If there’s something the Hammer series of Frankenstein movies has over the Universal series, it’s that the British studio opted to keep the films focus chiefly on the increasingly egotistical works of the cold-eyed Baron, rather than his bolt-necked creation which allowed for far more wiggle room when cooking up continuing adventures for the God-defying scientist.
However, that didn’t mean that it was any easier for the writers to concoct stories that still allowed Frankenstein to do his thing in new and progressively weirder ways while still keeping within the boundaries set by Mary Shelley’s classic original tale. A prime example of this is Frankenstein Created Woman, the fourth movie in Hammer’s series that switches the not-so-good doctor’s experiments from the physical to the metaphysical with mixed results for both his experiment and the movie at large.
While continuing his seemingly never ending quest to defy death, Baron Frankenstein has shifted his attentions from stitching together bodies and transplanting brains to studying something far more trippy, the existence of the soul. After performing experiments on himself by essentially freezing himself to the point of death, Frankenstein believes he is on the cusp of working out the mysteries of life by figuring out a way to extract a soul out of a dead body and transplant it into another one.
As he toils away, he is assisted by the clueless local doctor and Hans, a troubled young man who is quick to anger after witnessing his father guillotined to death for murder and it’s here where our story chiefly centres as he indulges in a secret relationship with Christina, the heavily disfigured and partially paralyzed daughter of a local innkeeper.
One night, while Frankenstein is keen to celebrate a breakthrough in his batshit experiments, Hans witnesses a trio of fancy gentlemen go out of their way to mock Christina’s appearance for no other reason other than being pricks seem to be their fondest hobby and a string of events are set in motion that involves Hans rowing with everyone and Christina’s father later being beaten to death by the trio of fops. However, thanks to some circumstantial evidence and his renowned temper, Hans finds himself accused of the crime and due to his unwillingness to bring Christina into things to be his alibi, ends up beheaded by the very same guillotine that shortened his father years earlier.
Christina’s reaction is pretty extreme and she drowns herself in the nearest river out of grief.
Frankenstein’s reaction however? Well, what do you think the amoral scientist is going to do with two bodies and a theory to prove – however, transferring Hans’ soul into Christina’s body does actually bring the young woman back, but whose consciousness resides within and what will it do concerning Hans’ unjust execution?
I can appreciate Hammer wanting to mix things up a little and provide a story that was different to the bodies and brains that had come before, but the whole business of Frankenstein dicking around with souls and metaphysics just doesn’t fit the series as comfortably as a spot of body snatching and the occasional murder in the name of gung-ho science. It seems genuinely odd to make the rather hypocritical distinction between soul transference and resurrecting a patchwork body with lightning and then dismissing the former as far fetched, but this shift into spiritual simply isn’t a good fit for the series and rather than feeling like our driven lead has found an ingenious new avenue to traverse, it just feels he’s done mushrooms in a forrest somewhere and had some sort of mid-life crisis instead.
Of course, the usual Hammer strengths are in full effect – lush production, Terence Fisher’s atmospheric direction, Peter Cushing’s ever more mellowing Baron – but they all seem wasted by a self contained story that chooses to utilise Frankenstein as merely a side character in order to facilitate what is, in essence, a half-baked possession and revenge story.
Maybe if the torrid tale of Hans and Christina had been developed as a simple ghost story that did away with Frankenstein and his lab of glowing soul-trapping equipment, maybe it would have been a more engrossing experience but if I’m being blunt, it’s not much more than a b-story moved up to a-story status that ends up being as boring as piss. Hans and Christina’s relationship simply isn’t interesting or tragic enough to justify having Frankenstein on standby and after you realise that Hans’ subsequent possession of his love doesn’t actually make that much sense even within the iffy logic within the story (if he truly loved Christina, why is he car jacking her consciousness to commit awful acts), the final third of the film is just a slog to get through.
Despite the fact that it entails a man possessing the formerly twisted body of his lady love who has undergone radical surgery to make her a hottie and making her seduce and then decapitate the three, wealthy boozehounds who caused all this bother to begin with, the slasher aspects of the plot just aren’t lurid enough to warrant you giving a crap – which is really saying something when the movie hits you with the revelation that Christina has Hans’ stolen head stashed in her room. In light of the film not being particularly gripping, it doesn’t even have any decent gore to fall back on despite having at least five beheadings to boast of either and feels way more like one of Hammer’s many psychological thrillers that just happens to have the gothic stylings of Frankenstein dropped into the middle of things.
However, what we do get of Peter Cushing in his signature roll is a version of the Baron that’s still just as single minded and self obsessed as he’s always been, but with weird plot discrepancies that just seem a little off. Would the Baron really experiment on himself, risking death, when he knows he’s the only man capable of pulling off all those crimes against nature? Why would he surround himself with someone so blindly clueless as the village doctor who blisters around the place like a second rate Geppetto from a pantomime.
While I credit the filmmaker’s for try something a little bit different, Frankenstein works far best when elbows deep in grisly biology or indulging in a bit of treacherous skullduggery in order to get his own way and this side trip into souls and possession just feels off when a ghoulish tale involving Frankenstein actually creating a woman (like the incredibly misleading ad campaign strongly hinted at) could have been far more memorable and even could have added a feminist theme this version omits. The last shot of the film is unsually pensive Baron deciding to never try this method again – you can’t help but join him…
Women, eh? Can’t put the souls of their lovers within them, can’t live without ’em.