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Frankenstein Created Woman

- reviewed by Christina Crocker

I’m pleased to report that Millennium Entertainment’s newest Collector’s Edition blu-ray title from the Hammer library is another winner.  Having already seen and been very pleased with Millennium‘s blu-ray of Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Frankenstein Created Woman is another quality release that belongs in every Hammer enthusiast’s collection.

Directed by Terence Fisher and written by Anthony Hinds, it was released in 1967 and stars the brilliant Peter Cushing, the always entertaining Thorley Walters, Robert Morris, and the lovely German born Susan Denberg.  In regards to the Hammer Frankenstein series, Evil of Frankenstein precedes it and Frankenstein Must be Destroyed follows it, though there really isn’t much of a connection between these films.  Baron Frankenstein is at it once again (the question of why he even bothers when his experiments always end up disastrous confounds me) with his latest brilliant idea; he believes it is possible to transfer souls between bodies.  Why anyone would want to do this is beyond me.

Unfortunately, misfit lovers Hans and Christina (his father was guillotined for being a murderer, she’s disabled and deformed) unwittingly become the guinea pigs in the Baron’s experiment due to unfortunate circumstances.  Hans (like father, like son) meets Madame Guillotine when he is falsely accused of murdering Christina’s father.  Christina arrives back in town just in time to witness his execution and drowns herself.  Baron Frankenstein, the ultimate opportunist, transfers Hans’ soul to Christina’s body, Dr. Hertz performs some amazing plastic surgery and then he was a she (or is she a he).  Before you can say “there’s something rotten in the state of Switzerland” this new creation takes vengeance on the three creeps who really murdered her father.
This film has some interesting themes.  Transferring Han’s soul into Christina’s creates some major gender confusion.  One second she’s a demure, sweet, and beautiful young lady.  But when Han’s soul takes over, she becomes a lean, mean killing machine.  In certain ways it is reminiscent of Hammer’s Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde with the transgender murderer.  Also, the theme of where an ugly woman becomes beautiful and seeks revenge reminded me of Life and Loves of a She-Devil.

The theme of bullying is explored as Christina is tormented by three arrogant rich deadbeats (who constantly avoid paying their pub bills) who belittle and ridicule her disfigurement and disability.  So when she gives her bullies some serious payback, we do get a guilty pleasure seeing these scumbags get their just deserts.

Now let’s talk about what prevents this very good film from being a classic.  The whole transfer of the soul concept has numerous holes.  In the beginning of the film, Baron Frankenstein says that the soul leaves the dead body within an hour.  So when Hans is executed, the Baron’s assistant Dr. Hertz (Thorley Walters) has to rush to retrieve the body (he says to the guard that he just needs the corpse for 24 hours, I laughed so hard because it sounds like he has necrophiliac designs on it) so that they can preserve the soul.  After Hans’ soul is transferred into Christina’s corpse, there seems to be a fight for dominance between the two souls.  They didn’t recover her body until several hours after she had drowned, so how did her soul get trapped if you only have one hour to preserve it after death?

Also, why doesn’t Han’s head decompose?  We see his decapitated head days after his soul has been removed and it looks in perfect condition; how can that be, what’s preserving it?  Plus, a decayed head would have been a much more disturbing and believable image.
The film has a long buildup but when Hans/Christina finally takes revenge on the three creeps, it seems a bit rushed.  The murder sequences occur very quickly.  The ending is ambiguous and somewhat of a letdown.
Let’s talk about the special features now.  Without a doubt, the standout extra is the brand new “Hammer Glamour” documentary.  My only complaint with it was that I wished that it ran longer because I enjoyed it so much.  The documentary examines some of Hammer’s beautiful actresses and how the clothing styles (ie. cleavage) and demeanor were affected as the times and culture changed.  Hammer’s “scream queens,” Martine Beswick, Caroline Munro, and Madeleine Smith (did you know that all three are Bond girls?) are interviewed and discuss the fashions they wore, nudity issues, and feelings about co-stars.  When all three of these women are sitting together, it feels like a group of old friends dishing about the “old days” and the viewer gets a real sense of intimacy, as if you are part of this group of gal pals.
It’s a shame that Susan Denberg wasn’t interviewed, so little is known about her.  She gave up acting after appearing in this movie at the tender age of 23, supposedly due to drug problems.  One of her few acting roles included a Star Trek episode entitled “Mudd’s Women” from 1966.  Hopefully, someone in the near future will interview this enigmatic woman.

Two World of Hammer episodes are also included, “The Curse of Frankenstein” and “Hammer Stars: Peter Cushing.”  These are all right but my main complaint is that they aren’t very substantial.  They are mostly clipfests with very little commentary.  The narration from Oliver Reed is quite minimal and little new is gleaned from these features.  Less reliance on clips and more use of unusual facts would have made these much more enjoyable.

The other bonus material includes the Frankenstein Created Woman trailer, an animated stills gallery which is quite nice, collectable cards (always a pleasure), and a commentary featuring actors Derek Fowlds and Robert Morris, and Jonathan Rigby who is a Hammer historian.  The menu is cute with its little coffins.

So while the film itself may not be in the upper echelon of Hammer films, it has enough going for it to make it interesting nevertheless.  And this blu-ray is the way to see it as Millennium has done another excellent job; beautiful print, worthwhile extras, and nice packaging makes for a pleasurable viewing experience.

Dracula Prince of Darkness
- reviewed by Christina Crocker

Like curling up with a favorite book, it is comforting to sit in a cozy chair and watch a cherished movie.  Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) is an old friend, every couple of years I view it and I’m never disappointed.  After all these years, it still holds up.  Fans of this film can rejoice, it has just been restored and released as a blu-ray Collector’s Edition by Millennium Entertainment complete with bonus material.  But more about the extras and the newly transferred print later.

Following the disappointing and unconvincing The Brides of Dracula (1960), this film is the third entry in the Hammer Dracula series.  Dracula: Prince of Darkness brings respectability back to the Dracula series (sorry, David Peel is a poor substitute for Christopher Lee).   Along with Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968) and The Scars of Dracula (1970), this ranks as one of my favorites in the series.  It has the familiar plot of out-of-towners stumbling onto Dracula’s Castle, even though they had been warned.  Before you can say I told you so, they are dinner guests (literally) of the Count.

The cast is solid with Barbara Shelley and Andrew Keir being the standouts.  Shelley has the juicy role of the nagger and complainer, similar to Karl Hardman’s character in Night of the Living Dead.  Both characters are irritating and whiney, but their comrades should have listed to them because their recommendations regarding their situations turn out to be correct.  Andrew Keir exudes a commanding and confident presence as Father Sandor, whose travel advice the group should have heeded.  Though Christopher Lee doesn’t have any spoken lines, his facial expressions and physical movements say it all.  On a side note, Ludwig played by Thorley Walters, is like Renfield if he was played by Rip Taylor!

Terrence Fisher does a fine job of directing, with Jimmy Sangster and Anthony Hinds sharing the writing credits.   There was one break in the continuity, it happens in the scene where Shelley’s character attacks Diana Kent (played by Suzan Farmer).  Farmer burns Shelley with her crucifix; you see her reaction and then you see Farmer holding the cross.  Then in the next brief shot, Farmer isn’t holding cross up, but then in the next quick cut, she’s holding the cross up again.

The extras are satisfying, especially the new documentary about the making of the film entitled Back to Black, which features interviews with Barbara Shelley and Francis Matthews.  It’s interesting that Matthews is quite critical of his performance in the film.  In the featurette for Corridors of Blood (1958), he was critical of his performance in that as well (excellent movie by the way)!  Other extras include an audio commentary featuring Christopher Lee, Suzan Farmer, Francis Matthews, and Barbara Shelley, a restored theatrical trailer, a World of Hammer episode “Hammer Stars:  Christopher Lee,” a stills gallery, and a featurette that shows the restoration of the print for this DVD.  Also included in the package are five collectible cards displaying scenes from the film.

This blu-ray is the ultimate edition of Dracula: Prince of Darkness.  Excellent transfer, fine bonus material, and classic movie to boot equals a must have in anyone’s horror collection.