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Frankenstein Created Woman
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by Jay Seaver

"Certainly, one of the Doctor's more intriguing creations."
3 stars

It is roughly an hour into this 86-minute movie before Frankenstein creates woman, and it's not like that first hour is doing something terribly new on the way to that moment. The horror genre has certainly seen more wasteful slow burns than this, of course, and it's entirely possible that someone who had seen the previous Hammer [I]Frankenstein[/I] movies would be more engrossed. Still, it's an odd thing to save the movie's central idea until the point where you can't do that much with it.

Having been caught up on the series might explain why Baron Fraknenstein (Peter Cushing) starts the film in some small Swiss village, hands damaged to the point where he must depend on local doctor Hertz (Thorley Walters) and assistant Hans (Robert Morris) to actually execute his experiments in cryonics and force fields and all manner of other things. Hans loves Christina (Susan Denberg dubbed by Nikki Van der Zyl), the scarred and handicapped daughter of the local tavern owner, though she is the target of ridicule from three cruel toffs (Peter Blyte, Barry Warren, Derek Fowlds). Suspicion for the murder of Christina's father falls on Hans, due to his firey temper and executed father, and though Frankenstein's testimony at the trial hurts more than it helps, his latest experiments in capturing the soul may save Hans… in a way.

Given the title of the movie, you can see where the filmmakers are going with this, and while there's certainly a desire to move it along to the good stuff, there's also a certain perverse comfort on how writer Anthony Hinds (using the pseudonym "John Elder') and director Terence Fisher put everything in place. There's not a character that the audience doesn't recognize as horror stock right away, played broadly but generally a step or two back from actual ham, performed on sets that are cramped and garish rather than ornate, and maybe feel a little grounded and believable for that. It's meticulous in going through all the steps that must happen before Hans is in a new body and seeking revenge, and mostly does okay with that, with the admittedly large exceptions of Hertz seeming like the most empty-headed physician since Nigel Bruce played John Watson, the better for Frankenstein to explain things to him in a step-by-step manner that consists almost entirely of unfounded assumptions.

If the first hour is standard but capable, the last act is rushed but interesting. Sure, it's where all the exploitation raw meat is, the bloody murders and the costuming designed to remind you that, despite how Christina was presented earlier, Susan Denberg is very attractive indeed. It's also where Frankenstein's utter lack of human perspective as he tampers with the very stuff of life and death is presented at its sharpest - where, despite the monster being beautiful, this finally feels like a Frankenstein story. The filmmakers almost completely sidestep playing with the idea of a man's soul in a woman's body, which is probably for the best - a lot of more high-minded movies with fifty years' more perspective make a mess of this - often instead presenting the new Christina as a blank slate haunted and sometimes possessed by Hans's ghost. An interesting idea of itself, but not the film has much time to play with. Mostly, it lets the audience get a bit of a thrill out of how the men who actually killed Christna's father are now lusting over a woman with her body and the soul of a man they despised like cartoon wolves.

That's good stuff with a nasty, twisted kick to it, and the cast to its credit all seem to get what makes this a nifty cross between the traditional Frankenstein story and a revenge flick, but they could use more time to dig into it: Frankenstein's monsters, at their best, are intelligent enough to recognize and rail over how they don't fit into the world, and Christina doesn't get that sort of introspection. On the other side, the three targets of her rage are a dull, interchangeable bunch, her vengeance suitably bloody but not quite thrilling. It doesn't quite become a rote slasher movie, but it seldom lives up to what it could be.

Less interesting things have been done with both Frankenstein and avenging-angel flicks separately, and the folks at Hammer didn't really mess up the combination. You can see the good ideas and Hammer being a factory of sorts works in the movie's favor. They don't mess up lurid horror, even if they aren't exactly the guys to make it into something greater.

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originally posted: 04/18/20 11:00:03
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.

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  DVD: 25-Jul-2000

  18-Jun-1967 (12)


Directed by
  Terence Fisher

Written by
  Anthony Hinds

  Peter Cushing
  Susan Denberg
  Thorley Walters
  Robert Morris
  Duncan Lamont

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