October is my favorite time of year because I can watch a whole bunch of movies and no one can give me any grief for it. (I get so much grief the rest of the time.) This year is going to be especially fun here in Schlock & Awe because I’ve decided to usher in Hammer Schlocktober, a different film from the sainted and satanic catalog of Hammer Films‘ horror library each and every week. And to start, we have a doozy.
The Frankenstein movies are what began the association of horror and Hammer Films Studios in earnest, and while the Dracula and generic vampire pictures were by far the more popular, ol’ Frankie retained a higher quality much longer. In 1967, the fourth film in the series was made and it shook up the formula considerably. It’s weird, it’s salacious, and it’s kind of brilliant–it’s Frankenstein Created Woman.
Part of the reason this series kept being great is because the creative team from 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein remained largely intact. Director Terence Fisher was Hammer’s go-to for their big name productions and was aided by a complex script by producer-writer Anthony Hinds. And star Peter Cushing was of course back again, who grounds the film. God, how I love Peter Cushing in everything. At a time when Christopher Lee was trying to give himself less and less to do in his Dracula outings, Cushing was delivering spot-on amoral anti-hero goodness time after time. And Frankenstein Created Woman might be him at his most compassionate.
The movie opens many years ago with a condemned man drunkenly cackling as he’s led to the guillotine outside of a nondescript Germanic town in the early 1800s. The man doesn’t seem too bothered by the fact that he’s about to lose his head…until his young son Hans finds them. He immediately sobers up and yells for the boy to leave, but it’s too late. Cut to 15 years later and Hans (Robert Morris) is a young man working as the assistant to a local scientist named Dr. Hertz (Thorley Walters). The pair perform an experiment with a frozen coffin and, after jolting it with electricity, they reveal it was none other than Baron Victor Frankenstein (Cushing) himself in the box.
Frankenstein had been dead in the box, frozen to the world, for an hour, but his soul didn’t leave his body. He believes, if he can get to a dead body quickly enough, he can capture the soul before it escapes the body. To celebrate, Frankenstein sends Hans to the local tavern for a bottle of champagne. Hans is in love with the tavern owner’s daughter Christina (Susan Denberg), a perfectly nice girl who happens to have a club foot and a huge facial scar on half of her face. Three aristocratic young men, who are also enormous douches, come in to the tavern and demand to be served by Christina only, specifically to ridicule her. When she accidentally spills wine on the ringleader, he hits her, leading Hans to attack all three of them. He’d probably kill them if the police hadn’t been called by the tavern owner. He angrily tells the owner he’ll kill him for this. VERY IMPORTANT TO THE STORY.
Later that night, Hans and Christina go back to her place to have some sex, and the three douches — who’ve been fixed up by Frankenstein and Hertz — remain drunk and go on ridiculing Christina into the night…before returning to the tavern to beat the tavern owner up. They end up beating the man to death and Hans ends up getting charged with the murder, given his earlier public. While Hertz and Frankenstein provide great character testimony on his behalf, Hans refuses to provide an alibi for himself so as to spare Christina more public ridicule. Frankenstein is actually fine with this, and he has Hertz bring Hans’ freshly-decapitated body to him to take the soul. But where to put it? Luckily Christina jumps to her death from the grief of seeing her lover die, and Frankenstein decides he can fix her body and give Hans’ soul a place to go to boot. Win/win!
Like I said, this is easily the weirdest premise of any of the Hammer Frankenstein movies, but it’s easily one of the best because of that. The conceit is so brazenly ridiculous; Susan Denberg was a glamour model from Sweden (glamour models were a staple of Hammer flicks) but they definitely mousy’d her up to play the earlier version of Christina. Following Frankenstein’s work on her, though, she’s the blonde bombshell of the posters, decidedly less decrepit than the other creatures he’d brought back to life. And not only that, but she has Hans’ “soul” inside of her which talks through her and compels her to hunt down the three aristocrats one by one. So, unlike the earlier films with their hideous monsters, this one plays out a lot more like a slasher movie with a femme fatale…who’s possessed by a ghost.
It’s the soul angle that’s really the outlier in terms of premises for the series. Frankenstein is a science fiction figure, with his research, while fantastical and horrific, based mostly on hard science. Here, though, the focus is on the “soul,” and it being a real thing that can be captured and transplanted after death. It’s an oddly spiritual idea for usually a very clinical series of films. Cushing sells it intrinsically, though, and even though he has Frankenstein’s usual fiendish excitement at the idea of getting to test out his soul transfer idea, he seems to really care and worry about Christina once she goes off on her rampage, perhaps finally becoming remorseful for tampering with people’s lives.
Frankenstein Created Woman is just such a nutso dark sci-fi movie that has all the things you love from Hammer films in the ’60s: copious blood, scantily-clad women (or woman in this case), and Peter Cushing being awesome. Cushing won’t be making a return appearance in this year’s Hammer Schlocktober, unfortunately, but I’ve got three more classics of Kensington gore on the way. Get excited!
Images: Hammer/Seven Arts