★★★ / 👍
The fourth Frankenstein film from Hammer is a stylish if somewhat plodding return to form after an ill-advised experiment in licensed nostalgia. Frankenstein Created Woman restores Peter Cushing’s Baron to the sociopathic mad doctor we love to hate, adds a stronger metaphysical element than usual to the series, and manages to provide a healthy dollop of erotically-tinged violence before the end credits roll.
Baron Victor von Frankenstein—doctor “of medicine, law, and physics”—has made a breakthrough in his quest to conquer death. Earlier attempts had him seeking out only the best ingredients (“the finest hands in Europe!”) and only substituting peasants and criminals faute de mieux. Here he is much less concerned with the physical shell: “Bodies are easy to come by. Souls are not.”
Due to complicated plot events that take up the majority of the running time, Frankenstein is able to use a “frame of force” (i.e., a force field) to trap a freshly-guillotined prisoner’s soul before it leaves the body. After taking a few moments to gaze at the soul through an observation window like a proud father at the maternity ward—the only unfeigned smile Frankenstein displays in the entire movie—the Baron and his assistant get to work rebuilding the body of a “twisted, deformed, and broken” woman who drowned herself.
Frankenstein Created Woman is no Bride of Frankenstein. That said, the unveiling sequence of the drowned woman, Christina, does have a pretty nifty visual joke. As the last bandage is removed, the film withholds the reveal of Christina’s face by cutting to her point of view, slowly coming into focus as Christina’s eyes adjust. Our first full glimpse of Susan Denberg’s unblemished blonde beauty is intercut with her character’s first impression of the world—a couple of old dudes looming over her. The way her eyes flick from the beaming, ruddy-cheeked Thorley Walters to the grim, distant Cushing isn’t exactly Elsa Lanchester’s hiss, but it’s delightful nonetheless.
Susan Denberg was likely hired primarily because she was Playboy‘s Miss August 1966, and not for her acting abilities. While her ultimate transformation into a monstrous femme fatale is actually pretty great, it comes very late in the film. For most of the running time Denberg is stuck playing a meek, high-strung peasant girl, saddled with terrible dialogue and disfiguring makeup that distracts more than it disgusts. (That her performance was dubbed by someone else certainly doesn’t help.)
Once revivified and given decent costuming, makeup and hair, though, Denberg can draw on her modeling skills to pose in a series of confident, erotically-charged tableaux. The change isn’t exactly subtle, but the flimsiness of the pretext begins to work in the movie’s favor: it’s difficult not to share the thinly-veiled contempt she displays for her targets.
Peter Cushing is delightfully amoral throughout. Though clever and capable of charm, his Frankenstein reflexively insults others through arrogance and impatience, even when it makes his life more difficult. Cushing’s gravitas also helps to smooth over some potentially creepy moments. The audience might be leering as he manipulates Denberg’s legs, but as far as Frankenstein is concerned, she’s just a “very healthy young girl” and that’s that.