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Frankenstein Created Woman
Shout Factory // Unrated // June 11, 2019
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
"Bodies are easy to come by. Souls are not."
- Baron Victor Frankenstein, Frankenstein Created Woman
Frankenstein created woman. There are those who'll wish he hadn't.
In this, the fourth of Hammer's Frankenstein films, Baron Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) has conquered death. Though one's body will inevitably succumb, the soul – at least for a time – remains inside. Now that he's devised the means to extract and store souls, immortality is simply a matter of transferring that essence to another vessel.
Alas, there's nothing the Baron can do to stave off the impending death of Hans (Robert Morris), his doggedly loyal assistant. Hans' fate is sealed, facing execution at the guillotine the same as his father before him, unjust though it may be. Frankenstein can grant Hans life anew, as soon as he gets his badly burned hands on a fully intact body to repair and transfer the boy's soul into. It's not a long wait, as a fresh corpse as just landed on the Baron's doorstep – that of Christina (Susan Denberg). The kindly, disfigured girl has just been driven to suicide by the death of her one, true love: Hans.
Hans' soul may have found a new home in Christina's reanimated body, but his memories have not. He...errr, she is, in effect, an altogether new person. Still, some primal fragment of the grisly end she met as Hans remains, and that includes the identities of those who allowed the young man to be blamed for a murder in which he had no part. And, in the seductive form of a body unrecognizable from the poor, pathetic figure these three overentitled scoundrels once sneered at, Hans/Christina now wields the perfect instrument to exact vengeance.
The convention goes that Baron Frankenstein is the true monster in these stories rather than his unholy creations. That's not the case here, but then, in no way can Frankenstein Created Woman be mistaken as more of the same. There is no abomination stitched together from discarded corpses and infused with life. Christina is a breathtaking beauty, and men hardly flee in mortal terror at her sight. There isn't even the obligatory sequence in which Frankenstein reanimates the dead. Hans/Christina is brought back to life off-camera. The only being we see reanimated on-screen is Frankenstein himself, in a spectacular reintroduction to the character early in the film. Though the Baron remains a sociopath, looking down at those around him as lesser things rather than his fellow man, he hardly comes across as any sort of villain. Frankenstein's dry sense of humor is disarming, and there's a degree of loyalty that he reciprocates to those who aid him. I genuinely found myself liking him.
Though Frankenstein remains, time and again, the catalyst for what transpires here, this isn't truly his movie. The pivotal figures are instead Hans, Christina, the melding of the two that emerges from the Baron's lab, and the privileged bastards who actually murdered the girl's barkeep father. Though these characters are archetypes, they're realized by tremendously talented actors. The anguish felt by both Hans and Christina resonates deeply, as does the intense love that binds them. Society has rejected them both – Hans for the murderer's blood coursing through his veins; Christina for her physical deformations – and yet they've found acceptance in one another. The monstrous figure is neither the Baron nor his most recent creation but the three killers. These are the most vile, immediately loathsome characters in any Hammer film I've come across or, indeed, most anything I've watched, ever. They seethe entitlement, swatting at those they scorn like a cat with a mouse, no matter how impotent they are in a fair fight. And yet they know when they've been bested, and there is a look of regret when their fatal actions lead another to the guillotine.
It's these characters and performances that propel Frankenstein Created Woman. Though there is certainly nightmarish imagery to be seen, it is not, at its core, a horror film. This is a metaphysical exploration of identity. It's a story of acceptance...a condemnation of cruelty and prejudice...a statement about how the past cannot be escaped. If you'd prefer to see a horrific golem shamble across the screen and wreak havoc, perhaps this sounds rather a bore. On paper, I'm sure I would've agreed. Instead, I found Frankenstein Created Woman arresting from its first frame to the last; its concept is too strong, and the premise and characters too engaging, for my interest to ever wane. If, by some chance, your reaction isn't the same, surely your attention will return when the film transforms into a proto-slasher in its final act, with Hans seizing hold of his newfound feminine wiles to brutally slay those responsible for his unjust death and the murder of Christina's father. Despite the more than fifty years that've passed since Frankenstein Created Woman first roared into theaters, the impact of the ghastly, disturbing imagery throughout its final stretch has not dulled in the slightest.
As much as I love Hammer's more conventional horror films, so much of the strength of Frankenstein Created Woman stems from it being something else entirely. The end result is, to my mind, among the studio's most outstanding releases. I'm thrilled to report that, if the phenonemal collector's edition they've assembled is any indication, Scream Factory clearly feels much the same way. Highly Recommended.
Frankenstein may have created woman, but with their new 2K remaster of this Hammer classic, Scream Factory has created something equally extraordinary.
Once the opening Fox fanfare was out of the way, I immediately found myself startled by the crispness, depth, and definition on display. That sense of awe persists for just about the entirety of Frankenstein Created Woman. No detail is ever lost in the shadows, even in some of the more challengingly lit shots. There's such a consistently rich sense of texture, from the pores of the cast to the fine patterns of their wardrobe to, yes, film grain. This stunningly filmic presentation rightly steers clear of any excessive noise reduction, and its AVC encode shoulders the light sheen of grain masterfully. Its use of color is similarly lovely, particularly the lush daylight exteriors, Peter Cushing's piercing blue eyes, and all manner of deep, crimson reds.
Speckling is light and never particularly intrusive. What little wear is visible can easily be shrugged off. This is as extreme an example as you're likely to find, and that's certainly nothing worth fretting over:
The notes on the flipside of the packaging don't detail which elements precisely were used for this remaster. A couple of quick, grisly cutaways are rougher in quality, and there are stretches that look as if they were perhaps sourced from higher generation elements, particularly the courtroom sequence:
But, honestly, there's nothing that gives me the least bit of pause. As high as my expectations were going in, Scream Factory has wholly eclipsed them. This is a truly exceptional effort, ensuring that Frankenstein Created Woman is all the more essential for any Hammer collection.
Frankenstein Created Woman is presented at its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1, and the film and its extras arrive on a dual-layer disc.
I can't lavish quite that level of praise on Frankenstein Created Woman's DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, alas. Presented in 24-bit, two-channel mono, the audio is saddled with dialogue that sounds rather harsh. While Hans' father is intended to speak in a drunken slur, I'm not sure it was meant to be this borderline-unintelligible:
Thankfully, Scream Factory has offered optional English (SDH) subtitles to help out there. Sibilance and light clipping are persistent, mild nuisances. Christina's emphatic "yes!" in the first of the following recordings sounded particularly piercing on my home theater:
Such issues really are limited to dialogue, and I'm sure that's unavoidable rather than any sort of misstep with this remaster. After a short while, I'd settled in enough that I no longer found it particularly troublesome. The score by Hammer mainstay James Bernard sounds terrific throughout, as do the full-bodied sound effects. I'll confess to having let my receiver upmix the monaural audio via DTS Neural:X, and I was particularly floored by the throbbing, oscillating hum of the Baron's soul extraction equipment. No hiss or assorted noise are lurking in the background, nor did I spot any other abberations of note.
Quickly glancing at other reviews of this release, it appears that I'm squarely in the minority for finding the audio to be this mixed a bag. Perhaps there's a reason I'm the odd man out. While I wouldn't place Frankenstein Created Woman's lossless audio in nearly the same league as its world-class visual presentation, I very much get the sense that Scream Factory eked the most of what the available elements could deliver, and I can't really ask for more than that.
The "Collector's Edition" banner on the top of the artwork is well-deserved, as Frankenstein Created Woman showcases well over five hours of extras in all.
- Audio Commentaries: Newly-recorded for this special edition is commentary by horror historians Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr. Building on Terence Fisher's comment that he made "fairy tales for adults", the two particularly delight in drawing parallels to Cinderella, such as Christina's all-but-magical transformation and this film's version of the three wicked stepsisters. Haberman and Nasr also speak about how no one but Fisher could've directed Frankenstein Created Woman, the Baron's burned hands marking the only real plot point to carry over from any of Hammer's previous Frankenstein films, the debt it owes to the stillborn Tales of Frankenstein television series, some of the horrors that are thematically repeated throughout the film, and Susan Denberg's thick accent prompting more than one character to be redubbed. Also of great interest is the way this commentary compares and contrasts the finished film with a draft of the screenplay, including how the earlier version better established which of the town leaders are the fathers of "the youngbloods".
The disc's second commentary is among several extras carried over from Millenium's 2014 Blu-ray release. Jonathan Rigby, the author of English Gothic, is joined by actors Derek Fowlds (Johann) and Robert Morris (Hans). It's a breezy conversation brimming with personality, including Rigby spelling out the fees for several of the key actors, pointing out some of the fixtures of Hammer productions on both sides of the camera, the studio caving to pressure and excising another head in the guillotine basket, and the debt an earlier iteration of the concept owed to Roger Vadim's And God Created Woman. Less fun but still very much worthy of discussion is Rigby charting the tragic downward spiral of Susan Denberg after her leading role here. Morris is a gifted storyteller, although completists devouring all of the extras on this edition will note that many of his stories appear in his interview elsewhere on the disc. Though not quite as essential a listen as Haberman and Nasr's commentary, I still very much enjoyed this track.
- Interview with Robert Morris (11 min.; HD): Following his commentary, Morris returns to speak again about his first feature film. Along with noting what a joy it was to work alongside the likes of Susan Denberg and Terence Fisher, Morris speaks about the Stanislavski-esque backstory he'd invented for Hans, trying desperately not to fully expose his co-star's breast, filming underneath a gleamingly sharp guillotine blade, and how he laid on a slab for two days and saved Hammer the expense of making a fake body. This charming, engaging conversation is well worth setting aside the time to watch.
- Creating Frankenstein Created Woman (12 min.; HD): Clapper/loader Eddie Collins is the dominant presence in this interview, with second assistant director Joe Marks appearing intermittently as well. The most fascinating elements to me aren't about Frankenstein Created Woman in particular; it's the rich picture that Collins paints about what it was like to work in British film in those days. A Hammer production was effectively a 9-5 job (or, well, 8:30 AM - 5:30 PM) – less if the weather was troublesome enough for those who had to travel a ways to return home. Despite the many decades that have passed, Collins' memories of precisely which filters were favored by cinematographer Arthur Grant is as sharp as his recollections of tea time rituals on the set.
- Hammer Glamour (44 min.; HD): "I played the victim – somebody that'd have it done to but at the same time unaware of the fact that my tits were hanging out. And that's really the end of my essay."
Marcus Hearn translates his coffee table book of the same name into this nearly 45 minute long retrospective from 2013 about Hammer's endless parade of young, voluptuous, and impossibly gorgeous actresses. Such Hammer starlets as Vera Day, Jenny Hanley, Valerie Leon, Caroline Munro, Martine Beswick, and Madeline Smith sit down for new interviews, and it's one brilliant story after another, from descriptions of pubic hair being at the core of a lawsuit to the breast-enhancing qualities of yogurt. Hearn, through his narration, charts Hammer's embrace of Mo Fuzz-style production values from horror and beyond, including such generally forgotten titles as A Clean Sweep. It also explores the careers of such other Hammer bombshells as Ursula Andress, Raquel Welch, Carita Järvinen, Veronica Carlson, Suzanna Leigh, and Ingrid Pitt. And, yes, the conversation isn't entirely about décolletage, frequently delving into the films themselves and the actresses' performances.
- The World of Hammer (50 min.; SD): Two episodes of the '90s-era TV series are featured here: one dedicated to Peter Cushing and the other charting the curse of Frankenstein. They're curiosities more than anything else, comprised exclusively of lengthy excerpts from various Hammer films with raspy, half-whispered narration by Oliver Reed. The series' producers made no effort to balance Reed's voiceover with the clips from these movies, drowning him out almost entirely. The Cushing retrospective follows the actor throughout ten of the many Hammer productions in which he starred, among them the less discussed Fear in the Night. Frankenstein Created Woman is, of course, featured in the Frankenstein-centric episode. It's further appreciated that this episode notes the impact that Hammer's Four Sided Triangle had on the Frankenstein films that would soon follow.
- Promotional Material (8 min.; SD): Two full-length trailers have been upconverted to 1080i, one of which is for a double feature with The Mummy's Shroud. Also included are a pair of black and white TV spots and several radio promos.
- Image Galleries (11 min.; HD): A pair of slideshows round out the extras. First is a high-res gallery of production stills – both in black and white and in color – with a few really nice behind-the-scenes shots among them. A poster and lobby card gallery features artwork and promos from all across the globe, as well as clippings of newspaper ads.
I'm bowled over by the newly-commissioned artwork by Mark Maddox, which is also featured on the slipcover. Those as impressed as I am should note that orders placed directly through Scream Factory also include an 18x24" poster. If, for whatever reason, that's not to your taste, the cover is reversible, revealing original theatrical art on the flipside.
The Final Word
Though I don't have Millennium Entertainment's Blu-ray release from a few years back on-hand to do a direct comparison, what I've seen of it looks disappointingly faded and dull. Scream Factory's remaster has breathed new life into this unconventional, underappreciated Hammer gem. Better still, their collector's edition carries over all of the previous disc's extras as well as featuring an additional commentary track and a pair of newly-conducted interviews. Very Highly Recommended.