration for vengeance, and later conversing to herself in his voice, and you have a satisfying horror tale to say the least.
Fisher was always quoted as saying that FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED was his favorite film because of the "love story" aspect of it, but FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN is arguably his most romance-driven effort. The relationship between Hans and Christina is what brings the story to the predicament that it's in, and Christina's unexpected discovery of her lover's beheading, followed by her own suicide, is one of the director's most powerful scenes. Although he's given less to do here then in the other Frankenstein films, Cushing is awesome to watch in every motion and every shred of dialog. He's kinder than usual this time, even displaying moments of concern for the young leads when their lives are at stake, but Cushing plays him cold, chauvinistic and determined, giving the impression that any warmth he expresses is only to boost his personal goals (as evidenced in the closing moments of the film). His refusal to accommodate the newly revived, confused Christina's request for a mirror (to see her reborn reflection) is a subdued example of his true character.
Although Polish-born Susan Denberg only had several other acting assignments (including the "I Mudd" episode of Star Trek and the Stuart Whitman vehicle, AN AMERICAN DREAM) and got the job because of her spread in Playboy (often the only requirement to be a Hammer glamour girl), she excels in the role. Even though another actress dubbed her voice, she convincingly changes from innocent, suicidal ugly duckling to confused, suicidal and possessed beauty. But the performances are great all around; from Robert Morris' gentle yet easily enraged Hans to Thorley Walter's intoxicated, bumbling Dr. Hertz, whose fatherly kinship with Christina presents some of the film's most touching moments.
FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN was first released on DVD well over a decade ago by Anchor Bay, and a few years later, they re-released it as a double feature set with THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES. In 2013 when Millennium announced they had acquired the rights to a number of Hammer titles through Exclusive Media, they released it again on DVD on a set which included both LEGEND and DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (which has since been released on Blu-ray). For diehard fans, that DVD was just a tease for this Blu-ray edition, presented in 1080p in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The HD transfer looks quite nice; detail is visibly sharper than any previous DVD release and colors are distinct with deep black levels. The film’s natural grain results in good textures, and there are only minor blemishes present on the original elements. Noticeable is an odd transition at the 44:53 mark during a zoom, resulting in a sort of overlap of frames, but it’s very brief distraction. The Dolby Digital 2.0 track is satisfying enough to replicate James Bernard’s excellent score to good effect, and dialog and sound effects are also rendered clearly. English SDH subtitles are included.
A new audio commentary features surviving cast members Derek Fowlds and Robert Morris and is moderated by Hammer expert Jonathan Rigby. For Hammer fans, the commentary is a delight to listen to, as both actors share a fair amount of anecdotes (and good memories they are) about being on the set at Bray studios while giving us a good understanding of what it was like working for Hammer and its “family” atmosphere. Rigby does a great job of moderating and also fills in the cracks with little-known trivia about the film and its elusive female star (both Fowlds and Morris are able to shed light on Denberg, as both shared significant screen time with her). The new documentary Hammer Glamour (44:07) has in-depth interviews with Hammer actresses Valerie Leon (BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB), Caroline Munro (DRACULA A.D. 1972), Madeline Smith (THE VAMPIRE LOVERS), Martine Beswick (DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE), Vera Day (QUATERMASS II) and Jenny Hanley (SCARS OF DRACULA). Narrated by Damien Thomas (TWINS OF EVIL), the program examines Hammer’s use of beautiful leading ladies and fledging starlets. Also included are two “World of Hammer” episodes from the 1990s -- “The Curse of Frankenstein” (25:56) which reveals clips from every Hammer Frankenstein except for FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED and “Peter Cushing” (24:54) which of course focuses on the revered actor. Rounding out the extras are the original theatrical trailer, a lengthy animated still gallery, and five mini lobby cards sealed in an envelope in the disc’s packaging. (George R. Reis)
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