This post is part of an ongoing series on Hammer horror director Terence Fisher. The previous entries in the series were Dracula, Prince of Darkness and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed.
Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) marked the return of Terence Fisher to the Hammer Frankenstein series. Fisher had been temporarily ousted after the studio’s displeasure over the director’s character driven Phantom of the Opera (1961). Freddie Francis had been assigned to the Evil of Frankenstein (1964) and the predictable, pedestrian result was a case of the studio quite obviously having shot itself in the foot.
Fisher and writer Anthony Hinds showed that, even with a lurid, studio-assigned title, a visionary team can do imaginative, innovative wonders, much in the same way that Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur had delivered a sublime film from I Walked with a Zombie (1943), studio be damned.
Frankenstein Created Woman is hardly flawless, but it is full of inimitable ideas and bold style. In lesser hands, Woman would have been an abject failure. A prisoner (Duncan Lamont) is being escorted to the guillotine. He is boastful and defiant, until he discovers, to his intense horror, that his son Hans is witnessing his execution from afar. Parental concern overwhelms the sinful father but, alas, too late. Young Hans witnesses his father’s decapitation.
Years later, the adult Hans (Robert Morris) visits the site of his father’s execution. That guillotine becomes a recurring image, as it was in the Revenge of Frankenstein (1958). Hans works for Dr. Hertz (Thorley Walters) and Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing). Frankenstein’s obsession here is the soul itself, and the unfolding events will plunge the Baron into unfamiliar territory, even for him.
The film narrative sympathizes with Frankenstein’s contempt for bourgeoisie society. Hans is wrongly accused of murder, framed by three upper class hooligans. Society assumes guilt of Hans by association with his late father and Hans is condemned. Although Frankenstein has a genuine, albeit cool-toned, affection for Hans, as usual he sees beyond conventional circumstances and realizes that Hans’ tragedy can serve a greater purpose. When Hans’ girlfriend, the deformed Christina (Susan Denberg) commits suicide after her Romeo’s death, Frankenstein transfers Hans’ soul into the drowned girl.
Christina is reborn into a beautiful, new woman whom the fatherly Hertz grooms and educates. Hertz assures Christina that her seemingly cold father, Frankenstein, is a great, visionary man whom she should respect and be grateful to. However, Hans’ soul takes over Christina and calls for revenge against the three who had wronged them both. The film plunges into an almost standard revenge plot, but it is underlined with Fisher’s genre driven, unique pop theology. The trio of Frankenstein, Christina and Hans becomes a metaphoric trinity in Fisher’s hands and he infuses this development with typically elegant, icy grandeur.
Lamont, in his small role, gives a memorable, stand-out performance and Walter, as usual, is a delight. Cushing’s Dr. Frankenstein is not the focus of Woman, yet he is able to evoke cautious empathy, and divinely inspired obsession. Denberg and Morris are adequately decorative. Denberg had been a Playboy model and she looks the part, convincingly conveying innocence, in sharp contrast to the real-life candle burning of the actress.
The two opening sequences, at the guillotine and the resurrection of the Baron on ice (by the presiding Hans and Hertz) are excitingly staged with Fisher’s typical athletic prowess.