Sunday, June 29, 2014

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

... aka: And Frankenstein Created Woman
... aka: Frankenstein Made Woman

Directed by:
Terence Fisher

After THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1964), Hammer returned for a fourth go at their lucrative mad doctor series... but what could they do to mix things up? Why, make a female "monster," of course! A virtual unknown named Susan Denberg ended up with the part. Denberg was born in Germany under the name Dietlinde Zechner and raised primarily in Austria. In her late teens, the voluptuous green-eyed blonde became sick of the "provincial ways" of her home country and went to the UK; quickly finding work as a chorus dancer with the Bluebells of London. The group toured Europe and the U.S. and Susan decided to stick around once she came to Las Vegas and met her first husband; actor / singer Anthony Scotti (the union lasted just six months). From there, she migrated to Hollywood in an attempt to start an acting career. Warner Bros. was interested and tried to make her happen; giving her a supporting role in a film and holding a nationwide contest to choose a new stage name for her; all of which were rejected. The same month her debut film See You in Hell, Darling (aka The American Dream) premiered, Susan appeared in a pictorial in Playboy magazine, becoming the August 1966 Playmate for that month. She landed the lead role in this Hammer production shortly thereafter. It ended up being her final role and she was dubbed by another actress (Nikki Van der Zyl - who also dubbed Jenny Hanley in Hammer's SCARS OF DRACULA [1970]) in the final product due to her inappropriate accent.

Denberg celebrates her 22nd birthday at a London's Playboy Club.
Pictured (l-r): Denberg, Cushing, Fisher, Walters and producer Anthony Nelson Keys.

Denberg's Playmate data sheet tells of a young hopeful looking forward to a long acting career and enjoying the beach, the discos, the parties and fast cars while she's at it, but Denberg quickly burned out on drugs and the fast-paced show biz lifestyle. She had several affairs with co-stars that frequently made the tabloids (she was romantically linked to director Roman Polanski, singer / actor Sammy Davis Jr., actors Stuart Whitman, Trini Lopez, Charles Bronson, Sidney Poitier, Jim Brown and numerous others), developed bad drug and alcohol problems and sank into a deep depression after several years and had to spend time in a mental institution, where she received shock treatments. By 1968, at the age of just 24, her modeling and acting career was all but over aside from unflattering tabloid exposure and nude appearances in European adult magazines. In 1972, she emerged yet again with dyed black hair and was working as a topless bartender and nude dancer in a porno movie theater in Vienna. A 1974 suicide attempt landed her back in a mental asylum and she returned less than a year later to another institution, this time pregnant with child. Rumors circulated for years that she had committed suicide. In reality, she's still alive and still living in Austria to this day, where she apparently prefers the quiet life and doesn't like to grant interviews.

Of course the name here of most interest to horror fans will be top-billed Peter Cushing, in his fourth appearance as the well-intentioned albeit morally-challenged Baron Victor Frankenstein. At the end of Evil, Cushing's mad doctor was trapped in a cellar along with his monster creation as a lab fire engulfed the entire room and caused the castle to explode. At the beginning of this entry, the Baron is in some kind of primitive cryogenics chamber waiting to be resurrected, and that's just what his associate Doctor Hertz (Thorley Walters), who functions as sort of an alcoholic Jiminy Cricket throughout this tale, and troubled young assistant Hans Werner (Robert Morris) are about to do. With a jolt of electricity and some smelling salts, the Baron returns to life and he has such deep probing questions on his mind when he does, like why he'd been dead for an hour yet his soul never left his body. Though this entry is part of a series, the Baron here isn't the same Baron as in the previous films. His name does not proceed him. He isn't on the run from the law. It's almost as if he's playing the same guy but with a completely clean slate, which, of course, doesn't stay clean for too long.

The Baron's experiments are still essentially the same: to achieve immortality ("We have conquered death!"), though in this entry he goes about it in a completely different way that involves separating the soul from the body and transplanting said soul inside a new body. While the Baron is fine tuning his technique, Hans is having problems of his own. He has fallen in love with the local innkeeper's daughter Christina (Denberg), a meek girl with low self-esteem who walks with a hobble and keeps her mousy brown hair over half her face to conceal a hideous disfigurement. Hans doesn't mind any of that. He still loves her and vice versa. Troubles arise in the form of three obnoxious, though well-bred, local hooligans; Anton (Peter Blythe), Karl (Barry Warren) and Johann (Derek Fowlds), who frequent the tavern and get their jollies tormenting poor Christina. Hans gets into a brawl with all three that has to be broken up by the police. The thugs later sneak into the tavern and beat Christina's father (Alan MacNaughton) to death. Hans is blamed for the crime, goes to trial, is found guilty and is sentenced to death by guillotine; a fate that also befell his drunk father (Duncan Lamont) years earlier. Upon learning of her beloved's execution, Christina jumps off a bridge and drowns herself. Now the Baron has plenty of raw material to work with.

Blackmailing the jail keeper, the Baron and Hertz are able to acquire Hans' body. Townspeople also conveniently deliver the dead Christina right to their doorstep. The Baron extracts Hans' soul, puts it into Christina's body and then spends months operating on her face and body to restore her to pristine condition. When the bandages are removed, Christina is a beautiful blonde with partial amnesia who can't remember who she or anyone else is, or how she got there. She does however have vague memories of the past; enough to feel compelled to get revenge against the three thugs responsible for the deaths of Hans and her father. Using her newly-acquired beauty and seductive charms, she's easily able to lure all three men to their deaths. The film is, technically-speaking, well-crafted all the way around, with adequate production values and fine performances from everyone involved (despite the dub, Denberg herself shows definite signs of talent)... and yet I still couldn't help but be disappointed.

What I felt was a major letdown with this one was that a genuinely interesting premise goes completely to waste. The idea of a man's soul trapped inside a woman's body is an intriguing one rife with potential subtext, but this movie is having none of that. The male soul is interested in one thing and one thing only: revenge. There's no exploration of any kind of gender / sexual or identity war going on inside the new Christina. She is overtaken by the Hans part (sometimes even speaking in his voice) long enough to do the dirty work and that's it. In other words, potentially rich subject matter is cast aside in favor of a standard, predictable plot. The film certainly had time to do more with this idea but the soul-to-body transfer doesn't even occur until the last half hour and by then too much time has already been wasted. I suppose the script by "John Elder" (Anthony Hinds) is ultimately what's to blame for all of that. Perhaps I was expecting too much from this one. I just don't like seeing good ideas go to waste.

This was originally conceived as And Frankenstein Created Woman (titled to recall Roger Vadim's And God Created Woman [1956] starring Brigitte Bardot) and was going to be the follow-up to Hammer's second Frankenstein entry THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958) but the project was shelved for awhile. In theaters, it frequently played on double bills with The Mummy's Shroud (1967), and was followed several years later by Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed! (1969). Well-served by frequent TV showings and VHS and DVD releases over the years, Created received a Blu-ray release earlier this year from Millennium Media. Their release contains several episodes of the "World of Hammer" TV series, a documentary and a commentary track with actors Morris and Fowlds moderated by Jonathan Rigby.

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