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Director: Terence Fisher
Cast: Peter Cushing, Susan Denberg, Thorley Walters, Robert Morris, Duncan Lamont, Peter Blythe, Barry Warren, Derek Fowlds
Length: 85 min
Disks: 2 (1 BD, 1 DVD)
Release Date: Oct 2th, 2013
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
Audio: LPCM 2.0 Mono
- Featurette: “Hammer Glamour”
- Commentary, featuring Robert Morris, Derek Fowlds, and Jonathan Rigby
- Animated Image Gallery
Hammer fans who have a soft spot for Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) are in good company with no less a fan than Martin Scorsese, who has referred to this as his favorite Hammer film of all time. Those of us who first saw the film in adolescence, no doubt experienced a certain catharsis at the idea of Baron Frankenstein transforming a deformed young girl—cruelly teased by bullies—into a beautiful yet ultimately tragic assassin. How many of us as teenagers felt just a little deformed ourselves? And so Frankenstein becomes a heroic figure, for a change—still an arrogant iconoclast, still a man ahead of his time, but also a righter of wrongs.
Frankenstein Created Woman was also one of the last films Hammer shot at their beloved Bray Studios, before moving on to Elstree. It was the end of an era, and the atmosphere of their later films, which were shot at Elstree and Pinewood, was never quite the same.
Christopher Lee’s recurring complaint was that Hammer’s Dracula sequels marginalized the title character by inserting him—sometimes awkwardly—into other people’s stories. One can argue that Frankenstein Created Woman does the same to Frankenstein. The Baron here is not the main protagonist. In fact he doesn’t have much of a character arc. That belongs to the tragic young couple whose story this really is.
Christina and Hans are star-crossed lovers, doomed not only by tragic circumstances, but, in Hans’ case, a tragic past that haunts the present (a familiar Gothic storytelling device which screenwriter, Anthony Hinds, was good at using). Christina, a hapless young girl who has been deformed from birth, is loved by Hans, a local boy who had, in childhood, witnessed the execution of his murdering father. In a parallel story, Baron Frankenstein and his Watson-like assistant, Dr. Hertz, are busy developing an apparatus that would trap the human soul at the moment of death, until the damaged body can be repaired and the soul returned. Meanwhile, through the machinations of three wealthy young scoundrels, Hans is falsely accused of murder and is guillotined, just as his father was. Christina, after witnessing the execution, flings herself into a river and drowns.Enter Baron Frankenstein! Taking advantage of the incredible opportunity of being presented with not one, but two freshly dead bodies, he and Hertz repair Christina’s deformity, transplant Hans’ soul into her body, then bring her back to life. Sound improbable? That’s not the half of it! Christina—now a gorgeous blond with a serious identity crisis—starts to suffer from strange memories from Hans’s past life, until she is finally driven by her dead lover’s soul to murder the three lads responsible for his death. All this culminates in a bizarre scene in which Christina, speaking with Hans’ voice issuing from her lips, addresses her decapitated lover’s head, which, strangely, had not decomposed even a little.
If this description seem facetious to the serious-minded fan, let me sum my criticism up like this… Frankenstein Created Woman is a bold departure from the usual for Hammer and especially for screenwriter, Tony Hinds. It has interesting ideas, but is uneven and not always well thought through. And even though this is basically a “fairy tale for adults,” as Terence Fisher liked to call his Hammer films, it has moments that utterly strain credulity, and any honest criticism has to come to terms with that. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the film is somewhat held together by the magnetic presence of Peter Cushing in the title role.
StudioCanal’s new HD restoration of Frankenstein Created Woman gains significantly in clarity and image depth, as compared to all previous home video releases. Natural film grain has been mostly left intact, but is not obtrusive. If edge sharpening was done, it is very slight and not a problem. Overall, the presentation is organic and film-like, which is certainly good news. What is more problematic, at least for this reviewer, is that the film looks quite a bit darker than it ever has before, resulting in some black crush, especially in the dark suits the men wear. This also seems to contribute to colors being muted a little. The look of this transfer is about as far removed as you can get from the famously kaleidoscopic color schemes of Hammer’s early cinematographer, Jack Asher, or even Michael Reed’s Dracula: Prince of Darkness. The film here resembles the grittier cinematography of 70’s titles like The Exorcist and Marathon Man. I’ve never seen this film projected in 35mm, and only have previous home video releases to compare it to, so it may be that this is what the actual film print looks like.
NOTE: We are told Frankenstein Created Woman will be released on blu-ray in the USA, during the first part of 2014, by Millennium Entertainment. I assume the same StudioCanal master will be used, but this has not been verified.
The LPCM Mono 2.0 track copes well with the demands that James Bernard’s emotionally charged soundtrack places on it. While there is some minor distortion—especially when the massed strings are playing at full volume—this is part of the original recording balance and is entirely inherited. Hammer fans will be well-accustomed to this. Overall, climaxes expand naturally, and the sound picture is pleasingly full and clear.
The extra features are a bit short measure on this particular release, but what is here is of the usual high standards from the people involved. First, we are given an audio commentary with actors, Robert Morris and Derek Fowlds, moderated by Jonathan Rigby. It’s a fascinating and nostalgic behind-the-scenes trip through the filming process, if perhaps not quite as focused as it could have been. Next, we have a featurette called, “Hammer Glamour.” This is the same one included on StudioCanal’s recent release of The Witches, which is reviewed here. It’s a very well done, 42-minute documentary, narrated by none other than Damien Thomas, and is based on a series of thoughtful interviews with some of the ladies of Hammer. There is also an animated image gallery. What’s missing from this release is a making-of documentary specifically dealing with Frankenstein Created Woman. No doubt, Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby would have done a splendid job of it, so this is a glaring omission. There is also no theatrical trailer.
Undeniably, many Hammer fans love Frankenstein Created Woman, and if you’re one of them, this release from StudioCanal is self-recommending—the somewhat murky video transfer notwithstanding. If you are not a Hammer fan, you may find some scenes a little hard to take with a straight face. However, if you care to follow Jean Cocteau’s advice in the written preface to his La Belle & la Bête, and approach this film with a little “childlike simplicity,” you may enjoy it very much. And to bring us luck let me speak four truly magic words, childhood’s Open Sesame: “Once upon a time…”