Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Review: 'Frankenstein Created Woman' Blu-Ray

Frankenstein Created Woman is by far the best of Hammer’s Frankenstein sequels. What could have just been an update of Bride of Frankenstein in the same way The Curse of Frankenstein dragged James Whale’s Frankenstein into the fifties is a totally individual film. Hans (Robert Morris), a young assistant of Dr. Frankenstein (Peter Cushing—who else?), is beheaded for a crime he didn’t commit. The good doctor resurrects him by transferring Hans’s soul into the body of his girlfriend, Christina (Susan Denberg), who’d drowned herself after witnessing Hans’s execution. A badly scarred brunette in life, Christina somehow springs back to life as a blonde with perfect skin—as well as Hans’s yen for revenge against the trio of snotty rich kids who committed the crime for which he was killed. 

Frankenstein Created Woman is unique in the Hammer cannon for the sympathy with which it treats its monsters—and this time, Dr. Frankenstein is a genuine monster, having been brought back to life just as Hans/Christina is. All the hallmarks fans expect from the studio—bowls of blood, disdain for the aristocracy, sumptuous sets and costumes, a sexy leading lady, Cushing’s cheekbones—are all in attendance too. 

While numerous Hammer films have already made it to blu-ray in the studio’s home country, these horror classics haven’t made much of an appearance in the U.S. so far. That seems to be changing now that Millennium Entertainment has begun distributing Hammer in America, starting with Dracula: Prince of Darkness last fall. I’d read some unflattering things about that blu-ray (which is apparently identical to Studio Canal’s release in the U.K.), so my expectations weren’t high for Frankenstein Created Woman. The Dracula disc apparently suffered from excessive application of noise reduction. Frankenstein Created Woman has a nice grain noticeable from the opening frames. It looks sufficiently vibrant even though this is one of the darkest Hammer films. The handful of daytime, exterior scenes look very good and there is barely a blemish to be seen. There is inconsistency in the image with a few shots looking muted and one really weird four-second stretch when Christina chops her second victim that looks completely unrestored. Such passages aside, this is a presentable looking picture.

Several of the extras are exceptional too. The obvious stand out is Hammer Glamour, a 44-minute documentary on the women of Hammer films. There is a lot of ground to cover in that running time, and a lot of the actresses only receive a passing mention (including this disc’s star, Susan Denberg). The substantial involvement of six actresses obliterates that shortcoming, Vera Day and Jenny Hanley appearing in solo interviews and Valerie Leon, Caroline Munro, Martine Beswicke, and Madeline Smith sharing a sofa to reminisce with good humor and candor about Hammer’s exploitative tendencies and script shortcomings, making Hammer Glamour rise above celebratory puff piece. Almost as good is the feature commentary with Robert Morris, Derek Fowlds (who plays Johann in the film), and horror historian Jonathan Rigby. The jocular discussion touches on the film’s absurd censorship issues (the kid who played Hans was not allowed to scream upon seeing his dad decapitated!), Cushing’s career, the dubbing of Alan MacNaughtan and Susan Denberg, as well as all the other Denberg tidbits we hoped to learn in Hammer Glamour. I was startled to hear that the actress, whose career ended abruptly due to drug and mental problems, is likely still alive. 

Nifty to own but not a ton of fun to watch are a couple of unrestored episodes of the “World of Horror” series, which recycled long stretches of select Hammer films with sparse, not terribly insightful narration by Oliver Reed. There’s also a cool stills gallery that pays sufficient homage to Denberg’s iconic bandagekini and an envelope of postcard-size poster and lobby card reproductions. 

Get Frankenstein Created Woman at Amazon.com here:
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