Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)

I need his brain for my zombie!
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Flesh for Frankenstein - I Need His Brain for my Zombie!

Whilst the whole concept of a banned list of video nasties may strike those of us who have lived through a glut of so-called "torture porn" movies as profoundly hysterical, you may still find yourself wondering how in the hell certain of the video nasties ever made the list. Night of the Bloody Apes, for example, is never more than a hokey, entertaining mess of bad monkey make-up and people inexplicably clambering in and out of windows. I find it equally odd that Paul Morrissey's Flesh for Frankenstein was found to be so horrific that the powers that be decided no one should ever see the glorious Udo Kier trying to pronounce the word 'laboratory'. It contains gore, sure, but always couched in Grand Guignol-style theatrics and always offset by elements of high camp. I suspect that having a high-profile name attached to the project, like Andy Warhol - who produced the film - actually worked against the film during those bleak years of moral panic.

Well, if nothing else, Flesh for Frankenstein reminds us that there's nothing new under the sun when it comes to genre filmmaking. We didn't have to wait until 2010 for a deranged Serb who wants to promote his warped world view via a mess of body parts... enter Baron Frankenstein!

As per the original story, Frankenstein (Kier) is a scientist whose work takes him into the murky domain of human dissection: he's seeking "perfect" bodily bits to create his own, superior lifeforms. From here on in though, the plot diverges quite sharply from the Shelley novel and into a warped pursuit of a Serbian racial ideal. Alongside his Assistant Laboratory Technician Otto (Arno Juerging), he has already harvested a fair few of the parts he needs, but he is looking for that special someone - a male - to complement his female "zombie" and, under his command, they will reproduce, giving the Baron the children he really wants.

This sounds a bit harsh, as the Baron already has two children, Erik and Monica. But, perhaps the fact that he had these children with his wife and sister the Baroness may explain why they're not quite up to his requirements. The Baroness isn't exactly happy with her lot either: she feels neglected by her brother/husband, but she seems to share a lot of his obsessions with lineage and snobbery, and tries to imbue her children with the same values.

Meanwhile, we meet some of the workers on the Frankenstein estate. Alpha male/stable boy Nicholas (Joe Dallesandro) is trying to get his friend Sacha (Srdjan Zelenovic) to at least try sleeping with women before he sets off to become a monk. Begrudgingly, the uninterested Sacha agrees, and away they go to the local brothel - where Nicholas is a regular customer. But, although Nicholas has a whale of a time, Sacha doesn't. He only springs into action when a lizard "interrupts play" for his friend by scurrying over his backside and frightening two of the naked prostitutes out into the garden. He goes out and tries to coax them back indoors - where he is spotted by the watchful Frankenstein and Otto. What a man! Sending two prostitutes running! They decide he must be the virile type they need to finish their male zombie...

But when Nicholas works his charm on the frustrated Baroness, he becomes resident in the household as a servant - where he is well-placed to see just what the Baron is up to in that lab of his...

Firstly, I'm making no secret of my obsession with Udo Kier. I think he's brilliant, and I could listen to him discussing "ze gall bladder" and "ze fallopian tubes" all day. He's great in this role: because his English is limited, he bamboozles his way through his lines at times almost phonetically, but he certainly never under-acts! At times his frustration with his work and his family stretches to farce - exasperation is the hallmark of Kier's Frankenstein. It's an intense and weirdly mesmerising way to play the role, all rolling eyes and strong German accent. Add to this Dallesandro with his broad, undisguised Brooklyn accent and you have an entertaining disparity, one of the things that prevent this film from ever feeling like a standard - or disturbing - gorefest. This is also one of the most lurid pieces of 70s cinema out there - alongside the similar, if slightly superior Blood for Dracula (with largely the same cast and crew). The colours are intense, the music incongruous, and the sets loaded with ample nudity and internal organs. The film has been presented in 3D in some places on its run - proof again that not much changes - but if one film, sorry, another film doesn't really need the 3D treatment it's this one. It works perfectly well in standard format.

It's not all blood-red sleaze, though. It's hardly a political work, but Flesh for Frankenstein (and Blood for Dracula) carries some class critique. In both films, we have an effete aristocracy which tries to exploit its social lessers, but gets overthrown. Dallesandro usually operates as the class crusader - after tupping any available nubile aristocrats of course - so be prepared to see more of his bare arse than you may wish, whilst Kier takes the part of the thwarted upper class scallywag who just can't believe the impudence of the lower orders...it works like a charm.

Always otherworldly, and somewhere between the sublime and the ridiculous, Flesh for Frankenstein is one fun piece of Eurosleazy horror that needs to be seen to be believed. I'll let the inimitable Kier have the last word here: "To know death, Otto, you have to fuck life... in the gall bladder!"
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