I am doing the 31 Days of Horror Challenge. Every day in October, I will watch a different horror film I have never seen before and write about it here on the blog.
There is a fine line to walk between making a campy spoof of bad movies and simply making a bad movie. With Flesh for Frankenstein, writer/director Paul Morrissey does a fairly impressive job of walking that tightrope, only occasionally stumbling into the same problematic areas as the less-reputable Euro-horror films he’s spoofing.
Baron Frankenstein (Udo Kier) has set up a laboratory in his castle to conduct his experiments. Not only is he trying to create and give life to a man built out of various dead parts, he is building a woman as well. His goal? To create a perfect couple of Serbian origin that will have children and repopulate the world with a race of super humans who do only his will.
Meanwhile, the Baron’s sexually frustrated wife (Monique Van Vooren) hires a hunky farm worker (Joe Dallesandro) to be her new personal servant. Not surprisingly, she has a less than traditional view of what his duties should be. Will the new servant discover the strange experiments happening in the castle? Will the Baron’s demented plan work or will it all end in tears for everyone involved?
It’s surprising to me that anyone could think that Morrissey unintentionally made a comedic film. The story is pure silliness, the performances are pitched to a ridiculous level, and the competing accents (German, French, Italian, and Dallesandro’s nasally Brooklyn squawk) combine to push the film firmly into the realm of over-the-top comedy. Despite the presence of gore, Morrissey never intended the film to be a serious piece of horror cinema.
That doesn’t mean that the film is a tame spoof with some random gore thrown in. Morrissey pushes the story into the realm of blunt class warfare with the Baron and his wife looking down on their servants and the townspeople. While Dallesandro’s character is little more than a horny idiot, Morrissey presents him as the film’s pseudo-hero by accentuating the perversions of the Frankenstein family in contrast to his basic sexual desires. There is also a hint of trying to shock through tastelessness to these aspects of the film. Incest, necrophilia, rape, and murder are presented with zeal by Morrissey as he pummels the audience over the head with as many taboos as he can fit into the frame.
Morrissey also seems to be begging the audience to make the rather brutal connection between the Baron’s mad ravings about creating a superior race that he will control and the insane and horrible experiments carried out by Nazi doctors and scientists. It’s no mistake that Kier’s German accent is highlighted to a cartoonish point. The film was shot in Europe less than three decades after the end of World War II. Wounds from the war were still fresh in the minds of many Europeans and tapping into that feeling through the character of the Baron makes sense. But it has the unfortunate side effect of pushing a darkness on the film that its silly frame cannot support.
Even with my misgivings about the Nazi undercurrent, I was reasonably entertained by Flesh for Frankenstein. It is too bad that its reputation seems to be as a curiosity-piece because of Andy Warhol’s involvement as a producer. It’s worth a look for Kier’s unhinged performance and the highlighting of the numerous kinky subtexts present in Mary Shelley’s novel and its many film adaptations. It isn’t subtle, but that’s the point.
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