|Pop Culture Gadabout|
Thursday, February 24, 2005 |
( 2/24/2005 01:36:00 PM ) Bill S.
"BODIES ARE EASY TO COME BY; SOULS ARE NOT!" – Of the many movies nearly undone by a ridiculous title, Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) has to rank near the top of the list. Though calculated to recall Roger Vadim's fifties era Brigitte Bardot showcase, And God Created Woman, the fourth entry in Hammer Films' popular Frankenstein series is better than its titillating title implies (and miles above the third film in the Peter Cushing-starring series, Evil of Frankenstein): a decent little gothic exercise that you wish someone had thought to name differently – if only so your friends wouldn't leer at you so knowingly when you mentioned going to see it. (Another Hammer horror title misfire from the same period: Doctor Jekyll and Sister Hyde, which today sounds like something you’d pick up in the back room of a particularly sleazy video store.)
Watched this flick, which I first viewed at the drive-in theatre back when I was a high school student, over the weekend (made for a nice contrast with goofy ol' Ed Wynn) and generally enjoyed myself. Though the movie has its flaws (some linked to budgetary constraints, some to plain dumb writing), it generally works as an efficient small-scale revenge tale. Forget the title, since – unlike other Frankenstein tales – godlike "creation" doesn't really enter into the picture. Instead, our anti-hero Victor (Cushing) has turned his energy to soul transference. After suffering his own near-death experience (brought on by the end of the previous movie), the self-described Doctor of Medicine, Law and Physics posits that the human soul remains in its body up to an hour after the moment of death. With the aid of dithery colleague Dr. Hertz (Thorley Walters), he develops a means of trapping the soul (seen as a white, glowing ball) in a chamber until he can find a suitable vessel for it. This turns out to be former Playboy playmate Susan Denberg, a crippled innkeeper's daughter named Christina who's been mercilessly tormented by a trio of moneyed village wastrels. The young girl has thrown herself into the river after her lover Hans (Robert Morris) has been unjustly guillotined for a murder that was actually committed by her tormenters. It's Hans' soul that gets transferred into her perked-up (in more ways than one) body, so guess what happens next?
Yup, the revived Christina starts sneaking out of the good doctor's house at night and using her body to lure the murderous threesome to their deaths. She also spends time carrying on conversations with Hans' severed head, which in one memorable moment, she sticks on the top of her bedroom mirror. By the time Doctors Frankenstein & Hertz realize what's happening, Christina/Hans has finished her killing spree and is ready to toss herself back into the river.
Though ostensibly a mad doctor movie, Cushing's character doesn't receive as much camera time as either Christina or Hans. A good portion of the film, in fact, is devoted to setting up our two unfortunates' demises: a prologue where we see Hans as a boy watching his father guillotined, extended scenes in the Karlsbad inn where a pre-surgery Christina suffers under the churlish behavior of your stereotypical privileged louts, a laughable trial sequence where Hans is found guilty of murdering Christina's father. Cushing is entertaining when he's onscreen, of course – the most steadfast and amoral of movie Frankensteins, in many ways he was one of the most believable assayers of this role. Watching him slave over the Hammer's simultaneously quaint and weird unexplained machinery in the midst of his blasphemous researches, you just know that this is what a real world Baron Frankenstein would look like: no giggling Colin Clive-like obsessive, just an irrefutable and arrogant brain heading where his thoughts might take him. Not the type to "create" woman, but you just know he has a disturbingly thorough mental chart of her inner anatomy. . .