Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #512
Also known as Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein
Number of Views: One
Release Date: March 17, 1974
Sub-Genre: Gothic Horror/Comedy
Country of Origin: Italy, France
Box Office: $7,000,000
Running Time: 95 minutes
Director: Paul Morrissey
Producers: Andy Warhol, Andrew Braunsberg, Louis Peraino, Carlo Ponti, Jean-Pierre Rassam
Screenplay: Paul Morrissey, Tonino Guerra, Pat Hackett
Based on characters by Mary Shelley
Special Effects: Carlo Rambaldi
Cinematography: Luigi Kuveiller
Score: Claudio Gizzi
Editing: Franco Silvi, Jed Johnson
Studios: Braunsberg Productions, Carlo Ponti Cinematografica, Rassam Productions, Yanne et Rassam, Compagnia Cinematografica Champion
Distributor: Bryanston Distributing
Stars: Udo Kier, Monique van Vooren, Joe Dallesandro, Arno Juerging, Dalila Di Lazzaro, Srdjan Zelenovic, Nicoletta Elmi, Marco Liofredi, Liù Bosisio, Fiorella Masselli, Cristina Gaioni, Rosita Torosh
Suggested Audio Candy:
Claudio Gizzi Main Theme
“To know death, Otto, you have to fuck life… in the gall bladder!”
I would imagine that this single line of dialogue didn’t help the plight of Flesh For Frankenstein when the DPP were looking for scapegoats to blame for the decline of cinematic decency when compiling their misguided Video Recordings Act in 1984. Paul Morrissey’s openly comical take on Mary Shelley’s Gothic classic promptly found itself in the dock and didn’t resurface in its uncensored glory until 2006. When you look at the company it kept, it seems utterly ludicrous that anybody could take exception to what is effectively a spoof at heart but, in keeping with the belief that there is no such thing as bad press, it is likely the only reason this film hasn’t long since been forgotten.
Along with the similarly kooky Blood for Dracula, also directed by Morrissey and endorsed by his pop art pioneer associate Andy Warhol, Flesh For Frankenstein enjoyed a brief 3-D resurgence in Australia in 1986 and, forty years on, is regarded as a harmless piece of irreverent froth incapable of disturbing a domestic kitten, let alone provoking night terrors in the most lily-livered of adults. It’s astonishing what a few decades of perspective can mean for a movie like this and highlights just how clueless the censors were when making their damning initial judgement. Perhaps necrophilia had something to do with it; admittedly this is one taboo too far for the more sensitive viewer and a sure-fire way to putting noses out of joint. However, Nekromantik it most certainly isn’t.
Should you choose to revisit a work as antiquated as this, then you’ll be needing all the perspective you can possibly muster and a skinful of cheap liquor certainly wouldn’t harm either. You see, Morrissey’s film represents seventies cinema at its most trashy, and time hasn’t necessarily been the great healer on this occasion. Having said that, herein lies the charm in Flesh For Frankenstein should you lend yourself to its inescapable charm. At no point does it claim to be anything else than borderline demented and, if wearing its heart on its sleeve is a crime, then that’s about as much as you can find it guilty of.
For a project with relatively meager resources at its disposal, the production values are remarkably lavish and there’s even a mild dash of political subtext should you wish to delve any deeper. I would advise against such as there are countless films that make the same point far more eloquently and, instead, advise taking Flesh For Frankenstein for precisely what it is: obscene to the point of vulgarity and habitually entertaining on the most rudimentary of levels. The whole crew is evidently in on the joke and seldom will you see Shelley’s masterwork deconstructed and reassembled with such gay abandon and blatant disregard for towing the line.
Udo Kier is perfectly cast as this particular incarnation of Baron Von Frankenstein and, if there’s a descent into madness, then it already played out some time ago. The wispy veil of humanity the mad scientist uses for cover is in scant supply and, his single-mindedness knows absolutely no bounds from the very offset. Of course, behind every great man is a great woman and his baroness wife/sister Katrina (Monique van Vooren) is more than happy to turn a blind eye to his secret pet project as long as she receives a good hard servicing from somewhere. Enter stable boy Nicholas (Joe Dallesandro) and it isn’t long before she requests he do so at once, frustrated with her sexual lean spell.
Claudio Gizzi Frankenstein’s Theme
After recruiting him as her own personal sex slave in exchange for a more luxurious existence, things start to get increasingly sticky in the Frankenstein household. The already reluctant Nicholas isn’t overly enamored by his best friend Sacha (Srdjan Zelenovic) being beheaded for the sole purpose of providing a top box for the Baron’s mash-up monster and refuses to rest until he receives some kind of logical explanation. Meanwhile, the proto-Nazi’s own brood Erik and Monica (Marco Liofredi and Nicoletta Elmi) are also displaying signs of curiosity, much to daddy’s annoyance as he has more than enough problems of his own to ensure his brows remain firmly clenched.
Unfortunately, for all of his unquestionable swagger as surgeon and seamster, the Baron isn’t faring quite so well when it comes to the reinvention side of things. All he truly desires is a progeny to carry on the fine family name. Not the shit-faced ankle lickers he leaves to Katrina to rear single-handedly, but something far more dastardly. The problem is that having constructed both male and female monsters with the sole purpose of procreation, he has mistakenly subtracted the wrong barnet for his alpha patchwork and found the only pilgrim in the entire kingdom without the faintest trace of functional libido.
While his master is becoming increasingly twitchy at this unforeseen spanner in the works, it is left to his downtrodden assistant Otto (Arno Juerging) to emote on his behalf and he does so brilliantly. Juerging may be no Marty Feldman but his priceless reactions still provide their fair share of the film’s high points. Observing the odd couple as they engage in numerous farcical one-sided exchanges is both joy and privilege, saving Flesh For Frankenstein from spiralling towards disaster whilst ensuring that the ridiculous remains a constant likelihood throughout. Equally committed to not letting the boys have it all their own way, van Vooren is similarly wonderful as the ever lusting Baroness and her armpit sucking routine is simply priceless.
Filmed entirely in Cinecittà studios in Rome, Morrissey’s film cannot be accused of not looking the part and, thanks to some hilariously exaggerated performances and numerous laugh out loud moments, it is hard not to harbor a soft spot for such a knowingly camp slab of Eurotrash. I can only speculate what the great Mary Shelley would make of it and would imagine that she is still turning in her grave over forty years on but Flesh For Frankenstein has enough kitsch charm to win over the less discerning amongst us. There can be no denying that it’s a train wreck of gargantuan proportions but beneath the rubble lies a morbid little oddity that affectionately sends up its Gothic counterparts and makes up for what it lacks in tact with sheer bloody enthusiasm.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Take your pick from incest, necrophilia, unravelling stitches, spilling innards, impalement, severed body parts and enough poor taste dialogue to turn Andrew Dice Clay’s hair white. The effects from Oscar winner Carlo Rambaldi are undeniably crude by today’s standards and hardly represent his finest work but, in the context of Flesh For Frankenstein, they more than do their job. Shameless full frontal nudity is also in abundance which is no less than you would expect from Warhol’s right-hand man after making his name with the likes of Flesh and Trash.
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