(picture from The Peter Cushing Appreciation Page)
Frankenstein Created Woman is an odd entry in the Hammer’s Frankenstein series. Most of the Frankenstein films follow the reliable pattern of Peter Cushing putting one person’s brain into another’s body. Wackiness and bloodshed ensue. But Created Woman sees the vehemently pragmatic Baron suddenly concerned with the human soul.
The story goes like this: The Baron, assisted by drunkard Dr. Hertz and outcast Hans, performs an experiment that proves that the human soul remains in the body for a bit after clinical death. To celebrate the success he asks Hans to run into town and get some champagne. At the cafe, Hans flirts with shy, deformed Christina, the innkeeper’s daughter. Secretly they’re lovers, but Christina’s father doesn’t approve of Hans. He’s the son of a murderer and the entire town is convinced he’ll come to no good. Hans has a dust up with Christina’s father before the local trio of rich douchebags shows up and starts hassling everyone, saving the most venom for Christina. Hans refuses to just let them, and in the ensuing fight, he pounds on all three of the douchbags. Later that night, as a bratty form of revenge the douchebags sneak back to the cafe after it has closed. Christina’s father catches them and ends up dead in the altercation that follows. Hans is blamed and put on trial, but it’s a forgone conclusion. No one but The Baron and Hertz believe Hans didn’t do it. Hans is quickly convicted and executed. Christina witnesses the execution and commits suicide. The Baron now has two bodies and the ability to trap souls. So, the soul of Hans goes into the body of Christina, whom The Baron has performed plastic surgery on. Christina wakes up totally hot and with no memory of who she is. This means the compulsion to hunt down and kill the three douchebags is foreign to her, but one she still follows. Christina murders all three men before drowning herself and staying dead for good.
This one is a little weird for a Frankenstein film. Trapping souls isn’t a science, whereas in the other films, The Baron is a scientist to the core. It is also much more morally dense than the other films. The rest of the series is concerned with the badness of raising the dead, whereas this one leans more toward saving those who died undeservedly and allowing them to live.
But if you look at the film in the context of a fairy tale and everything suddenly makes a whole lot more sense. That’s because Frankenstein Created Woman is a slasher version of Cinderella.
Stay with me while I reframe the story a little bit.
Cinderella is part of what is apparently known as “the persecuted heroine” group of fairy tale figures. In this film, we have not one Cinderella, but two. Christina is the most obvious one. She has been deformed from birth, and has been looked on with pity and disgust and led to believe that she needs to be fixed for anyone to love her. Hans is our unexpected Cinderella. Physically, Christina is damaged goods. Emotionally, Hans is damaged goods. He has spent his whole life being looked on with pity and disgust and led to believe that he needs to be fixed because of what his father did.
Rather than wicked stepsisters we have our tree rich douchebags. The scene where we first meet them is very important here because we see them bully Christina by making her serve them wine, forcing her to spill it and threatening her with violence when she does. We then see them using the law to bully Hans after he kicks the crap out of them.
Here, just as in the fairy tale, Cinderella has to reach her lowest point before she can rise. In this case, they both die. But this is a horror film and we realize the pair has a very unexpected fairy godmother: Baron Victor Frankenstein.
The Baron is kind enough to wave his magic science wand (this is a 60’s horror movie) and make Christina a total hottie after putting Hans’s soul in her body. It’s at this point that Cinderella can now have her moment of triumph and rise above her enemies. Our douchebags got Hans killed and routinely harassed Christina. In Frankenstein Created Woman, Christina and Hans triumph over the people who oppressed them in a way suitable to a horror movie: They seduce then kill them. Revenge is had by not only making the rich douchebags drool over the thing that had repulsed them before, but killing them afterward.
It’s also worth remembering that, even though the blonde lady with a blue dress surrounded by singing mice from Disney was probably the first thing that popped into your head when I mentioned Cinderella, most versions of the story from all over the world are much nastier. The German and Persian versions had the persecutors killed at the end. The German and several Asian versions also had their beauty being guided by the spirit of a dead person.
There are quite a few ways Frankenstein Created Woman is unusual. Not the least of which is that Terence Fisher rather directly created the fairy tale he always viewed his movies to be. There may be no singing mice (though Thorley Walters is basically Gus-Gus if you think about it), but it may not be too off the mark to say that this is the type of thing The Brothers Grimm had in mind. Or would have if they had been writing in the 60’s.