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 a narcissist and an 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 (Susan Denberg and Robert Morris) 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 murderer 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, even brilliant ideas, but which are sometimes 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. Of course, the film is helped enormously by the magnetic presence of Peter Cushing in the title role, as well as by the brilliantly mournful score by James Bernard, which takes its sense of tragedy very seriously. In fact, this is one of the best soundtracks Bernard has written.
Shout Factory’s new “2K scan from the original film elements,” for their 2019 US blu-ray release, is a resounding success. StudioCanal’s older scan, which was utilized by Shock for the Australian release, and by Millennium Media for their 2014 US release suffered a bit from edge sharpening and haloing. On top of that, the colors seemed a bit muted and worn out, and veered toward dark brown. By contrast, Shout’s new restoration brings back all the vivid, kaleidoscopic color that Hammer was famous for. Furthermore, Shout’s new matting reveals quite a bit more image on all four sides, but especially at the bottom. Natural film grain is present, but not obtrusive. All in all, Shout’s new restoration is the clear winner.
Note: there seems to be one serious mastering mistake at around the 28 minute mark; the scene where the three rogues torment Christina by singing a drunken song beneath her window. I believe that’s supposed to be a day for night scene, but in Shout’s mastering, it looks like it takes place in broad daylight.
The DTS-HD track copes well with the demands that James Bernard’s emotionally charged soundtrack places on it. Climaxes expand naturally, and the sound picture is pleasingly full and clear.
The extra features were a bit short measure on both the previous releases, but Shout now gives us a veritable treasure trove of extras!
First, we are given an audio commentary with actors, Robert Morris and Derek Fowlds, moderated by Jonathan Rigby. It’s an entertaining, if mostly nostalgic behind-the-scenes trip through the filming process, which fans will be delighted with, and which is ported over from the previous releases.
Next, we have a featurette called, “Hammer Glamour.” This is the same one included on StudioCanal’s 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. This too is ported over from the previous releases of this film.
Of the new and exclusive extras, the standout is the new audio commentary by filmmakers/film historians Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr. They offer not just nostalgia, but true in-depth analysis of the film. They delve into details of the story and characters to such an extent that I frankly learned new things from them about the craft of storytelling, and of filmmaking in general. To aid them in their discussion, they utilize a copy of the original shooting script which provides a wealth of production information and opportunities to compare how the film was written vs how it was shot. A tremendously lively master class; well worth purchasing this release for all by itself.
Also included are two World of Hammer syndicated episodes, from 1990, which were produced by Roy Skeggs and narrated by Oliver Reed. These I find utterly pointless, compared to the rest of the extras, as the information in them is all fluff.
Of more interest is an interview with clapper Eddie Collins and second assistant director Joe Marks, who discuss, in detail, the day to day production grind, and life on the set.
Also if great interest is a new interview with actor Robert Morris who describes how he got the part in the film, how he and Susan Denberg did their nude scene, about working with Terence Fisher, and many other things.
The rest of the extras are filled out with the ubiquitous image and poster galleries, two trailers and TV and radio spots.
Undeniably, many Hammer fans love Frankenstein Created Woman, and if you’re one of them, this release from Shout Factory is the one to get. On both technical grounds, and in terms of extras, this release now supersedes all that has come before. If you are not a Hammer fan, you may find some scenes a little hard to take with a straight face, but, 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 will likely enjoy it very much. And to bring us luck let me speak four truly magic words, childhood’s Open Sesame: “Once upon a time…”