Frankenstein Must Be a Freud

Headshrinker.

Well, he describes himself as an expert in psychiatry at one point in FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN…

“I always regarded ‘Baron Frankenstein’ as a forerunner to Dr. Christian Barnard, the South African surgeon who was the first man to transplant the human heart, which he did in 1967…” ~ Peter Cushing.

That same year, as I was working up to getting born, Cushing returned to the role of Dr. F in the third canonical Terence Fisher-Peter Cushing-Hammer-Frankenstein, which Fiona and I looked at again as part of our week-long Frankathon

Strange film! After the extremely neat dovetailing of the first two films in the series, this delivers a bit of a jolt, continuity-wise. After last seeing Frankenstein ensconsed in a thriving Harley Street practice and a new, but identical body, it’s kind of a shock to see him experimenting with soul-catching force fields in Europe, his hands mysteriously mutilated… it would seem the fabled Frankenstein sequence is not as coherent as advertised — unless you do what we’re doing, and swap this film with MUST BE DESTROYED. That explains the Baron’s burned hands, at least.

But to briefly consider this film in the light of the year it was made:

Almost a decade had passed since director Terence Fisher’s last visit to the lab, and in the interim screenwriter John Elder had given us EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN for director Freddie Francis. Francis was a very competent director who was sometimes actually inspired (he was a seriously brilliant cameraman, whose work on THE INNOCENTS and THE ELEPHANT MAN should be enough to earn him immortality, without the need for Frankenstein’s soul-catcher) but he couldn’t do much with Elder’s wandering, unstructured script. Jimmy Sangster might cheerfully own up to being not the world’s best screenwriter, but he’s a veritable Joe Mankiewicz compared to Hinds.

Alas, Hinds does duty as writer on this one as well, and having, in EVIL, sabotaged the careful continuity of Sangster’s work, here he procedes to ride roughshod over his OWN continuity. One of the weird things about EVIL is the way it’s a sequel that contains its own original. This also happens in EVIL DEAD II, which begins by reprising the first film. Elder fits his remake of CURSE into an insanely prolonged flashback, reminding us of all the stuff that should be pretty obvious from the framing story — like, how Frankenstein is this guy who’s made a monster… In this alternative universe, the Baron’s first monster WASN’T destroyed in an acid bath, but frozen, to be revived later on, in this movie…

I’m going to stop writing about EVIL OF now because it makes my head hurt (oh, for a sharp bone saw and some forceps). On to FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN, which has the benefit of a groovy title (although I’d prefer it to go all out and begin with “…AND”) and a slightly less shaky narrative. Elder’s biggest mistakes this time are, in order of egregiousness:

1) Ignoring both Sangster’s and his own continuity. Not only has Frankenstein aquired a new lab and assistant (an uncharacteristically muted Thorley Walters as a drunken old village doctor) but a new speciality, physics. He spends the film’s first half wasting our time with his force field, which may be novel but rather lacks the gory frissons of his early surgical experiments. 

2) Beginning far too early, a recurring Hammer problem (I always cite CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT as the daftest, since it begins, for no reason, with the protagonists’ birth). This one starts off in a supporting characters’ childhood, in what seems to be a borrowing from Frank Borzage’s sublime MOONRISE: our loveable stooge Hans (there’s ALWAYS a character called Hans, and usually a Karl and a Kleve, for some reason), having witnessed his father’s execution on the guillotine, feels predestined for the same fate.

3) Metaphysical crimes. Suddenly Cushing’s Baron is obsessed with THE SOUL, which never interested him before. The whole plot could have been made to work with brain transplants, which would have taken less time to set up and would have been consistent with the Baron’s M.O. as established in three previous films. The film’s soul transplant never makes much sense, but it IS intriguing.

A progressive touch: a disabled, unmarried character with a sex life.

4) Crude characterisation. Three Vicious Local Toffs are set up early on, and their characters fail to develop beyond being V.L.T.s for the whole running time. During the first forty mins they endlessly repeat their basic cycle of nasty behaviours, taking forever to actually set the plot in motion. Once they do, Hans is executed for a murder they committed, his disabled girlfriend drowns herself (oh, what hours of misery Lars Von Trier could make of this!) and “Baron Frankenthing” as a local yokel calls him, can finally do something, implanting the captured soul of Hans in the repaired body of his beloved, Krista.

5) For some reason, this causes her to go blond.

Frankenstein’s personality is a little different here, but I’m not going to call that a fault, just a difference. As in EVIL, there’s more of a sense of Dr. F as a Great Man Surrounded By Fools, persecuted for his genius by an uncaring world. There are certainly hints of the old callous bastard Sangster created and Cushing brought to unapologetic life, but mostly this is a reformed Frankenstein who generally means well. He’s a little warmer, more concerned with justice, and altogether less rapey than the Baron seen in MUST BE DESTROYED. Maybe his experience almost being roasted alive by Freddie Jones has reformed him somewhat.

When Dr. F testifies as a character witness for his unjustly accused assistant (Cushing idles in the witness box, flicking through the bible he’s sworn on — “Looking for loopholes,” Fiona suggests) he makes a poor job of it, but one feels he meant well. If Sangster were writing this, he’d have Cushing deliberately condemn Hans, just so he could get his body (and soul) to experiment on. Which would have given Cushing a lot more to bite into, actually.

Elder redeems himself with Cushing’s zestful seizing of the opportunity to abduct the executed man’s soul. He’s his old cold-blooded self again, arguing against asking his subject’s permission: “He might refuse.”

Capturing the human soul with a satellite dish and a carrot.

The mystery and majesty of the human soul — stripped bare! And if that doesn’t suit you, we have Susan Denberg.

Then we get a very odd remake of MY FAIR LADY/PYGMALION, with Cushing and Walters making a lady out of, well, in this case, a cadaver, and granting it a male soul. Soon they have her making breakfast for them. Krista is played in both disfigured and reanimated versions by starlet Susan Denberg, a slightly controversial figure. Here’s what the IMDb has to say:

Mini Biography

After becoming immersed in the 60s high life of drugs and sex, Denberg left show business and returned to Austria. News interviews at the time show a depressed Denberg in the company of her mother, at home in Klagenfurt. These news items, repeated in fan periodicals for years, gave the impression Denberg was suicidal or had already died. Actually, she is still alive.

Spouse: Tony Scotti (? – 1968) (her death)

So, according to this, she died in 1968 but is still alive. Shades of her character in this film.

(Tony Scotti, incidentally, had his moment of fame in VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, playing a character with a truly beyond-fabulous name: Tony Polar. I propose a new sequel, TONY POLAR MEETS FRANKENSTEIN. The Baron, rendered immortal by injections of spinal fluid, has set up shop as a plastic surgeon in Vegas, where a reclusive Howard Hughes type is sponsoring him to create the Perfect Woman from murdered showgirls. Only Tony Polar can stop him!)

PYGMALION soon collides with THE BRIDE WORE BLACK as Denberg, urged on by her lover’s transplanted soul (?), begins wiping out the V.L.T.’s who caused his death. Confusingly, the soul’s urgings seems to emanate from his severed head, even though it’s supposed to be inside HER, according to the Baron. Logic was never Elder’s strong suit. What follows should be immensely satisfying, as the horrible V.L.T.s (who include Derek Fowlds of TV sitcom Yes, Minister) are bloodily murdered, but it’s somehow all a little underdone. Frankenstein becomes the Man Who Knew And Tried To Warn Them, kept under house arrest by the authorities until it’s too late. Leaving Thorley Walters to ineffectually drop out of the narrative, Cushing arrives at the scene of Denberg’s last murder too late to do anything but witness her suicide.

In a welcome nod to NIGHT MUST FALL, she’s been trotting around with Hans’ head in a hatbox. Now she drowns herself, AGAIN. As usual, she transforms into a burly, gallumphing stuntman.

The film has more ideas than REVENGE, to be fair to it, but many of them are not the kind of ideas that can be usefully exploited for horror purposes. The business with trapping the soul is echoed in a howlingly wonderful ’70s weirdfest  called THE ASPHYX, with the Roberts Stephens and Newton Powell attempting to trap the “death force” in a similar fashion, and similarly, that film fails to actually behave like a horror film (but it does contain my favourite ever mind-boggling line, yelled by Stephens in a crescendo of passion: “Was the smudge trying to warn Clive of danger?”).

So, once again, Baron Frankenstein lives to operate again (although throughout this film he requires the buffoonish Walters’ assistance, since his hands are maimed — when did this happen?). I think it might have been nicer if Hammer had gone to the trouble of killing him off each time, as they did in CURSE, and then beginning the next film by explaining how he escaped death. REVENGE breaks with this pattern by showing Cushing die AND be resurrected at the end, which is OK too. But having the Baron just sort of wander off, as he does here, is a little less than awesome.

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15 Responses to “Frankenstein Must Be a Freud”

  1. Frankenstein Created Woman is a great favorite of Marty Scorsese’s — and mine — because in it you get to see the human soul: a big glowing blue ball.

    1967 (you were 0, I was 20) was a great year for the movies. The very best was Andy Warhol’s **** (Four Stars). Twenty-four hours long and shown once and once only. Some members of the cast: Viva, Nico, Gerard Malanga, Taylor Mead, Brigid Berlin, Ondine, Alan Midgette, International Velvet.

    Also that year: Chims at Midnight, Made in USA, Daisies, Privilege, Himself As Herself, Point Blank, Bonnie and Clyde, Marat/Sade, Two For the Road, Bedazzled, The Fearless Vampire Killers, Le Depart, Accident, Yesterday Girl, La Prise de Pouvoir par Louis XIV, Reflections in a Golden Eye, A Countess From Hong Kong, Far From the Madding Crowd and Casino Royale.

  2. And is that a Wonderbra she’s wearing in the shot with the meat cleaver?

  3. As for Francis’ skill as a director: I have *very* happy memories of his Tigon “The Creeping Flesh.”

    “Evil of Frankenstein”: It was one of those notorious cases where extra footage was shot for U.S. television, as happened with “Secret Ceremony” and “Three Into Two Won’t Go.” Never saw the “improved” version …

  4. !967: also How I Won the War.
    Wonderbra? Probably.
    The TV version of Evil of F might actually BE better!
    Another fine Francis film, his own personal favourite: Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly, a deeply weird piece of fringe theatre in film form. Girly alas quit acting (her performance is utterly amazing and unique) to marry Robert Chartoff. A great loss to the profession!

  5. I quite liked his rendition of The Docotr and the Devils with Twiggy, though it’s a shame the one Nicholas Ray was planning with Barbara Steele never got made.

  6. Oh, I’ve read the Dylan Thomas script, and Francis alas rides roughshod over all the best ideas in it. Without trying to direct the thing on the page, Thomas does offer helpful pointers, and FF misses them completely. He also stuffs the thing with cockney accents, while shooting a scene in Edinburgh’s Queen’s Park to confirm that it is indeed Scotland. I think it’s miscast too — Jonathan Pryce would have been far better suited to the role of the Doctor.

    I’d have welcomed the Ray, although James Mason felt Ray was departing too far from Thomas for his liking. The only problem with the script is an ending, which is always going to be an anticlimax if you follow history, since Dr Knox wasn’t really punished for his actions.

    The best Burke and Hare film is probably The Flesh and the Fiends, although one welcomes their appearance in Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde.

    The Body Snatcher is the best bodysnatcher film of all, of course.

  7. LOVE your line about trying to catch the human soul with a satellite dish and a carrot, btw.

    In 1967 I was 14. One of many things I did, either that year or the next, was see a double-bill of “How I Won The War” (see above) and Losey’s “Accident” … a double-whammy which left me thoroughly confused.

    In the early ’70s I took a film class from Tim Hunter, future director of “River’s Edge,” in which I was offered material that applies to Denberg’s hair change. Namely, Leslie Fiedler’s “Love And Death In The American Novel,” which Hunter was *very* big on. The gist, or so it seems in retrospect, was that Dark Ladies contend with Light Ladies, and that while brunettes are sympathetic blonds are sexy-but-threatening.

    Sounds like Denberg, don’t it?

  8. Tim Hunter (na old high school classmate of mine) is currently directing the acclaimed cable TV series Mad Men.

  9. I like the “looking for loopholes” comment!

    I often wonder whether if you are not religious and are asked to swear on a Bible whether you have to say that because of your differing beliefs it would be ineffective, not to mention hypocritical, to do so or whether it is better to stay silent but with the knowledge that you are not bound by the oath? Then does that mean you are allowed to lie your head off on the witness stand? Oh, the quandries of not subscribing to a religion!

    I think the killing of the V.L.Ts feels rather anticlimactic because they are given the chance to act so nastily for so long (I remember the mocking song being particularly mortifying) compared to the quickness of their killings. Nothing less than full on Hostel-style torture for their bastardly behaviour would seem appropriate but I guess the killings being quick fits in with the need for vengeance not really seeming satisfying.

    I like the inevitability of the film – the way that Hans is destined to follow in his father’s footsteps playing into the audience knowing he has got to come to a sticky end and it is just a case of waiting for fate to manoeuvre him onto the same gallows. Quite sad if you are caring for the put upon characters at that point but great if you’ve been waiting half an hour for the horror to start!

    There is also the inevitability of the Baron creating something that is invariably going to go beserk, juts in a purposeful rather than mindless way this time! What did he think putting the dead man’s brain inside his dead girlfriend was going to do?

  10. And The Aspyx is brilliantly strange!

    Maybe Frankenstein Created Woman explains Frankenstein’s later ‘rapey’ behaviour? Perhaps he became disillousioned with womankind after Christina goes haywire and kills herself and started to hold a grudge against all women – hence his moping wandering off at the end of this film? Or more likely I’m just clutching at straws!

  11. Final post. I was -13 in 1967!

  12. Love Tim Hunter. He did some very good work on Twin Peaks too.

    Interesting to find blondes portrayed as more demonic than brunettes: seems counter-intuitive, somehow, but certainly suits Denberg’s arc.

    I think not being religious allows you to morally ignore your swearing in, but not legally, since perjury is perjury!

    The V.L.T.’s rude song should have been laughed off, really — horrible though it is, the sentiment “She’ll stay a virgin ’til she’s dead” has been soundly disproven by Hans.

    I don’t require them to suffer more, necessarily, but maybe making the job of killing them harder would make it more dramatically satisfying. Jeanne Moreau goes to considerable effort in The Bride Wore Black to achieve the effects Denberg hits on quite easily.

  13. Like I say, Baron F’s burned hands mean that Created must come AFTER Destroyed. So his rapiness abates after the big fire cripples him, possibly due to some other injuries that we don’t get to see. Or possibly due to him learning a moral lesson, for once in his life.
    “Rape is a terrible crime, I see that now. But killing people and harvesting their organs, that’s still OK. Fine, fine.”

  14. Oh, and The Creeping Flesh is David Lynch’s favourite Freddie Francis film.

  15. Pablo Manzano Says:

    I might be alone, but I like this film very much. I love the drama in it (which I don’t feel as maniqueist, although it seems to be), and the plot which, although crazy from the scientific perspective, seems to me most interesting, ironic, moving and, at times, terrifying. Lots of disturbing ideas.

    Nobody credits this one as one of Terence Fisher’s greatest films, but to me, it is. At the very least, for its peculiarity.

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