My consumption of Hammer films has always been of considerable lack, particularly since I have decided to take upon yet another prospective project involving solely an analysis of the films within this unique franchise. Upon inquiring from a friend as to some viewing recommendations from the storied company's catalog, I was amazed to find that there are quite a few films, indeed, even various eras of Hammer studio output. Needless to say, I now have a considerable stack of Hammer films to undertake, having only seen Horror of Dracula, The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires and the more recent, and considerably underwhelming The Woman in Black (My review at the time was far more positive). A suggestion to begin my journey with Frankenstein Created Woman proved quite fruitful, particularly since it is a decidedly watchable work by Terence Fisher, one that manages to pull in the wonderful gothic horror elements I have come to appreciate from the few Hammer films I have seen, while also incorporating a storyline that stretches a considerable temporal length without exhausting itself or seeming a bit too haphazard. In fact, between some of the wonderful scowling put on by Hammer veteran Peter Cushing and an overall sense of fun being exuded by all involved, Frankenstein Created Woman gives the sense of being a fully fleshed out genre film that manages to take itself lightly, thus making some of the more subtle social commentaries that emerge seem that much more realized, even decidedly intentional. I would even go so far as to suggest that Frankenstein Created Woman works primarily because it does have such a focused critique on issues of gender and class and how projections of privilege from either group can, ultimately, hinder and even harm the individuals whose bodies are othered and subsequently silenced, never mind a consideration of all the ways in which gender and identity are subverted and undermined throughout the films, pointing to the distinct yet seemingly inextricable entities of the body and the soul. Packed into an hour and a half movie, Frankenstein Created Woman is precisely what I want from a genre piece and while I have high hopes, I know that not all of the Hammer films I will encounter later are likely to carry his same sense of brilliance and wonder.
Frankenstein Created Woman begins in a pre-title sequence, wherein an unnamed man is depicted being brought to the guillotine for an unexplained crime, only to have a small child looking on during the entire ordeal, it is revealed in the closing moments of this sequence that the boy is apparently the son of the man. This then begins the film proper, showing Hans Werner (Robert Morris) a goofy, albeit likable guy who works for the more creepy and generally less genial Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) whose stoic demeanor seems only concerned with pushing beyond the limits of science into a new degree of living, particularly so considering his fascination with the moments after death where the soul has yet to leave the body. Aside from his work with Frankenstein, Hans also possesses romantic ties to the local barmaid Christina (Susan Denberg) who for all intents and purposes is an attractive girl, save for scarring on the left side of her face, a point of ridicule for her via a group of aristocratic youth who take much joy is throwing their money around and mocking all those worse of than they are, particularly the scarred Christina, as well as Hans for his romantic relationship with the woman they deem monstrous. When the three reprobates return to the bar later that night to wreak more havoc, the bar owner beats the young men to death, an act that is immediately blamed on Hans who is assumed to share a genetic line with his murderous father, thus proving enough for a conviction. Falling victim to the guillotine himself, Christina becomes distraught and throws herself into a river dying. Realizing the moment of science possible in this, Frankenstein is able to transfer the soul of Hans into the body of Christina who returns to the living world blond and void of any of her scarring. However, she now possesses the vengeful soul of Hans, thus using her new level of sexuality to pick off the three members of the gang, all the while Frankenstein flails to reign in his destructive creation, only to meet her at the cliff of a river, wherein she jumps to her demise a second time, however, now as a more sacrificial act, acknowledging her body as a surrogate for Hans and his vindictive soul.
There is a ton of stuff at play in this film, much to my surprise, although I cannot be entirely thrown off by this occurring, since I had an equal if not greater reaction to The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires. However, I was of the assumption that much of the brilliance in that film was directly a result of The Shaw Brothers' involvement, yet it appears equally that of Hammer, if not entirely so. I say all this because Frankenstein Created Woman manages to be a film that is deeply concerned with the process of othering and the oppression which occurs in such acts. Take, for example, Hans who is impoverished and the son of a murdered criminal. Society, it would appear, has all but written him off as a productive individual, leading to his being able to only find work within the space of Frankenstein's lab, a place that has been othered primarily because of a figure whose quest for scientific truth runs counter to the assumption that all power or privilege is either pre-ordained through God or can be accrued through wealth. Indeed, when one needs to find a victim the blame falls directly on Hans and his lower class body, one could only imaging what Angela Davis might think of this particular moment in the film. Even greater is the oppression on the body of Christina who is also lower class and that of a woman, becoming a thing of assumed exploitation for the aristocratic men, something they believe they can use freely without concern. When the factor of her scarring is added, one could make the case for her being disabled, in so much as her scarring makes her somewhat immobile through a society that predicates women's bodies as things to be looked at and deemed attractive, something that is not entirely possible when one is maimed. When the body of Christina is then melded with Hans' soul something intriguing happens, wherein the newly risen Christina becomes hyper-mobile in the space of the narrative, perhaps a statement on the layers of class and gender performance occurring before become futile upon death, more so a consideration though of their fluidity and how easily they can be leapt over once a person decides that following the foolish rules is not only a waste of time, but perhaps severely limiting.
Key Scene: The matter-of-fact ending to this film made me chuckle a bit, although it was quite well-executed.
This is available in a box set with The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires and Dracula: Prince of Darkness. This is your best bet for viewing the film, as it is cheaper to get these three together than it is to get any of them on their own.