Thursday, July 24, 2008

Frankenstein Created Woman

I grew up on a steady late-night TV diet of horror films produced by Hammer Studios in England. To me, the lurid exploits of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing were the epitome of great entertainment. The movies were also educational; for instance it was in watching their vampire films that I learned of the irresistible attraction large-bosomed ladies in low-cut dresses have for the fangy set. So, ladies, if you live in vampire country, might want to re-think those implants. Anyway, DVD has given me a chance to re-visit these childhood flicks, and the most recent one I watched was Frankenstein Created Woman. (At least we now know who to thank…and blame)

Frankenstein Created Woman
(1967) was Peter Cushing’s fourth (of six) outings as the nefarious Doctor Frankenstein. Poor guy. Time and time again, he would create a living creature out of left-over parts, only to have it run amok, reap havoc on the countryside, and then be destroyed by disgruntled villagers. Still, he was a persistent chap, and in this one, he seems to have thought it was possibly the raging testosterone that was the problem, and decided to go the distaff route.

The movie opens, like all good movies, with a hanging. The condemned guy goes to the gallows with surprising good spirits, considering he knows he won’t be going back with the group. This attitude changes when he realizes his young son Anton has shown up to watch the show. Despite his pleadings, the boy watches Dad drop through the trapdoor. You know, that could scar a kid.

Flash forward to the child’s adulthood, where he has become the assistant to, you guessed, Dr. Frankenstein. Morbid stuff doesn’t bother him. He is also having an affair with the local innkeeper’s daughter, who, due either to an injury or a birth defect, walks with a limp, and has one side of her face disfigured. Anton loves her anyway, which demonstrates he is a good guy at heart, and that he is doomed. He is also at odds with the local trio of callow well-born fops. He brawls with them at the inn, and beats them all, because he is pure of heart and they are all poofy. Later that night, while he is getting his freak on with the innkeeper’s daughter, the fops break into the inn, and kill the innkeeper when he surprises them. Naturally, Anton gets the blame.

Anton is quickly tried and found guilty, unwilling to say where he was when the murder occurred to protect his girlfriend who is now out of town. In the end, Anton is hanged on the very same gallows as his father (IRONY). His girlfriend arrives back in town just in time to witness the neck-stretching, and becomes distraught. What shall she do? Apparently, she just saw Hamlet, because she throws herself into the stream and drowns.

Meanwhile, Dr. Frank, never one to let an opportunity go to waste, digs up his erstwhile assistant, and removes the brain. Now, all he needs is a body….which is where the drowned girl comes in. Before you can say Yikes! The brain of his male assistant awakes (with amnesia) in the body of a beautiful girl. This sort of gender switching would be explored more explicitly five years later by Hammer in Dr. Jeckyl & Sister Hyde, and none of the usual male reactions in this situation are present (Dear Diary: Day 12, still looking at naked self in mirror. Growing weak with hunger.). Instead, buried memories of the fops who wronged him emerge, and the new girl seduces and then kills the three fops. This is done fairly demurely, as Last House on the Left is also a few years away.

These gothic romps are always fun, if you are so inclined, and Frankenstein Created Woman is a good one, made better by the presence of Cushing. It has come under some fire for presenting a more metaphysical explanation for the rebirth, and there is much talk of souls, rather than the abstract chemical processes found in some other films in the series. My take is if you are seeking theological guidance in Frankenstein films, you are one strange dude or dudette.

Incidentally, Martin Scorcese lists Frankenstein Created Woman as one of his favorite films. Seriously.

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