As well as the essential M.R. James reading and viewing, Christmas is also a suitable time for a Hammer Horror. Hammer’s immensely successful 1957 film The Curse of Frankenstein spawned six sequels; The Revenge of Frankenstein (1959), The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969), The Horror of Frankenstein (1970) and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974). Although the law of diminishing returns usually applies with film sequels, Hammer hit gold around the halfway mark. Frankenstein Created Woman is the best in the series, a classic chiller directed by Terence Fisher and featuring one of Peter Cushing’s best performances.
Frankenstein Created Woman is textbook Hammer, inviting the viewer to snuggle in front of the television under a cosy blanket. Unthreatening and warming, a well made film with recognisable settings, costumes, music and archetypal characters – all the familiar trademarks of the studio. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t look low budget by today’s standards. Its charm aside, the sets do look like they are ready to be folded away ready for the next production, and the costumes belong to the wardrobe that clothed the entire oeuvre of the studio. Even the rosé wine featured throughout this film that wasn’t drunk or spilt was probably carefully rebottled.
Nevertheless this is a horror film that has worn well over the decades. Frankenstein Created Woman is quite methodical in setting up its plot, reminding of The Curse of the Werewolf (1960) which has a similarly long preamble to the main story. It works very well here, and those who might find the early part plodding will be rewarded when things begin to fit together rather neatly towards the end. The film begins with a raving man being led to the guillotine. A small boy revealed to be the condemned man’s son is seen watching the execution, and when events jump ahead several years we see him again as Hans (Robert Morris), a young man in love with a disfigured girl called Christina (Susan Denburg). Hans works for Baron Frankenstein, who sends him out one night for a bottle of champagne following a particularly successful experiment (he has managed to be revived after freezing himself for exactly one hour. Yes, Baron Frankenstein always was a little weird).
As usual, Peter Cushing is superb as Baron Frankenstein, portraying the usual sharp wit and driven ambition that doesn’t quite tip him over into insanity. He is joined by Thorley Walters as his bumbling associate Dr Hertz. Walters plays a very baffled Watson to Cushing’s particularly sharp Holmes, and the two complement eachother quite perfectly throughout the film. Indeed, it’s a shame Hammer chose not to continue their partnership in the later films (Walters does turn up in Frankenstein Must be Destroyed but plays a different role). However it’s Cushing’s film and without his sublime acting it’s difficult to see how Hammer would have been so enduring and successful.
The quest for the Baron’s champagne sets things moving as Christina’s father happens to run the nearby inn. Three top-hatted scoundrels call in, the sort who are generally disagreeable in how they put their feet up on the tables and light smelly cheroots. Even worse, the type who demand their wine (to be put on credit) served by the innkeeper’s daughter. Their bullying turns nasty when Hans gets into a brawl with them and later, when the drunken trio return for some after hours drinking, Christina’s father disturbs them and they beat him to death. Hans is convicted of the murder and sent to the guillotine. Christina drowns herself. All a bit grim, but perfect for the Baron, whose latest experiment just happens to involve raising the dead. Together with Dr Hertz, he repairs Christina’s crippled body and, for good measure, implants the soul of Hans into it.
Susan Denburg is excellent as Christina in, surprisingly, the last of only a handful of film roles. This film does indeed create the type of starlet Hammer later used as a selling point for their films, the buxom young ladies employed for such titles as Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil. Resurrected by the Baron, Christina sets out on murdering the three top-hatted scoundrels who set the horrible ball rolling in the first place and this is all executed (pardon the pun) rather satisfyingly. And look out for Yes Minister’s Derek Fowlds as one of the above mentioned top-hatted victims.
The horror critic Alan Frank rated Frankenstein Created Woman quite highly in his 1982 Horror Film Handbook:
The last Hammer film to be made at Bray reworks Bride of Frankenstein to good effect. Fisher’s direction, impressive settings and a neat performance from Cushing make it a first-rate addition to the genre.
Frank also quotes a review from The Times:
Scriptwriter John Elder and director Terence Fisher have a nice sense of the balance between horror and absurdity and the film has the courage of its own lunatic convictions.
Surprisingly, other than mentioning that the film formed part of a double X double-bill with The Mummy’s Shroud in summer 1967, Hammer’s own celebratory 1973 The House of Horror has little else to say about the film. But perhaps it is time that has set Frankenstein Created Woman apart, where in a world now saturated with so many in your face explicit horror films we can recognise real quality.