Monday, May 27, 2013

PLAYING GOD AGAINST HER WILL: FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN


As part of the Peter Cushing blogathon currently running at the incredible Frankensteinia, Day of the Woman is remembering the centennial birthday of Peter Cushing by discussing his under-appreciated work in the fourth of the Hammer Frankenstein series, Frankenstein Created Woman.  It took me nearly three hours to finally settle on what I wanted to talk about in terms of one of the kings of classic horror.  It took every ounce of strength for me not to gush about his work as Doctor Who, but his fourth performance as Baron Frankenstein isn't discussed nearly as much as it should be.  More importantly, the anti-woman storyline within the film itself isn't given the attention it deserves.  Let me preface this by saying I love this film.  For those that can't seem to grasp the concept, it's possible to love a film but admit it is problematic and not without flaws.  I find this movie to be remarkable, but the subtle misogyny cannot be ignored.  (NOTE: The title was merely a publicity thing, and therefore, I will not hold it against them. It was the 60s, I get it.)

The story follows a girl named Christina (played by one of my favorites, Susan Denberg) who despite having a club foot and slight disfigurement, is loved very dearly by a man named Hans (Robert Morris).  Hans is wrongly convicted of murder and put to death by way of guillotine.  Much like Ophelia in Hamlet (see what I did there?) Christina decides that if she cannot have her love, she cannot have her life and jumps off of a bridge to her death.  Unlike the Universal Frankenstein that created life out of organs, Peter Cushing's Frankenstein manages to capture Hans' soul as a ball of light and transport it into Christina's body.  My guess is that he would have saved them both if he could, but Hans being headless would have complicated the whole ordeal.  Regardless, Christina is given a new lease on life, resurrected by the very soul of her beloved, and given a perfect exterior (complete with blonde bombshell locks) from Baron Frankenstein to replace her disabled food and facial disfigurement.  Right away, we're introduced to the first act of male dominance over the female character.  She is given life, yes, but it is against her wishes and her appearance is dramatically changed like something out of The Twilight Zone episode, "The Number 12 Looks Like You."  Controlled by the vengeful soul of her lover, Christina begins to kill those that wronged her lover, and like most of Frankenstein's creatures, ultimately meets her demise, again, self inflicted.  

For a film from 1967, seeing a woman use her sexuality as a weapon was incredibly progressive.  However, it gets a little complicated.  The fact Christina's body is inhabited by a both a female and a male soul, and is seducing men in order to destroy them, makes the interpretations a little murky.  This concept speaks volumes of on the male inability to truly 'see' women for what they really are due to their gaze on the female form.  Frankenstein gave this woman a new life through the soul of her lover, who then used her body as a weapon but kept his intentions for revenge in tact.  The woman, in every sense of the word, is completely manipulated by the men around her.  Christina chose to end her life, and Baron Frankenstein not only brought her back, but forced a male presence to reside within her.  Is this soul rape? The 60s had this major fascination with forcibly shoving male "things" into women.  Trade "soul" for "satan baby" and we've got the rough plot of Rosemary's Baby going on.  However, as Christina is mostly successful in enacting the revenge of her lover, ultimately, she cannot survive.  Torn between who she was and what she has become, Christina kills herself again by drowning.  Two bitter drownings in the name of love? Shakespeare would be so proud.

 What impressed me most about this film was Cushing's ability to play Frankenstein with an incredible amount of sincerity, despite this film being predominately focused on Christina.  There's no denying it, this story is not about Baron Frankenstein.  This story is about the tortured soul of this young girl running on the vengeance of her deceased lover and the confusion of regaining her own memories after resurrection.  However, I firmly stand by the belief that this is one of (if not thee) strongest performance of Peter Cushing as Baron Frankenstein.  There's an honesty brought to this character that I didn't see in the previous installments, and a genuine love has developed between Cushing and the character of Frankenstein.  Baron Frankenstein isn't a mad scientist, he's merely a man who has put science ahead of absolutely everything in his life.  That doesn't make him crazy, it makes him dedicated to the profession.  We don't consider soldiers crazy for being able to withstand great amounts of death and continuing on to fight for our country, but if a scientist seems unaffected by the death of two of his associates and continues on with his work...he's mad.  Possible soul rape aside, Peter Cushing discovered this passionate attribute of Baron Frankenstein and perfected it in Frankenstein Created Woman.    

4 comment(s):

dialectical wiggins said...

This is a very insightful post- the connection you draw with the rape imagery in Rosemary's Baby is extremely important (and suggests a fruitful comparison with Frankenstein must be Destroyed's rape scene).

I have a question though: does the resurrected Christina still have her "soul" in addition to Han's? I could be wrong since I haven't seen the film in a bit, but I thought that it was only his "soul" and her "body." This is not an idle metaphysical question, but rather suggests some important questions about the way in which gender is figured within the film. If a “soul” suggests some kind of fundamental inner essence that includes a gender identity (this is the way it seems to be constructed within the world of the film), what does it mean that Han (in Christina's body) is able to “perform” femininity so convincingly that he can easily seduce the rich men? Indeed, I think a case can be made that he performs “femininity” (which is of course a social construct) “better” than Christina did in her own body. There are a couple of fascinating insights we can draw from this: 1) the film suggests, 25 years before Judith Butler wrote Gender Trouble, that gender is arbitrary and performative and does not, in fact, come “naturally” from some kind of inner essence (figured in the film through the “soul”); 2) the material bodies that we inhabit are capable of housing any number of gender identities that are always in tension with one another.

So while the film might fundamentally be a kind of male fantasy about controlling women's bodies (or, perhaps more interestingly, a male fantasy about inhabiting a woman's body), its narrative seems to call into question the binaries of man/woman, male/female, and masculine/feminine in a way that can certainly be put in the service of a feminist and queer politics.

Joe Thompson said...

I have not seen this one, but I will look at with a more informed view after reading your essay. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

To Brittney Jade Colangelo
(DAY OF THE WOMAN BLOG)

I am PAUL BRUCE from UK ENGLAND and I wrote a debut horror novel called: THE LIFT.
The most frightening horror novel ever written. And also one of the chapters is the most weird chapter of all time. Thats me on the front of the book cover. And I aim to do something famous with this book and have it turned into a film. "The Lift" is available from: AMAZON, WATERSTONES, ETC.... And also on AMAZON KINDLE E-BOOK. You could do a review of my debut horror novel on your blog if you want. You can say whatever you like about it. If you like it, you like it, if you dont you dont. Regards,

From PAUL BRUCE.

Caftan Woman said...

Your intriguing article has made me most curious about this film.

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