Sunday, October 28, 2012


For the past decade I’ve harbored a strong dislike for the film FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1967). I love most Hammer films and rate their Frankenstein series as far superior to their Dracula run but with repeated viewings of the entire set of six (or seven if you’re charitable) I kept finding myself irritated by FCW. Most horror fans disparage the true oddball of Hammer’s ‘Adventures of Baron Frankenstein’ films THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1964) and there are many reasons to single it out- it’s the only one not directed by the great Terrance Fisher; its story doesn’t fit in with the previous film’s continuity; the hypnotism element is silly; the monster is a box-headed freak, etc. But I’ve always liked EVIL for many of those same reasons. I think it’s wonderful to have an alternative tale of a slightly different Baron played by the superb Peter Cushing while he was in his prime. His performance in EVIL is a little sunnier, maybe even more relaxed, which makes his bursts of vengeful anger at the townspeople that destroyed his earlier experiments much more effective. EVIL doesn’t fit the films before or after it but I’ve always cherished it, warts and all, for the quirkiness of its tale and the way it’s told.

But FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN began to bother me from the first viewing. Why was the Baron suddenly trying to mess around with ‘souls’? What is this crap!? The Baron I knew would have laughed at the very idea of such a thing. He was a man of reason and science, dammit! Souls were silly fictions made up to scare the ignorant masses into being nice, obedient slaves. Frankenstein dealt in reality! He dealt in the grimy, bloody viscera of the human animal and knew what made it function. This is the man who constructed a body from corpses and zapped life into it! Souls? Show me one! Where is it? The fact that this story posits that he would care about a soul much less attempt to construct a way of capturing one just struck me as ridiculous.

Then I rewatched the movie last week. The fine podcast 1951 Down Place wasthe push I needed. When the show’s hosts decided to cover FCW for its October show I cringed. I like to be able to add comments for them when I can and since I hadn’t seen the film for years I felt it was time to revisit the Baron’s soul experiments. I did not look forward to it.

Imagine my surprise when, this time, the film worked for me. The process by which the Baron might come to shift his experimental focus from only surgery to this line of inquiry became clear. After multiple failures, that he often could not account for, his ever quick mind seems to have moved to new areas. Since he had clearly perfected the physical aspect of the process (after a fashion) it would be only natural to look into a better way of moving the human mind from one person’s corpse to a fresh creation. The question of how to insure a stable ‘creature’ is then solved- fix the damaged body then insert the consciousness of another person into the repaired body. No more screwing around with brains and transplants – he can just swap the mental essence of a person from one place to another. Genius! Of course, the bizarre machinery he builds that can capture the ‘soul’ is completely crazy in both concept and in the way it’s depicted. With its floating ball of energy held in a colorfully lit room it comes off as absurd even in context of a Frankenstein film but that’s a secondary concern here that the film wisely moves past as soon as possible.

So then once my dislike of this core element of the story dropped away I was able see how good FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN really is overall. It has the same wonderful Gothic production values I love in Hammer movies, great performances (Thorley Walters is fantastic), extremely nasty villains, a sympathetic pair of leads/lovers and a great logical progression for the story as it winds to its tragic conclusion. I have to say I now consider this to be my third favorite Hammer Frankenstein movie behind REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN and FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED. That is quite a leap. I can hardly believe how radically my view of FCW has shifted- it’s a full 180 degree switch. This surprising reevaluation makes me excited to revisit other movies from the studio to see what happens. Maybe SCARS OF DRACULA will turn out to be a work of brilliance that I’ve been snubbing? No- I doubt that!


Jeffrey Canino said...

I'm glad you turned around on this one, Rod! It's one of my Hammer favorites. I think you're right on in pointing out all the good stuff about it. In addition, I feel like the change in general tone (and the lack of visual surgery, which is such a draw in the other films) has a lot to do with the fact that this film provides a female creature for the first time. I also think this new, gendered focus gives the film some interesting thematic weight-- I wrote about exactly this earlier in the year, if you want to check it out:

You've also got me thinking about how because of all of Frankenstein's steampunk machinery and soul-gathering intentions, this film would make a swell double feature with Peter Newbrook's The Asphyx.

And if I were to revisit a Hammer film I disliked in order to give it a reevaluation, it would have to be The Witches-- or, the only Hammer film to make me groan in agony. But I'll let that one stew for another decade or so, I think.

Rod Barnett said...

Jeffery- Thank you for your comments and I think your post on the film is exceptional. I posted a link to it over on 1951 Down Place's Facebook page an the response has been great. Thanks for chiming in. I need to post a link to your blog!